HISTORIC COURT JUDGMENT: TREAT RIVES AS LIVING ENTITY
In a historic judgment, the High Court (HC) of Bangladesh has declared Rivers as living entities and the NRPC (National River Protection Commission) as the legal guardian of all rivers. The HC said that river encroachers cannot run in any elections or get bank loans. The HC delivered the judgment in response to a petition (WP No. 13989/2016) by Human Rights and Peace for Bangladesh. The writ petition was filed on Nov. 7, 2016.
The HC also ordered the government to make a list of every grabber in the country and publish the list in the media to expose them to the public. The grabbers include powerful individuals, businesses and, ironically, government offices. The Gazipur City Corporation is among the grabbers, a judicial inquiry has found. The landmark verdict comes when river grabbing by influential groups seems unstoppable. Often, grabbers return to steal river land soon after being evicted.
After the verdict, the government now will have to amend the NRPC Act 2013 with provisions for punishment and fine for river grabbing. The current NRPC Act does not have provisions for punishment. The government must report to the court in six months on its action in this regard. In its petition, the organisation cited a report published in The Daily Star on November 6, 2016, headlined “Time to Declare Turag Dead”. The court thanked the paper for its reporting on how grabbers were killing the Turag and other rivers, and how the authorities were failing to save them. “The Turag is a living entity,” the court said, and asked the authorities to remove all structures from it in 30 days.
The court started delivering the verdict on Jan. 30. On the second day of the verdict on Jan. 31, the court said that playing a game of blind man’s buff (kanamachhi) over protection of rivers must stop. A 2009 landmark HC judgment had detailed measures on how to recover the ailing rivers from land grabbers and save them from pollution. “If any person, whose name is included in the list of river land grabbing, he or she will be disqualified from contesting the union parishad, upazila, pourasava, city corporation and Jatiya Sangsad elections,” the court said, asking the Election Commission to take steps in this regard. The Bangladesh Bank have been ordered to make sure no river grabbers get bank loans.
The bench of Justice Moyeenul Islam Chowdhury and Justice Md Ashraful Kamal asked the education ministry to take steps for holding an hour-long class every two months at all public and private academic institutions, including school, madrasa, college and university, to build awareness among students about the importance of rivers. The industries ministry has been ordered to take measures for arranging an hour-long meeting every two months with factory workers across the country, also to create awareness. https://www.thedailystar.net/environment/no-river-land-grabbers-can-contest-election-1696807 (3 Feb. 2019)
THE NRPC Act In a 17-point directive, the Court, inter alia, called for strengthening the NRPC by making it an effective and independent body. The Court also entrusted the NRPC with the responsibility of conservation and overall development of rivers.
Back in June 2009, the HC, in another landmark case (WP No. 3503/2009) ordered the government to form NRPC consisting of concerned experts. The Court gave only three months’ time to form the Commission and declared the writ petition as a continuing mandamus, giving the Court the power to monitor the implementation of its decision and give necessary directions when required.
The obligation emanating from the said decision paved the way for subsequent enactment of the National River Protection Commission Act, 2013 and establishment of the Commission in September 2014. The preamble of the Act says that the Act has been promulgated “to provide for the establishment of a Commission to prevent illegal encroachment of rivers, water and environment pollution, river pollution created by industries, illegal construction of structures and various irregularities and to ensure multi-dimensional use of rivers in socio-economic development including recovery of natural flow of rives, proper maintenance of rivers and to make rivers as navigable”. The preamble is consistent with the letter and spirit of order of the HC, but the same cannot be said about the body of the law. According to section 12 of the Act, the sole function of NRPC is to make recommendations to the government for preventing pollution and illegal encroachment, eviction of illegal structures, excavation of extinct or dying rivers, ensuring ecological balance and sustainable management of rivers, necessary changes in relevant laws, and overall development of rivers. From the above provision, it is understood that the NRPC is merely a recommending body without any statutory power of implementation
Another anomaly of the Act is that it has been prepared by the Ministry of Shipping. This is rather questionable, since the ‘regulation and development of rivers and river valleys’ is in the domain of Ministry of Water Resources in accordance with Schedule I of the Rules of Business, 1996.
All of the country’s hundreds of rivers would now be treated as legal persons, litigator Manzil Murshid said. https://www.ndtv.com/world-news/bangladesh-high-court-declares-countrys-rivers-legal-persons-2063061 (3 July 2019)
NRPC Chairman Muzibur Rahman Howlader said the NRCC was framing policies that would take local communities into account. “Protecting the rivers also means protecting the entire eco-system, which includes fishermen and farmers who live on the banks. Their rights will also be protected,” he said. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-bangladesh-landrights-rivers/fears-of-evictions-as-bangladesh-gives-rivers-legal-rights-idUSKCN1TZ1ZR (5 July 2019)
THE RIVER PEOPLE ARE THE LOSERS Bangladesh has 700 rivers integral to the country’s culture, but many of them are dying. Driven by changing weather patterns and the country’s relentless push towards development, the crisis has become so critical that in July 2019 the supreme court declared all the country’s rivers to be “living entities”, with anyone damaging them subject to punishment. But for many of the communities whose lives depend on the waterways, the change of law has come too late. “They are the biggest losers. First of all, fishermen. Hundreds of fishing communities have been destroyed. Then the boatmen,” said Sheikh Rokon, founder of the Riverine People network of environmental activists.
He said the death of Bangladesh’s rivers has been caused by encroachment, erosion, pollution and sand mining. All of these problems stem, he claimed, from decreased water flows that, while due in part to internal land barriers, are also a result of restrictions on the flow by Bangladesh’s neighbours, especially India. Dhaka’s water bodies have shrunk by two-thirds over the past 20 years, according to a recent study by the Bangladesh Institute of Planners, and hundreds of factories and tanneries pollute the city’s Buriganga river, according to activists. Bangladesh’s progress has seen the country neglect its rivers in pursuit of resources, according to Rokon.
“We have 38 rivers which are severely polluted and encroached. We have more than 80 rivers that are [suffering] under the sand-mining situation,” he said. “The modern monster is sand-mining. It is cruelly killing our rivers.” Sylhet has suffered because the sand and stone collected from its river beds, washed down from the hills in India, are used in roads and construction. The often illegal and excessive collection has diverted the flow of rivers, according to the government’s forestry department. As one of the activists who campaigned for Bangladesh to recognise the legal rights of rivers, Rokon welcomed the supreme court’s ruling, but he is also sceptical that action will be taken. Rokon says there needs to be a cultural change in Bangladesh, where the traditional link to rivers has been forgotten. “People became detached culturally from the rivers. We have to revive the utility of the rivers,” he said.
Says Robi Das, part of a small Hindu community in Bangladesh’s northern Sylhet district, in the town of Biswanath near the border with India, “The river was so much higher before. Now you see there are fields by the bank, but they used to all be part of the river.” Only a month since the end of Bangladesh’s rainy season, the river sits at less than half the level it did when it was a healthy tributary of the Surma, part of an extensive river system that stretches from India, breaking off and joining other rivers on the path southwards to the Bay of Bengal. (https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2020/jan/20/the-river-is-our-home-bangladeshi-boatmen-mourn-their-receding-waters Jan 20, 2020)
Can the historic HC judgement save our rivers? Md Khalequzzaman on Historic Bangladesh High Court Verdict on Rivers: “The HC delivered a historic judgement on Feb. 3, declaring rivers as legal entity and assigning the NRPC as the legal guardian to act as their parents in protecting the rights of waterbodies, canals, beels, shorelines, hills and forests. Indeed, this is the most comprehensive verdict by any court in the world that gives such specific directions to protect the rights of rivers or any other natural entity.”
