Rivers in Dhaka, Ctg: PM Approves Masterplan to Save Them

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Dirt, debris, and waste turn the Kutubkhali canal water dark in the capital’s Shonir Akhra area and give off an overpowering stench. The water of this canal flows into the Shitalakkhya river. This picture was taken yesterday. Photo: Amran Hossain

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has approved a masterplan to free all major rivers in and around Dhaka and Chattogram cities from encroachment and pollution by 2030.

The PM also directed all concerned to work to this effect "without any delay", a top official at the local government and rural development ministry told The Daily Star.

The premier's approval of the masterplan came recently. A high-powered inter-ministerial committee, led by the LGRD minister, finalised it late last year.

Under the masterplan, the rivers around the capital -- Buriganga, Turag, and Shitalakkhya -- will be freed from grabbing and pollution. The Karnaphuli in Chattogram will also be saved from encroachment and pollution.

"We started our work around three months ago. We have already distributed the tasks among different ministries and departments," LGRD Minister Tajul Islam told this newspaper after the committee met at the Secretariat yesterday.

"Now they are preparing action plans and working on the budget required to implement the masterplan."

The 25-member inter-ministerial body will monitor the progress of the implementation of the master plan as many ministries and departments are involved in the process. It will also ensure that the work of one department does not overlap that of another, mentioned the minister.

The committee was formed on December 5, 2016, to finalise the masterplan in line with the PM's directives.

According to the masterplan, the government has set a short-term goal for one year, a midterm goal for five years and a long-term goal for 10 years. Those will be implemented simultaneously by different ministries and departments.

All the ministries and departments concerned are now preparing their action plans to free the rivers from pollution and encroachment. Those include the ministries of LGRD; environment, forest and climate change; land; home; public administration; shipping; water resources; housing and public works; and fisheries and livestock.

As per the masterplan, all liquid waste from industries, households and other establishments must be treated at effluent treatment plants (ETPs) before it ends up in rivers.

Also, grabbers of the rivers as well as canals will be evicted, and the rivers will be dredged to restore their normal flow.

Earlier in 2007, the government and the World Bank jointly conducted a study which found that around 7,000 industries in and around the capital were discharging 1.5 million cubic metres of liquid waste into the rivers through 300 channels every day.

It also found 61 percent of liquid waste was being discharged from industrial units and the rest from households.

Under the master plan, walkways will be built along riverbanks and trees will be planted on the shores of the rivers.

'WORK WITHOUT FEAR'

The LGRD minister at yesterday's meeting asked all concerned to work "without any fear" to implement the masterplan.

Representatives from the ministries and departments concerned were present there.

A representative from the Department of Environment (DoE) told the meeting that if the authorities fail to act quickly, it would not be possible to save the Buriganga as the river has already turned into a stream of liquid waste.

The official further said many industrial units near the river set up ETPs as eyewash in the face of drives by the authorities. Actually, none of these ETPs works.

At the meeting, a committee was formed to free the Padma and the Meghna from pollution, and implement a project to channel water to the Turag through the Pungli river.

The Meghna is being polluted heavily at four points in Ashuganj, Narsingdi and Barodi in Narayanganj.

The minister later briefed journalists about the progress of their work and the meeting's outcome.

On reducing pollution in the rivers around the capital, the minister said a number of industrial units are still dumping waste into the rivers. The government is working to make the rivers and canals linked to those free from pollution and encroachment.

"It takes time to revive the polluted rivers," the minister said, mentioning that it took nearly 50 years for the UK to revive the River Thames.

To save the rivers around the capital and the Chattogram city, the government in 2009 had formed a taskforce comprising government officials and civil society members.

The committee, headed by former shipping minister Shajahan Khan, failed to improve the condition of the rivers despite spending around Tk 1,000 crore on several projects. It sat at least 34 times, identified a number of problems and took several decisions to free the rivers around the capital from pollution and encroachment.

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