Grabbing ‘legalised’

September 1, 2013

4 Dhaka rivers lose 2,500 acres of land thru’ dubious demarcation
Grabbing ‘legalised’River-saving efforts of the government are backfiring to some extent as around 2,500 acres of foreshores and existing waterways in four rivers in greater Dhaka has been given to “land owners” in the process.
According to related laws, no-one can ‘own’ foreshores or waterways of rivers within the declared port limit. Any authority like the district administration cannot lease out such land either.
The Shitalakkhya river alone has lost 1,860 acres of land including 595 acres of foreshores due to faulty demarcation, according to official estimate of Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority (BIWTA).
Insiders say at least 500 acres more of foreshores and river areas was lost in the Buriganga, the Balu and the Turag, as these rivers were demarcated ignoring the Cadastral Survey (CS) records.
Foreshore is the soil lying between low-water mark of dry season and high-water mark of monsoon during normal tide and is vital for a river for navigability and port activities.
The High Court in 2009 ordered the deputy commissioners (DC) of Dhaka, Narayanganj, Gazipur and Munshiganj to demarcate the Buriganga, Shitalakkhya, Turag, Balu and Dhaleshwari as per the CS and Revised Survey (RS) records.
The court ordered the DCs to retain the eroded areas and formed land [shoals] as part of these rivers, set up boundary pillars, build walkways and plant trees on the banks.
The government launched a Tk 99-crore project to install nearly 21,000 boundary pillars and has set up most of those along the 220-kilometre-long banks of 110-kilometre-long rivers over the past two and a half years.
But the district administration along with BIWTA and land record department has drawn the river boundary lines on a dry-season lean water flow merely on RS records excluding the extensive foreshores.
Taking full advantage of the excluded river areas, land grabbers embarked on a frenzy of earth filling in these rivers in Rupganj, Demra, Tongi, Ashulia, Fatullah and Dharmaganj.
As a result, the rivers are to remain officially thinner than what they were though the aim of the HC judgement was to reclaim the rivers to their actual state evicting grabbers and encroachers.
Official sources say the district administration, despite having no authority, over the years leased out river foreshores along with shoals to powerful private individuals in violation of river laws and now they are unable to reclaim the rivers to their original state.
As per the river laws, the BIWTA is the conservator of an entire river and foreshore areas of any officially declared limit of a river port, while the district administration cannot lease out the land within such limit.
Monoj Kanti Boral, DC of Narayanganj, said, “The BIWTA estimate and definition of foreshores are not correct. There may be some anomalies in Rupganj, but otherwise we have demarcated the river accordingly.”
It may be noted that the Shitalakkhya estimate is based on official records and foreshore is defined by the law.
But Monoj’s predecessor M Shamsur Rahman told The Daily Star in June 2011 that they did not take foreshores into consideration while demarcating the river as per the RS records alone.
The district administration and the BIWTA jointly evicted nearly 3,000 illegal structures to recover the Buriganga foreshores in Kamrangirchar, Lalbagh, Keraniganj, Fatullah, Shashanghat, Shyampur and Shyambazar on the basis of the CS records a decade ago.
But the river areas reclaimed then are now occupied with private ownership and have been excluded from the boundary pillar lines, said a BIWTA official requesting anonymity.
Following the court order, the Dhaka district administration and the BIWTA identified 4,029 illegal structures on foreshores of the Buriganga as per the CS records.
But the district administration later excluded 3,160 structures squeezing the river area on the plea that those were on “private land” as per records and long-term lease issued by them.
DC of Dhaka Sheikh Yusuf Harun said, “Interest of political quarters was a foremost hindrance to river reclamation. The river laws had never been complied with in the past.”
He added they would explain to the HC the practical inconveniences of reclaiming the rivers as per the CS records and why they could not do the job accordingly.
DC of Gazipur Nurul Islam said they had tried to save the “main stream” of the Turag but could not include the foreshores accordingly, as the river laws were not complied with in the past.
Shipping Minister Shajahan Khan, who heads the national taskforce on river conservation, said, “I agree that anomalies occurred in river demarcation in many cases.
“There are vested interest groups against river conservation and I cannot say everything on record,” the minister added.

-With The Daily Star input

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