Aslamul’s river encroachment: River governance is the solution

The National River Protection Commission did not prepare the report alone to protect the lands of Buriganga and Turag. The team, comprising appropriate representatives from agencies like the district administration, Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority (BIWTA), and the land survey and environment departments, conducted the investigation on the basis of on-the-spot evidence. Undoubtedly, MP Aslamul Haque’s personal ‘development’, to all appearances, is illegal and an embezzlement of state resources.

The manner in which he scoffed at the matter and identified the river commission as his foe in a press conference, shows his utter contempt not only towards the river commission but all the government organisations in the country. There is nothing wrong with development programmes. It is important to determine who is doing it and at what cost.

It is encouraging that for the first time in such an issue, most departments of the government, including RAJUK, have taken a firm stand in favour of river protection. May their efforts succeed.

It is true that the Department of Environment gave clearance to the MP for 54 acres of land in favour of the two companies owned by him. According to a Prothom Alo report published on Friday, the Department of Environment did not agree with the statement of the River Protection Commission on the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). However, a re-investigation on Saturday further confirmed that the position of environment department is vague and self-contradictory. Ignoring the DAP conditions, it is claiming that the area is located in an economic zone and therefore needs no environmental clearance. This is untrue and misleading.

However, it is a matter of investigation on how the Bangladesh Economic Zone authorities approved the project. Department of Environment claimed they have given EIA, because the entrepreneur (MP) did not mention the land was categorised as river in the documents and records. Their ridiculous argument is that it is not possible for them to verify land ownership. They also said they could not identify the land as a river as there were no boundary pillars. This means that they acknowledged that their inspector failed to investigate the matter of the MP’s occupation of the river for the above-mentioned reasons. The department then claimed that they had given environmental clearance considering the government’s priority in power generation.

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This statement is unacceptable. Rather, exemplary punishment is required for those involved in stopping the recurrence of such illegal clearances in the future. ‘I do not agree with the statement of the River Protection Commission’ – this statement of the director general of the Department of Environment is unacceptable. They should apologise and cancel the clearance immediately.

For argument’s sake, even if there is evidence that the whole or part of the land in the project area belongs to Aslamul Haque, he still does not have the right to set up any development project in the area marked by DAP as a floodplain and waterbody.

Although Aslamul Haque pointed out that the legal process that is underway in court, he tried to justify his actions at the press conference. We hope that if there is any such case under trial in court, that a milestone verdict is delivered pertaining to the protection of rivers. It is encouraging that for the first time in such an issue, most departments of the government, including RAJUK, have taken a firm stand in favour of river protection. May their efforts succeed.

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