“The HC verdict in Bangladesh regarding the legal rights of rivers goes beyond just recognising rivers as legal entities; it outlines a mechanism to implement the rights of rivers. The HC provided detailed directions to several government agencies to take steps to enlist the land grabbers and to publish the names of perpetrators, not to provide loans nor to allow them to run for public offices, to treat river grabbing as a crime, to remove illegal structures from rivers, and to amend the laws to punish criminals responsible for the deterioration of the natural flow of rivers. Now, the big questions that begs answer is, will the HC judgment be enough to save our rivers?” https://www.thedailystar.net/environment/news/can-the-historic-high-court-judgement-save-our-rivers-1697419 (5 Feb.2019)
Transboundary cooperation key to enforcing rivers’ legal rights Bangladesh will face a number of political, administrative, social, economic and environmental hurdles while implementing the decision at the domestic level as well. Despite being daunting, they are well within Bangladesh’s control. However, the upper riparian India is not as motivated to jointly conserve and protect trans-boundary rivers. The only way Bangladesh can mitigate the impact on its forward-looking decision is by engaging India assertively and steadfastly in meaningful trans-boundary cooperation. For this, it must push for comprehensive treaties promoting joint efforts for all-round and sustainable development of the basin, stimulate and bolster multi-track diplomacy, and strengthen its bargaining power. It is only with India on board, and a fair, efficient and sustainable framework of joint river basin governance in place, that Bangladesh has a realistic chance of effectively enforcing the legal rights it has granted to its rivers. https://www.thedailystar.net/opinion/environment/news/transboundary-cooperation-key-enforcing-rivers-legal-rights-bangladesh-1784641 (11 Aug. 2019)
BEN BAPA view Nazrul Islam of BEN-BAPA provides an overview of Rivers related developments of Bangladesh during 2019. Key points from this overview:
- The High Court’s judgment of Feb 3, declaring rivers as a “legal entity,” having rights similar to a living person. The High Court appointed the NRPC as the guardian of rivers and assigned it the responsibility of upholding the rights granted to rivers.
- The second good development in 2019 is the new energy that the government displayed in freeing rivers from encroachment. Many structures have been demolished from the banks of the Buriganga and Turag rivers. There has been some progress in this respect in some districts (e.g. Habiganj) too.
- The third good development in 2019 has been another initiative by the High Court—this time against pollution. The HC observed on Dec 3 that there are 68 underground drains and sewerage lines under control by Dhaka Wasa, dumping untreated sewage into the Buriganga River. On Dec 9, it ordered Dhaka Wasa to shut all sewerage lines connected with the Buriganga River within the next six months. In addition, the court asked the Dept of Environment to shut down, within the next one month, all industries built on the banks of the Buriganga River without clearance & industries polluting the river by dumping waste.
STATE OF RIVERS
Teesta, Dharla turn into canals 12 small rivers have already dried up and two major rivers — Teesta and Dharla — have been turned into canals due to lack of water flow from upstream.
Mile of chars have developed on the rivers, causing problems for the char people as they have to cross many kilometres of sandy char land to go to the mainland. Almost all of the 300 boatmen & over 2,000 fishermen, who depended on the rivers to earn their livelihood, have became unemployed. They are searching for other jobs in the Teesta & Dharla river char areas. https://www.thedailystar.net/country/news/teesta-dharla-turn-canals-1685923 (11 Jan. 2019)
Dead rivers tell many tales Today, the skeletons of the rivers leave so many inglorious stories behind.
A few recent offences against the rivers, especially against Buriganga and Karnaphuli, lifelines of Dhaka, and Chattogram respectively — are recapitulated here to portray the gravity of the situation. The pollution and encroachment of the rivers have already taken the rivers to rock-bottom condition. https://en.prothomalo.com/opinion/news/192509/Dead-rivers-tell-many-tales (14 March 2019 By Toriqul Islam)
14 rivers in Dinajpur dry up Fourteen small and large rivers – including Atrai, Karatoya, Kakra, Punarbhaba and Dhepa – flow through Dinajpur. However, almost all of them are vanishing due to lack of dredging, unrestrained river grabbers and illegal establishments. The riverbeds are now filled with silt, sediment and dust, causing the narrow streams to become narrower. Meanwhile, various crops such as Boro, wheat and corn are being cultivated on the desiccated riverbed. The length of these rivers in Dinajpur is approximately 724 km.
Some of these rivers look like deserts, where cattle are wandering, and tractors and trucks are plying. Additionally, the encroachment of land of the rivers is also underway with full force. People are constructing buildings and establishments along the banks, posing a threat to the rivers. However, Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority has started dredging works in the Tulai, Atrai and Kakra rivers. https://www.dhakatribune.com/bangladesh/nation/2019/03/10/14-rivers-in-dinajpur-dry-up-due-to-lack-of-dredging (10 March 2019)
Surma choked with garbage The Surma river in Sylhet is on the verge of becoming another Buriganga, environmentalists fear. Although the local office of the DoE claims that indicators regarding the river’s health were acceptable, people living by it are saying that the water is so polluted that some are suffering from skin and stomach diseases. https://www.thedailystar.net/backpage/news/surma-choked-garbage-1722706 (31 March 2019)
Surma River dying slowly The Surma, known as the lifeline of Sylhet, is ailing due to severe pollution, land encroachment and sand extraction. But the authorities concerned are doing little to save the river. When contacted, the Sylhet Water Development Board said the Surma river banks in the city areas are recorded as khas land.
It is the duty of the deputy commissioner’s (DC) Office to take a decision on starting eviction drives. But the DC said the responsibility of protecting all rivers, including the Surma, fell under the jurisdiction of the Bangladesh Water Development Board (BWDB). http://m.theindependentbd.com//post/194794 (7 April 2019)
Video on Surma River on its way to be like Buriganga
(March 30, 2019)
Where once was a river named Gorai… Desert of white sand and puddles of water flowing along it – this is what the once great river Gorai in Kushtia has reduced itself to now. During summer, the river is navigable on bare foot. It holds no notion of the rich past that entwines with the history of Rabindranath Tagore and his voyages into these lands through Gorai.
There was a time when Rabindranath almost drowned in the river. Now, the river has reduced itself to narrow drains due to barriers upstream along Padma River and thin flow from further upstream in the Ganges. Water specialist Ainun Nishat says a permanent solution to Gorai can help reduce salinity in Khulna, Bagerhat, Satkhira, and Jashore regions. Most importantly, he says, it will save the Sundarbans. https://www.thedailystar.net/country/news/where-once-was-river-named-gorai-bangladesh-sundarbans-1741546 (10 May 2019)
Encroachment puts Haor river in death throes Unabated encroachment has turned the Haor river, near Benapole land port, into a stagnant waterbody that now resembles a narrow canal. The vital river is now in a chokehold as influential locals built numerous structures — including large buildings and fish enclosures — on both sides of it. The encroachers with the connivance of unscrupulous land officials made false deeds to claim ownership of the river’s land, alleged locals. They also said their longstanding demand of conducting drives to reclaim the river by rooting out the illegal occupiers fell on deaf ears. https://www.thedailystar.net/country/news/encroachment-puts-haor-river-death-throes-1811284 (9 Oct. 2019)
Bhairab river on deathbed Once flowing Bhairab river and several canals in Kachua upazila of Bagerhat are heading towards virtual death, thanks to illegal occupation and garbage dumping for years. “Influential people have built illegal establishments occupying lands on both sides of the Bhairab river, the lifeline of Kachua. Besides, mindless dumping of rubbish is gradually filling up the river and causing dangerous pollution to the water,” said Afzal Hussain, a retired teacher. Along with navigability problem, locals are facing problem as they cannot use the polluted water of the Bhairab & several canals for household purposes, said Kondokar Niaz Iqbal, of Kachua Press Club. https://www.thedailystar.net/country/news/bhairab-river-deathbed-1811281 (9 Oct 2019)
Once untameable Gumti River, now ceases to flow According to Comilla City Corporation sources, almost 258.74 acres of the river stretching from the Sadar upazila to Comilla municipality are now under the grasp of 522 listed land grabbers. https://www.dhakatribune.com/bangladesh/nation/2019/12/13/once-untameable-gumti-river-now-ceases-to-flow (13 Dec. 2019)
Fresh onslaught on Meghna During a recent visit to the Meghna — which today is a hapless prey to ruthless grabbing — in Munshiganj, about half a dozen unloading dredgers were seen dumping sand into the river in broad daylight to reclaim land from river foreshores and floodplains.
