Development impacts on river, ‘‘Where has the river legal status gone in Bangladesh?’’

The world’s rivers are so badly affected by human activity that the water security of almost 5 billion people, and the survival of thousands of aquatic species, are threatened, scientists warned.

In early July, Bangladesh became the first country to grant all of its rivers the same legal status as humans. From now on, its rivers will be treated as living entities in a court of law. The landmark ruling by the Bangladeshi Supreme Court is meant to protect the world’s largest delta from further degradation from pollution, illegal dredging, and human intrusion.

But the biggest question is now, ‘Where has this legal status gone?’

Bangladesh Paribesh Andolan and the Jatiya Nadi Jot alleged in a press conference at Dhaka Reporters’ Unity that under a project funded by JICA, the government was constructing a road on the River Kohelia to connect Matarbari coal-based power plant in Moheshkhali.

Kohelia River is located between Kalarmarchhara and Matarbari-Dhalghata in Maheshkhali Upazila of Cox’s Bazar. For ages, the currents of Kohelia flowed at their own speed in the tides. But it’s really sad to say that, this river is on the way to get lost from the map of Cox’s Bazar. This river is almost dead now due to various government projects.

According to local sources, a paved road is being constructed at Matarbari in Maheshkhali to travel to the coal-based thermal power project. On the other hand,  It was found that the river was practically grabbed more than 300 feet of its area and left a narrow canal for a long stretch. Kohelia is getting smaller day by day. As a result, the movement of engine-driven salt boats and various types of boats on the river has come to a standstill.

After knowing this news, members of the National River Protection Commission, Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon (BAPA), and several other environmental organizations in Cox’s Bazar went there and took a strong stand against it. In this regard, BAPA’s General Secretary Sharif Jamil said, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina never spoke of development by filling the river. He said the contractor was constructing the road by filling the Kohelia River with wrong information to the Prime Minister, which is against the river law. It is known from the locals that at one-time hundreds of fishermen used to catch fish in this fast-flowing river. Now they are unemployed and they are in a crisis of livelihood. According to the traders, salt, fish, and dried fruits of Maheshkhali were transported through this river to Narayanganj, Chittagong, and other parts of the country. Now it is closed. Millions of tons of salt are being produced on at least 1,000 acres of land on both banks of the river.

In the case of transporting this salt in different ways, the additional cost of the farmers is 15 to 20 taka per gram. It has been seen on the spot that the silt of the coal power project has been mixed with the river water and the water has become turbid. About half a hundred shrimp projects on both sides of the river are dying due to pollution. For this reason, the tenants of the shrimp project worth hundreds of crores of taka, have to count the losses.

The Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (BELA) and the Youth Environment Society (YES) have already sent legal notices to 15 people, including three secretaries, the chairman of the river commission, the director-general of the environment department, the deputy commissioner of Cox’s Bazar and contractors, to stop all construction work on the Kohelia River in Maheshkhali. The notice already demarcated the area according to the initial flow and CS survey to take necessary steps to restore the river by removing soil and all infrastructures from the already filled part of the river. Maintenance claims have been made.

Written by: Md. Mahir Daiyan, Special Correspondent (Feature & Policy, South Asia Zone)


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