The yet-to-be identified land claimants have embarked on the encroachment at a point where the Meghna meets its tributary Menikhali channel in Islampur (Ganganagar) in Char Betagi mouja of Gazaria upazila. The grabbing is taking place with facilitation of the Munshiganj district administration and Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority — the two foremost custodians of the river. https://www.thedailystar.net/frontpage/river-grabbing-in-bangladesh-1837273 (8 Dec. 2019)
Freeing the Meghna from Grabbers: Act or get sued The National River Conservation Commission has warned that it would take legal action against at least a dozen government authorities for their inaction to free the Meghna from grabbers if they do not act within seven days. The commission had earlier directed the authorities to take action against the grabbers but nothing happened since then. A few days before that, on February 9, The Daily Star ran a report on river-grabbing. Frustrated, the commission on May 13 issued these latest warnings, three days after Daily Star paper carried yet another report on encroachment by powerful businesses. https://www.thedailystar.net/frontpage/news/freeing-meghna-river-grabbing-act-or-get-sued-1745590 (19 May 2019)
Riverbank grabbed by traders A section of brick and sand traders has started grabbing land on the bank of Ramnabad river in Galachipa upazila headquarters. About three acres of land on the riverbank have already been grabbed. At least 17 brick and sand traders built several illegal structures on the land, said locals. https://www.thedailystar.net/country/news/riverbank-grabbed-traders-1744735 (17 May 2019)
A River Dies in Kurigram Jinjirum river might be one of the least important issues for BWDB but for more than 2,00,000 people in Northern Bangladesh, it is their lifeline. It supports their agriculture, provides them with fish and freshwater and, in the remote northern border areas of Bangladesh, where transport infrastructure is inadequate and handicapped by constant river erosion, the river used to serve as a natural highway that connected communities.
As a navigable trans-boundary river, it also has immense potential as a trade route between Bangladesh and North-Eastern India. However, due to lack of supervision and certain reckless activities, this river is now on the brink of extinction. Jinjirum originates in the hills of Assam, flows through Meghalaya and then enters Bangladesh through Rowmari upazila of Kurigram district. https://www.thedailystar.net/star-weekend/spotlight/news/the-jinjirum-dies-slow-death-1744762 (17 May 2019)
Rajshahi people protest move to grab Padma char People of Rajshahi on May 19 formed a human chain protesting the prison authorities’ bid to grab at least 100 acres of char land in the Padma river in the city’s Sreerampur for building Prisons Training Academy complex. https://www.thedailystar.net/city/rajshahi-people-protest-move-grab-padma-river-char-1745782 (19 May 2019)
Ichhamati now a trickle The Ichhamati, the once vibrant river that features prominently in several Bangla literary works, has turned into a narrow channel filled with garbage, thanks to rampant encroachment and indiscriminate dumping of waste. At some places in Pabna town, the river looks like a dying canal with the riverbed silting up, while at some other points, garbage chokes the water flow.
Originated in the Padma in Pabna’s Shibrampur, the Ichhamati runs an 84 km course across the district before meeting the Jamuna in Bera upazila. Today, the river is hardly visible in Banglabazar area, near the point of its origin, because of roads, commercial and residential buildings, and business establishments. Reckless encroachment forced the river to change its original course, said Kabir Mahamud, the deputy commissioner of Pabna.
According to the government’s Cadastral Survey (CS) records, published in 1922, the 9 km section of the river that flows through Pabna municipality had 88.58 acres of riverbed. But the area dropped to only 54.53 acres as shown in the most recent Bangladesh Survey (BS) record map in 2013, said Md Mostak Ahmed, the district settlement officer, who has recently been transferred to Dhaka. https://www.thedailystar.net/backpage/news/ichhamati-now-trickle-1828042 (17 Nov. 2019)
Make a list of Ichhamati grabbers, polluters: HC The High Court on Jan. 12, 2020 issued a rule asking authorities concerned to prepare a list of encroachers and polluters of the Ichhamati river in Pabna and to submit it before the court in 90 days.
The court also issued a rule asking the authorities to explain in four weeks why they should not be directed to declare the 84 km long river an ecologically critical area. https://www.thedailystar.net/backpage/news/make-list-ichhamati-grabbers-polluters-1853320 (13 Jan. 2020)
A better estimate of water-level rise in the Ganges delta For the first time, scientists have provided reliable regional estimate of land subsidence and water level rise in the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna delta. Depending on the region of the delta, water level rise could reach 85 to 140 cm by 2100. The work, published in PNAS on 6 Jan 2020 by researchers from the CNRS, IRD, BRGM, La Rochelle Université, Université des Antilles and Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology, should provide input for future impact studies and adaptation plans.
Although the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna delta is the largest and most densely populated delta in the world, and one of the places most vulnerable to climate change, the extent and impact of water level rise there remain poorly known. The area, which covers two thirds of Bangladesh and part of eastern India, is regularly prone to flooding, favored by intense monsoon rainfall, rising sea levels, river flows and land subsidence. However, it is difficult to disentangle these various factors. In addition, forecasts carried out so far have been based on highly localized measurements of water level. (https://phys.org/news/2020-01-water-level-ganges-delta.html 6 Jan. 2020)
Catastrophic events carry forests of trees thousands of miles to a burial at sea The Ganges–Brahmaputra (G-B) River system transports over a billion tons of sediment every year from the Himalayan Mountains to the Bay of Bengal and has built the world’s largest active sedimentary deposit, the Bengal Fan. Article on wood burial in this fan over the millennia. https://phys.org/news/2019-10-catastrophic-events-forests-trees-thousands.html (21 Oct. 2019)
Dave Petley writes how the wood from the mountains reached the bottom of the sea hundreds of miles away: due to breach of landslide dams during massive floods. Dr Sarah Feakins (associate professor of Earth sciences at USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences) described how this might happen: “The trees likely were uprooted during the last ice age by a massive release of water from the breach of a natural dam created by a glacier, landslide or similar land feature. In what must have been a surge of water, the trees rode rivers thousands of miles from Nepal through Bangladesh and into the Bengal Fan.” https://blogs.agu.org/landslideblog/ (24 Oct. 2019)
The future depends on Rivers! Only eight percent of water and sediments that flow through Bangladesh are generated within its own territory. Recently, Bangladesh adopted a long-term plan called the Bangladesh Delta Plan (BDP 2100) to manage water and land resources in the country in the face of climate change. Under the BDP 2100, the entire territory of the country is divided into six “hotspots”: coastal zones, Barind and drought-prone areas, haor and flash flood areas, Chittagong Hill Tracts, river systems and estuaries, and urban areas. The BDP 2100 is a water-centric plan. Freshwater availability was identified as the only cross-cutting and common challenge for each of the hotspots… a recent study carried out by scientists from Canada, Bangladesh (BUET), and the Netherlands reported that during the period of 1997-2016, Bangladesh did not receive its guaranteed share during critical dry periods with high water demand 65 percent of the time. PM Sheikh Hasina recently directed all district commissioners in the country to take necessary actions to remove all physical structures from rivers and canals that create an obstacle to the natural flow of water. Bangladesh should also rectify the UN Convention on Non-Navigational Water Course (1997) and encourage other co-riparian nations to do the same. If all parties rectify the convention, then it can serve as a basis for fair and equitable negotiation for all rivers in the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna basins. https://www.thedailystar.net/opinion/news/the-future-bangladesh-depends-it-1772926 July 18, 2019)
A Brahmaputra policy book where we barely see the river Brilliant review of a book on Brahmaputra River by three scholars, one each from China, India and Bangladesh.
– Samaranayake’s chapter is the only one in the book in which the river itself has a presence. It is described in a little detail, and its characteristics make a brief appearance. The rest of the book is about the river but we barely see it anywhere. It is akin to a report on the Amazon forest that talks only about the wood from the trees. The entire perspective, typical of security policy, has no room for the living river, and the many other creatures that inhabit its vast basin.
– The book as a whole is an attempt to bring neatness and order to an untidy river in a less than tidy corner of the world. It is a continuation of efforts that began with the East India Company which commissioned Major James Rennell to map this and other rivers in the subcontinent in the 18th Century.
– The Brahmaputra is not a canal. It is an antecedent river, older than the Himalayas. Life in its basin and in the valley that bears its name has evolved over millennia to its presence, and its annual rise and fall. Its worth cannot be measured solely in gallons or dollars. To build a hundred dams in its basin would not consolidate Indian claims on Arunachal Pradesh. It would kill the river and create a gigantic mess involving three countries.
– We have perhaps reached a stage where environmental concerns deserve a place in books such as this. Seen in that light, the authors’ recommendation that China and India look at hydro-power as a potential area of cooperation is ill advised, and against the interests of the communities that inhabit the areas along the river. https://nenow.in/neighbour/a-brahmaputra-policy-book-where-we-barely-see-the-river.html (12 Sept. 2019)
Interesting video report on Dhaka rivers
Authorities’ inaction put rivers in peril The deplorable conditions of the rivers around Dhaka city and elsewhere in the country due to encroachment and pollution are the result of inaction of the river custodians and their complicity with the grabbers for decades, National River Conservation Commission Chairman Muzibur Rahman Howlader has said. Landmark judgments were given by the highest court, repeated outcries were heard from the public and media, directives were given by the prime minister, and laws related to river conservation are all there. But encroachment and destruction of rivers continue. https://www.thedailystar.net/frontpage/news/authorities-inaction-put-rivers-peril-1803439 (22 Sept. 2019)
Also see, Political will is the key to save Dhaka rivers: Mohammad Azaz https://en.prothomalo.com/opinion/news/202196/Political-will-is-the-key-to-save-Dhaka-rivers (22 Sept. 2019)
‘Stop illegal sand lifting from Jamuna river’ Several hundred inhabitants of all ages from villages under three unions of Tangail formed two separate human chains in protest at unauthorised sand lifting from the Jamuna river. At noon, men, women and children from seven villages — Alipur, Bhoirbari, Singuli, Char Poulee, Khakchhara, Beltia and Afzalpur — under Gohaliabari and Durgapur unions in Kalihati upazila formed a human chain for an hour along the Jamuna riverbank in Alipur area of Gohaliabari union.
About the same time, the second human chain was formed alongside the river in Kakua union of Tangail Sadar upazila by residents of the union. Holding out placards and banners, many inscribed with messages such as “we will lay down our lives, but will not give away the sand”, the villagers demanded putting a stop to indiscriminate sand-lifting that has been causing erosion of the riverbanks.
Speakers said the erosion of Jamuna has worsened over the past few years and a vast swathe of croplands and numerous dwellings were devoured by the river as sand lifting with powerful dredgers have been going on unabated by those with vested interests. They demanded the higher authorities take immediate action against the sand lifters and urged the prime minister to take stern action against negligent government officials. (18 Aug. 2019) https://www.thedailystar.net/country/news/stop-illegal-sand-lifting-jamuna-river-1786579
Crack down on the syndicate of sand traders It is most unfortunate that despite there being strict laws against illegal sand-lifting from rivers, such practices continue unabated all across the country. As this daily reported on Sept 4, indiscriminate sand-lifting from the Bongshi river in Bashna area of Dhamrai upazila is posing a threat to nearby farmlands and homesteads and escalating the risk of river erosion.
During a recent visit to the spot, our correspondent found that a syndicate of sand traders, led by a politically influential person, was extracting sand using two locally assembled dredging machines. According to the residents of the area, sand lifting at the spot has been going on for the last eight months. https://www.thedailystar.net/editorial/news/crack-down-the-syndicate-sand-traders-1796584 (7 Sept. 2019)
A major threat to the environment It makes absolutely no sense as to why illegal stone extraction in Sylhet, Bandarban and other hilly regions in the country would continue despite directives from the High Court and calls from environmentalists and the local people to stop this dangerous practice. This daily published a picture on June 4 of a tila in Sylhet’s Companiganj upazila which has now become a mining site where many workers are involved in stone-mining—risking their lives. https://www.thedailystar.net/editorial/news/major-threat-the-environment-1754101 (9 June 2019)
Stop stone extraction from Sangu, Matamuhuri Rivers: HC The High Court on Feb. 24 directed the authorities concerned to stop stone extraction from Sangu and Matamuhuri Rivers and their adjacent reserved forest areas in Bandarban district. A bench of Justice Moyeenul Islam Chowdhury and Justice Md Ashraful Kamal passed the order after hearing a writ petition. Environment and Forests secretary, Director General of Department of Environment, Deputy Commissioner of Bandarban, Superintendent of Police and six other respondents were asked to comply with the order and submit a report within one month. The court also issued a rule seeking explanation as to why inactivity of authorities regarding the stone extraction from those places should not be declared illegal.
The writ was filed jointly by Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (BELA), Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon (BAPA), Bangladesh Adibashi Forum, Nijera Kori, Kapaeeng Foundation, Association for Land Reform and Development (ALRD) and Mong Soipru Khaiyam, a local resident. http://www.unb.com.bd/category/Bangladesh/spot-stone-extraction-from-sangu-matamuhuri-rivers-hc/13322 (24 Feb. 2019)
Tannery waste taints Dhaleshwari The operation of the tannery estate in Fulbaria under Savar upazila in so many ways affected the lives of people along the riverbanks downstream. They can’t sleep well due to a sickening stench. They can’t use the water for farming or washing livestock anymore. Their children have been warned not to bathe in the river in fear of water-borne diseases.
Experts say the damage could have been minimised had the tannery estate started its operation only after completion of the central effluent treatment plant (CETP). With a daily capacity of treating 25 thousand cubic metres of waste, the CETP was supposed to be fully operational in 2016 after Chinese firm Ling Xi Environment began the construction in 2014. But the authorities extended the deadline nine times, the latest being June 30 2019. https://www.thedailystar.net/frontpage/savar-tannery-waste-taints-dhaleshwari-river-in-bangladesh-1781059 (3 Aug. 2019)
Factory fined Tk 2.27 lakh over river pollution Department of Environment (DoE), Chattogram zone, fined Tk 227,800 on a factory and closed it down for not implementing Effective Treatment Plant (ETP) in a hearing. The factory’s negligence resulted in pollution of the river Karnaphuli by releasing unrefined oil-waste. (29 May 2019) https://www.thedailystar.net/city/news/factory-fined-tk-227-lakh-over-river-pollution-1750306
Louhajang River: Palette of pollution The file photo taken in April 2010, of the same river shows the colour of the water to be dark blue as the pollution has been going on for years. Photo: Mirza Shakil. At a certain location, the Louhajang River occasionally changes its colour. Sometimes it turns red, sometimes yellow, and sometimes purple. But it is not out of some natural event. It is man-made.
Before 1995, when Alauddin Textile Mills was built on the bank of the river, the water was fresh and used for bathing, washing, and irrigating farms. Ever since then, the factory has been continuously releasing untreated waste into it. Now the water is unfit for any use. (5 May 2019) https://www.thedailystar.net/backpage/news/louhajang-river-palette-pollution-1738819
Halda River pollution getting worse A recent report by the Department of Environment states that the discharge of industrial effluents into the Halda River is causing depletion of fish stocks. Halda River is vitally important because we are told that it is the only place in the country where naturally-laid carp eggs can be gathered for hatching.
Unfortunately, DoE’s probe has found that a number of industries are directly responsible for polluting the river. This probe was conducted back in 2017 and two years on, we find that no effective steps have been taken to take the polluters to task. With some 18 canals connected to the Halda River, the pollution has spread and despite being armed with detailed laboratory tests, we cannot understand what is holding up authorities from acting to save the river from destruction. Although many industries in the area have claimed that they use effluent treatment plant, reporters have found that there are some industries that are not using them. https://www.thedailystar.net/editorial/news/halda-river-pollution-getting-worse-1718881 (23 March 2019)
Race against time to save Halda river The local administration is struggling to scoop 105,000 litres of furnace oil from a canal linked to the Halda River as severe cyclonic storm ‘Fani’ intensified. For now, makeshift embankments are preventing the oil from getting into Halda, Bangladesh’s largest fish spawning ground. But stopping the oil from polluting the river will be a huge challenge if the weather changes. (30 April 2019) https://unb.com.bd/category/Bangladesh/race-against-time-to-save-halda-river/17471
Oil spill threatens rare dolphin breeding zone An oil spill on Karnaphuli river near Chittagong port in southeast Bangladesh has threatened the breeding ground of the critically endangered Ganges dolphin, environmentalists said (Oct 27, 2019), describing it as a “major disaster” for the mammal. A tanker carrying 1,200 tonnes of diesel collided with another ship.
At least 10 tonnes of diesel spread across an area of 16 kms, but local media said the amount spilled was likely to be far higher. Environmentalists said the spillage posed a “serious threat to the marine biodiversity in the river”, particularly for some 60 freshwater dolphins who use the area as their breeding ground. https://energy.economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/oil-and-gas/disaster-oil-spill-threatens-rare-bangladesh-dolphin-breeding-zone/71788685 (28 Oct. 2019)
It is a “major disaster” for dolphins as spilled diesel or any other type of oil severely damages the food chain of a river or a canal almost immediately after contamination. The diesel spill in the Karnaphuli River is a threat to the local biodiversity, especially the Ganges dolphins as the 22 km stretch of the river from Karnaphuli estuary to Shah Amanat Bridge is their breeding ground. At least 20 dolphins have died unnaturally in Karnaphuli and Halda rivers in the past four years, mostly due to pollution. https://www.thethirdpole.net/en/2019/11/05/dolphins-threatened-by-bangladesh-oil-spill/ (5 Nov. 2019)
HILSA SUCCESS STORY
Hilsa fish production doubles in a decade The production of the Hilsa or Ilish fish has doubled in Bangladesh during the last one decade since 2008-09 from 3 lakh Tonnes to 6 lakh tonnes last year. https://nenow.in/north-east-news/hilsa-fish-production-doubles-during-last-decade-in-bangladesh.html (17 March 2019)
Bangladesh has come up with strict measures to ensure breeding of fish. Bangladesh has banned fishing off its coast for 65 days from May 20 till July 23 to try and boost depleted fish stocks. During this period all types of fishing vessels would be covered by the ban and coast guards have been specifically directed to enforce it along Bay of Bengal. Bangladesh is known for its fish exports, especially the majestic Hilsa. https://nenow.in/neighbour/assam-fishing-restrictions-only-on-papers-bangladesh-imposes-stringent-ban.html (21 May 2019)
Ban on Ilish catching, selling from Oct. 9-30 The government has banned ilish catching, selling, transporting, hoarding and marketing for 22 days from Oct 9-30 to protect mother ilish for ensuring safe breeding. “For the first time, under the directives of the Prime Minister, a total of 4,14,784 fishermen families of coastal fishery areas were provided with 35,948 metric tons of food assistance during the 65 days of fishing ban”. About 80% of the total ilish produced in the world is derived from the rivers, estuaries and seas of Bangladesh. (7 Oct. 2019) https://www.dhakatribune.com/bangladesh/rules-and-regulations/2019/10/07/ban-on-ilish-catching-selling-from-oct-9-30
Hilsa changes route, migrates to Bangladesh waters The king of fishes is changing its migration route. Faced with a mesh of nets at the mouth of the Hooghly in India and a highly silted riverbed, shoals of hilsa are taking flight to Bangladesh. That is one of the main reasons why the hilsa catch in Bengal’s rivers is drastically declining, pushing up prices, say experts. In 2002-03, the total hilsa catch in the Hooghly was 62,600 tonnes (T). Within a decade and a half (2017-18), that came down to 27,539 T — a drop of 56%. During the same period, the catch in Bangladesh increased from 1,99,032 T to 5,17,000 T — a rise of 160%.
“The hilsa stock that congregate in north Bay of Bengal mainly takes three routes for their upstream journey during the spawning season: the Hooghly estuary, the Meghna in Bangladesh and the Irrawaddy in Myanmar. But, due to high siltation and virtually unrestricted fishing in the Hooghly, the fish has been changing its migration route and is moving up mostly through the Meghna,” says Utpal Bhaumik, retired divisional head of Central Inland Fisheries Research Institute. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/kolkata/hilsa-changes-route-swims-bangla-waters/articleshow/71250754.cms (23 Sept. 2019)
INDIA BANGLADESH RIVER & WATER SHARING
SHARED CULTURE Parineeta Dandekar celebrates the Ichhamati River on India-Bangladesh border from the literary genius of W Bengal’s Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay’s works. (29 April 2019) https://sandrp.in/2019/04/29/bibhutibhushan-bandyopadhyays-ichhamati-river-of-epiphanies/
India Bangladesh Joint Statement on Oct 5, 2019, during visit of Bangladesh PM to India Both Leaders agreed to enhance cooperation in the area of Disaster Management. They welcomed the need for early completion of an MoU in the area of disaster management cooperation in a time-bound manner.
– Both Leaders expressed satisfaction at the discussions in August 2019 in Dhaka between the Secretaries of Water Resources of both the countries and the subsequent formation of the Joint Technical Committee as well as formulation of the Terms of Reference to conduct the Feasibility Study of the proposed Ganges-Padma Barrage Project in Bangladesh for optimum utilization of the water received by Bangladesh as per Ganges Water Sharing Treaty 1996.
– Both Leaders directed the Technical Level Committee of the Joint Rivers Commission to expeditiously exchange updated data and information and prepare the draft framework of Interim Sharing Agreements for the six rivers, namely, Manu, Muhuri, Khowai, Gumti, Dharla and Dudhkumar and to firm up the draft framework of interim sharing agreement of Feni River.
– Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina highlighted that the people of Bangladesh are awaiting early signing and implementation of the Framework of Interim Agreement for sharing of the Teesta waters, as agreed upon by both govts in 2011. PM Modi informed that his govt is working with all stakeholders in India for conclusion of the Agreement soonest possible.
– Both Leaders appreciated the decision taken in the Water Resources Secretary level meeting in Dhaka for early start of the work on withdrawal of 1.82 cusec of water from Feni River for drinking purpose of the people of Sabroom town of Tripura. [An MoU on this issue was signed, Exchanged and adopted.]
– Both leaders underlined the immense potential of movement of cargo using the inland water and coastal shipping trade. Towards this, they welcomed the decision to operationalize the Dhulian-Gadagari-Rajshahi-Daulatdia-Aricha Route (to and fro) and include Daudkandi-Sonamura Route (to and fro) under Protocol on Inland Water Transit and Trade.
– Both sides welcomed the agreement reached at the 17th JSC meeting on Indo-Bangladesh cooperation in Power Sector held in Dhaka recently, to develop a 765kV Double Circuit cross-border electricity interconnection between Katihar (India), Parbotipur (Bangladesh) and Bornagar (India). While implementation modalities will be finalized, the Leaders noted that this additional capacity would enable more intra-regional electricity trade, including competitively-priced power generated from Hydro-electric power projects in India, Nepal & Bhutan. https://pib.gov.in/PressReleseDetail.aspx?PRID=1587295 (5 Oct. 2019)
Feni River: India’s Water Withdrawal and More Information According to India’s new agreement with Bangladesh, India will be able to lift 1.82 cusecs of water from the Feni River. According to a press release from the Ministry of Water Resources, the average amount of water in the Feni River is 5 cusecs and the average water intake is about 3 cusecs during the dry season. The Feni River has a significant impact on the lives of people on the two sides of the Feni river flow path on the hills and plains of Bangladesh on both sides of the river. Several tributaries have come over the Feni river from the hills and Khagrachari. Among these, the river Muhuri is notable. https://www.bbc.com/bengali/news-49953040 (Oct 26 2019)
Bangladesh perspective on agreement Both India and Bangladesh should realise that unless this basic problem of diversion of flow and destabilisation of Bangladesh’s rivers is addressed, it will be difficult to meet India’s need for water routes through Bangladesh to its seven northeastern states. Maintaining the proposed river routes will require enormous and perpetual dredging, which at some point will become simply untenable. India’s plan to divert Brahmaputra water, under its River Linking Project, will aggravate the situation further.
Without this basic realisation, efforts to reach agreements regarding sharing of rivers will not be fruitful. The unpleasant fact is that the 1996 Ganges Treaty has not increased the winter flow of the Padma River and has not stopped the process of destabilisation of this river.
Similarly, assurances of a Teesta sharing agreement are not of much value, because Bangladesh has been getting such assurances for many years now, and more importantly because, by the time any such agreement may be reached, there will be hardly any flow left of the Teesta River beyond the Gajoldoba Barrage in winter. Against this backdrop, it is ironic that the only concrete river-related outcome of the Hasina-Modi meeting was Bangladesh’s agreement to allow India to withdraw part of the Feni River flow. The quantity is small, but the symbolism is large. It shows that, as far as shared rivers are concerned, India gets what it wants while Bangladesh keeps on pleading.
It is indeed unfortunate that Bangladesh fails to raise the demand for the removal of diversionary structures built by India, when there is an increasing recognition that the Farakka Barrage has failed to achieve its stated goal of desilting the Kolkata port and has instead become a problem even for India now, causing upstream flooding in the Indian state of Bihar. As a result, there is a growing demand inside India for demolition of the Farakka Barrage.
Given the experience of Farakka, the idea of constructing a Ganges-Padma Barrage of the usual type inside Bangladesh with India’s help does not make much sense. Such a barrage will provide justification for the Farakka Barrage and cause similar downstream and upstream harms as Farakka has already caused. https://www.thedailystar.net/opinion/farakka-hasina-modi-agreements-shared-rivers-what-did-bangladesh-get-1811053 (8 Oct. 2019)
Water sharing agreement draws criticism in Bangladesh There is resentment in Bangladesh about recent MOU about water issues with India. Bangladesh has around 400 rivers and its rural economy is dependent on agricultural production. “People in Bangladesh depend on rivers for their livelihood. Rivers are their identity, their lives,” Sheikh Rokon, Secretary-General of Riverine People, a civil society organization dedicated to river issues in Bangladesh said. https://www.dw.com/en/water-sharing-agreements-with-india-draw-criticism-in-bangladesh/a-50796103 (11 Oct. 2019)
India’s river water withdrawal affects groundwater recharge: minister Bangladesh Agriculture minister Muhammad Abdur Razzaque told a seminar, ‘Violating international laws on trans-border rivers, India continues withdrawing water for irrigation for which river systems in Bangladesh are being seriously affected’. He was speaking at the seminar on ‘Climate change: challenges in agriculture’ at the Institution of Diploma Engineers, Bangladesh, jointly organised by the institution, Agriculture Information Service and Bangladesh Climate Change Journalists Forum. http://www.newagebd.net/article/72916/indias-river-water-withdrawal-affects-groundwater-recharge-minister (19 May 2019)
Teesta water sharing Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj on 8 Feb. assured visiting Bangladesh Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen that they will work for early conclusion to the long-awaited Teesta water sharing agreement.
Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj greets visiting Bangladesh Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen on Friday, Feb 8, 2019. Photo courtesy: Indian Ministry of External Affairs
Swaraj came up with the assurance after Momen requested his Indian counterpart for water sharing of all common rivers including early resolution of the Teesta water sharing. https://www.thedailystar.net/southeast-asia/news/india-assures-early-conclusion-teesta-water-sharing-1699327 (8 Feb. 2019)
The why and how of getting the Teesta Agreement signed By Gauri Noolkar Despite willingness at the highest political levels, the Teesta agreement has not been signed due to sustained opposition by the Indian state of West Bengal. A riparian state in the Teesta basin, West Bengal has maintained that acceding more water to Bangladesh would be detrimental to the interests of farmers in Northern Bengal, though probable political losses are also a compelling factor. Even though the Constitution of India vests the central government with powers to override West Bengal’s opposition, geopolitical and domestic realities dictate otherwise. Dams are also responsible for altering the flow of the Teesta downstream, affecting West Bengal as well as downstream Bangladesh. The central government needs to drastically revise its energy policy and promote economically and environmentally viable options such as solar energy in sunshine-abundant North India so as to ease the pressure off the Teesta. These steps would embark India on a smoother part towards signing the Teesta agreement. https://www.sadf.eu/the-why-and-how-of-getting-the-teesta-agreement-signed-by-india-and-bangladesh/ (5 March 2019)
Technical talks on sharing of river water cancelled India-Bangladesh Joint Rivers Commission’s technical-level talks that were scheduled to begin on Dec. 19 were cancelled at the last minute, an official of the Ministry of Jal Shakti said on Dec. 18. Though the official didn’t mention any specific reason for cancellation of the talks, he said, “It was a request from the Bangladesh side.”
– However, sources said the meeting was postponed due to the delay in the exchange of data on six common rivers which was updated several years ago. Noting that the meeting was scheduled to be held on December 19-20, the official said the new date of the meeting has not been finalised yet. Last week, Bangladesh Foreign Minister A K Abdul Momen and Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan, too, cancelled their scheduled visits to India. India and Bangladesh share 54 rivers and a Joint River Commission is functioning since June 1972. Besides this, technical level meetings are held regularly. https://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-bangla-technical-talks-on-sharing-of-river-water-cancelled/ (19 Dec. 2019)
NGT, in its order on 2nd April 2019, has observed “that discharge of untreated effluents from Bangladesh is also one of the major cause of the pollution of River Churni and it will have to be taken care by Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India and Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, if at all.” Further, NGT has directed the W Bengal State Govt “to address the matter to the Ministry of External Affairs, Govt of India and Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change shall pursue the matter with the Ministry of External Affairs, Govt of India and take necessary steps in this regard to help the W Bengal Govt to make the State pollution free in this regard. NGT has also directed the Ministry of External Affairs, Govt of India to submit a report in the matter.
Advocates Ms. Sharon Mathew with Ms. Kanika Sood of LIFE representing the Mathabhanga-Churni Restoration Committee affiliated with Dakshinbanga Matsyajibi Forum (DMF) had submitted to the NGT that Ranaghat Municipality was continuing garbage dumping in and by the side of river Churni. They had submitted a number of photos taken by activists as evidence. On this the NGT directed Mr. Anchintya Kumar Banerjee, Advocate and learned Counsel for Ranaghat Municipality to submit a report regarding the allegation made with photographs showing dumping of garbage and if the allegation was true, state the steps taken to remove the same and disposal of the same within a period of one month from 2nd April 2019. (2 April 2019) http://www.indiaenvironmentportal.org.in/content/462775/order-of-the-national-green-tribunal-regarding-churni-river-pollution-due-to-discharge-of-untreated-effluents-west-bengal-02042019/
‘Teesta’ row takes away Bangladeshi Hilsas from Bengal palate? While replying to a question raised by Mrs Rohima Mondal, Trinamul Congress MLA of Deganga constituency in North 24-Parganas during Question Hour, the chief minister Miss Mamata Banerjee said in the state legislative assembly, “Bangladesh has stopped exporting hilsa to our country (during 2012) as they are not getting water of the Teesta.”
“We have a good relation with Bangladesh because it’s our neighbour as well as friend.” Miss Banerjee said: “We are exploring how to breed Bangladeshi hilsa fish in some canals that have direct connections with the river Padma of Bangladesh. We have already set up hilsa research centre at Diamond Harbour in South 24- Parganas district where fisheries experts have started work on how to breed the fish.” https://www.thestatesman.com/bengal/teesta-row-takes-away-bangladeshi-hilsas-bengal-palate-1502773374.html (3 July 2019)
Atrai river drying up due to construction of dam in Bangladesh: CM Interesting to know that Mamata Banerjee has told State Assembly that River Atrai is drying up because of dams construction in Bangladesh and New Delhi is not seriously taking up the issue with Dhaka.
“Because of the dam, people of South Dinajpur district are suffering. Everything from the state has been sent to the Centre but the Centre is watching the matter and taking it lightly,” Banerjee informed the House in response to Opposition’s question over the issue.
In recent years, its flow has got severely affected by barrages and river-controlling structures in Bangladesh. Locals allege that after Bangladesh constructed a dam a few years ago, the riverbed had started to dry in summers. “I have spoken to Bangladesh PM Sheikh Hasina as well as PM Narendra Modi on this issue,” Mamata informed the State Assembly. (9 July 2019) https://www.firstpost.com/india/mamata-banerjee-says-atrai-river-drying-up-due-to-construction-of-dam-in-bangladesh-accuses-centre-of-taking-matter-lightly-6963851.html
“Because of the dam, people from South Dinajpur district are suffering. However, the Centre has not taken up the issue despite our repeated requests,” she said. (http://www.millenniumpost.in/kolkata/mamata-trains-gun-on-centre-for-not-dredging-farakka-362544 July 9, 2019)
India’s river water withdrawal causes encroachment, pollution The national river conservation commission in its latest annual report has identified indiscriminate withdrawal of waters from the trans-boundary rivers upstream by India as a cause for accelerating the rate of river grabbing and river water pollution in Bangladesh. The report scheduled to be placed at the Jaitya Sangsad in the next session of parliament reads that indiscriminate withdrawal of waters of cross-border rivers by India is depleting water levels in Bangladesh alarmingly resulting in increase of pollution level in river waters. The commission report identifies increase of salinity in river waters in Bangladesh as another adverse impact of the arbitrary withdrawal of river waters by India. http://www.newagebd.net/article/86350/indias-river-water-withdrawal-causes-encroachment-pollution (2 Oct. 2019)
Early flash floods in the haor region: A new normal? A flash flood in early April of 2017 devastated the boro crops in six haor districts that were worth Tk 13,000 crore. Since then, a shadow of anguish engulfs millions of farmers every time there is a grey cloud in the northern sky in early April. This year too, according to news reports, rain accompanied by hailstorm damaged crops on vast tracts of paddy fields in Kishoreganj and Moulvibazar districts during the first week of April. In general, yearly floods in the haor region occur during late April and last for several months. Boro crop is harvested after Bangla New Year around April 15 or so. Any early hailstorm and flash flood during late March or early April cause havoc for farmers. In addition to damaging the boro crop, the flood in 2017 also devastated poultry, fisheries, and livestock in Netrokona, Sunamganj, Sylhet, Moulvibazar, Habiganj, and Kishoreganj districts. https://www.thedailystar.net/opinion/environment/news/early-flash-floods-the-haor-region-new-normal-1726942 (9 April 2019)
Frail dams add to people’s plights At least five villages of Kalapara upazila in the Bangladesh Patuakhali district were flooded on May 3 as two dams on the Andarmanik River were damaged due to impacts of super cyclone ‘Fani’ that was battering India on May 3, 2019. Thousands of coastal people incur a huge loss due to the collapse of embankments and dams during major floods and cyclones. Prof Ainun Nishat said each climate incident should be analysed to facilitate proper measures in future. He said, “It is regretful that we failed to do it after Sidr and Aila.” http://www.theindependentbd.com/post/198077 (4 May 2019)
Monu embankment under threat, needs immediate repair A vast tract of land is under threat of being flooded by the Monu river during this rainy season as its embankment in Moulvibazar Sadar upazila has started to breach at two locations and 65 other locations remain vulnerable. Despite drawing attention to local office of Water Development Board (WDB) a number of times, no repair work was conducted as yet, alleged locals. https://www.thedailystar.net/country/news/monu-embankment-under-threat-needs-immediate-repair-1750480 (29 May 2019)
Swelling Jamuna devours croplands, houses During the last three years, over 1000 families of the villages shifted their houses from the riverside while vast tracks of croplands, two high schools, four primary schools, a mosque, madrasa, and other structures were devoured by the river, Mazedur Rahman Talukder, chairman of Mahmudnagar union parishad (UP) said. Md Sirajul Islam, executive engineer of Water Development Board in Tangail, told that they have already dumped 36,000 geo-bags in 12 spurs since June 17 as an emergency step to check the erosion in the area. The flow has already moved to the west after dumping of the geo-bags, he said. “A project is underway for conducting protection works in a 22-km area along the east bank of the river in Tangail as part of a mega project to check the erosion,” he added. https://www.thedailystar.net/country/news/swelling-jamuna-devours-croplands-houses-1762480 (26 June 2019)
Unfortunately, the erosion is not limited to the rainy season only, but continues to destroy long after monsoon has passed. Despite the extensive news coverage regarding the worsening conditions, it seems that those who can do something about it are turning a blind eye to it. How many more people need to suffer for the matter to be dealt with urgently? https://www.thedailystar.net/letters/news/wrath-the-jamuna-river-1811056 (9 Oct. 2019)
Similarly, erosion by the Padma River has taken a serious turn in the last couple of weeks, devouring more than 50 acres of arable land in the upazila. (30 June 2019) http://www.newagebd.net/article/77013/padma-devouring-arable-lands-in-goalanda
Bangladesh floods worsen after breach, death toll nears 100 in India In Bangladesh, the Jamuna river broke through an embankment on July 17 night, inundating at least 40 villages and displacing more than 200,000 people, government official Rokhsana Begum said.
The floods have killed at least 43 animals in Kaziranga National Park, but authorities worry that poachers could take advantage of the deluge to target animals, especially one-horned rhinos, whose numbers are down to about 3,500 worldwide. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-southasia-floods/bangladesh-floods-worsen-after-breach-death-toll-nears-100-in-india-idUSKCN1UD16P (18 July 2019)
Flash flood hits Teesta char people Around 50 thousand people in char areas of Lalmonirhat became marooned as heavy rain and onrush of water from the upstream caused overflowing of the Teesta river and consequent flash floods in low lying areas of 21 unions in the district’s five upazilas on Sept. 18. The river was flowing 21 cm and 14 cm above its danger mark at Teesta Barrage point at Dowani in Lalmonirhat’s Hatibandha upazila on Sept. 17 night and Sept. 18 morning, said Bajle Karim, sub-divisional engineer of Water Development Board (WDB) in Lalmonirhat. The flood caused inundation of Aman paddy plants and vegetables on vast areas and many of the affected people took shelter on the govt roads and flood centres with their domestic animals and necessary things. With recession of floodwater, some of them started returning home. https://www.thedailystar.net/country/news/flash-flood-hits-teesta-char-people-1802548 (20 Sept 2019)
NW-II Call for subsidy in Kolkata-NE cargo movement via waterways This shows Inlwand transport is neither cost effective nor cheaper. Inland waterways cargo requires subsidy, at least till navigation in the protocol route via Bangladesh is smoothened to boost cargo movement to North East from Kolkata on the National Waterways-II, officials said. “We are asking for some subsidy support for using NW-II, at least for a short term, till navigation issues in Bangladesh like dredging and installation of night navigation infrastructure are sorted out,” Summit Alliance Port East Gateway (SAPEL) COO Tushar Biswas said.
SAPEL is a Bangladesh-based port and shipping operator which has signed an agreement with Inland Waterways Authority of India for the operation and management of two terminals in Kolkata. https://www.business-standard.com/article/pti-stories/call-for-subsidy-in-kolkata-ne-cargo-movement-via-waterways-119010600459_1.html ( 6 Jan. 2019)
Dredging of rivers The Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority has reclaimed about 1,000 acres of fallow land with dredge spoil, while 915 km of waterways have been made navigable, it is claimed. BIWTA also claims that hundreds of poor farmers have become self-reliant by cultivating fish, ducks, cattle and doing other water-dependent businesses, as water is now available round the year. The project, in the first phase, is being implemented for 24 important inland rivers under the ‘capital dredging on 53 important inland rivers’ programme, which started in 2012 and is scheduled to be completed in 2021. The BIWTA has already spent Tk 936 crore out of a total Tk 1,923 crore, Saidur Rahman, additional chief engineer (Dredging) of BIWTA said.
Regarding the dredging work of the protocol routes between Bangladesh and India, the BIWTA official said, “The survey work of 285 km of the Ashuganj-Jokiganj route of Kushiara River and 178 km of Sirajganj-Doikhawa route of the river Brahmaputra has been completed.” The dredging work of these protocol routes will begin soon, Rahman said. http://www.theindependentbd.com/post/193773 (31 March 2019)
Risky trips through rivers Frequent movement of unauthorised vessels, hidden islands and narrow channel have made around 50 km of Dhaka-Barishal naval route extremely risky. Between January and August 2019, at least eight accidents happened in the 50-km stretch that killed two people and injured 50 more, said an official of BIWTA. (9 Oct. 2019) https://www.thedailystar.net/backpage/news/risky-trips-thru-rivers-1811131
Silt route poses river link hurdle Even as movement of goods through protocol river routes between India and Bangladesh is being projected as an effective mode for cutting down cost and distance of transportation to and from the Northeast, both countries are facing the herculean task of making the routes siltation-free for smooth navigation. India and Bangladesh share 54 rivers, including the Brahmaputra. But the load of silts that the rivers carry and the cost involved in clearing the silt through dredging is making the task of navigation challenging, experts from Bangladesh and India said.
“Dredging the rivers is a big challenge for India and Bangladesh,” Inland Waterways Authority of India chairperson Amita Prasad said. Prasad said about 2% of the movement of goods are through river routes in the Northeast. Bangladesh’s Ministry of Shipping secretary Md Abdus Samad said at the concluding day of the two-day India-Bangladesh Stakeholders’ meet in Guwahati that more than one million tonnes of silt per year are carried by the rivers in Bangladesh, including the Brahmaputra, which is called Jamuna in that country.
“We are continuously dredging the rivers to keep them navigable. Our target is to make 10,000 km of the river routes navigable through dredging. We are also trying to dredge the Brahmaputra and the Barak on our side,” Samad said. Act East Policy affairs minister Chandra Mohan Patowary said while the dredging of Barak river – declared the national waterway 16 – has been completed, the works on the Brahmaputra is underway.
Bangladesh’s ministry of shipping joint secretary Manoj Kanti Baral said of 700 rivers in Bangladesh, eight are in the protocol route. “Our government is pumping in a substantial amount of money in dredging the rivers,” Baral said. He said in 1975 Bangladesh had five dredgers, while there are 100 now. India’s ministry of shipping senior economic adviser Rajat Sachar said Bangladesh had launched major dredging exercises for managing siltation of its rivers to keep them navigable. He said during the discussion on “port use agreement” that the issue of charging ships in future came up because of the high cost of dredging by Bangladesh. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/guwahati/guwahati-silt-route-poses-river-link-hurdle/articleshow/71735762.cms (24 Oct. 2019)
Adani vessel, 2 others stranded for days on a Bangladesh river Lack of flow, shallow depth making dredging inevitable to rescue stuck vessel appearing common problem in waterways transport. On the evening of Nov 24, the cargo vessel MV Beki sent an SOS after running aground on the Jamuna, in Bangladesh. The ship, which was carrying coal from Haldia to Guwahati, also asked the accompanying vessels MV Maheshwari and MV Aai to anchor right away to prevent it from getting stuck in the shallow river bed. The vessels were part of India’s first attempt to send containerised cargo via a river from Kolkata to Guwahati.
– The three vessels — the biggest being Maheshwari, which Adani Group has leased to ferry edible oil and other material — were flagged off by Shipping Secretary Gopal Krishna on Nov 4. According to the itinerary, the 1,425 km journey traversing Hemnagar (border), Khulna, Sirajganj, Chilmari (border), Dhubri and Pandu was to be covered in 12-15 days. But almost a month later, the vessels are some 200 km from its destination, the Pandu river port in Guwahati.
After starting their journey, the three ships had to brave the Bulbul, the tropical cyclone that hit Odisha, W Bengal & Bangladesh around Nov 10. The cyclone halted the vessels in Sunderbans for a couple of days. It was smoother sailing after that. But when the vessels entered Bangladesh and were near Sirajganj around the last week of Nov one ran aground. Indian officials suspect the local maritime pilot – the sailor who guides a ship through a particular route or a port — directing the vessel perhaps led it into a channel that did not have the required depth. Though a captain is the head of a ship, he might allow a pilot who knows the local geography to navigate certain crucial or dangerous stretches.
Cargo vessels that usually carry weight equivalent to that of 80 to 100 loaded trucks require least available depth of 2.5-3 metres for unhindered sailing. The stretch where Beki got stuck was known to have inadequate depth during this time of the year. After receiving the lead vessel’s SOS, officials of BIWTA and Inland Waterways Authority of India (IWAI) swung into action and launched a joint rescue operation. On Nov 29, the IWAI confirmed in a Twitter post the “vessels got stuck up in wrong channels”. During the next couple of days, a dredger was brought in to clear the mud around the ships and to make a path for them. A tugboat, which is used to tow ships, was sailed in from Dhubri, a river port in western Assam. The vessels began voyaging again soon after. But more trouble was on the way. Around the first week of Dec, at least one of the ships ran aground near Chilmari, a border town in Bangladesh. They remained there for three days before a dredger came to rescue them again.
By Thursday night, ET Magazine has learnt, all the three vessels had reached Hatsingimari, a town in western Assam that shares a border with Meghalaya and Bangladesh. Here, the vessels had to get the mandatory security clearance from the Border Security Force before re-entering India’s waters and proceeding towards Guwahati, where they should have docked by Nov end, according to schedule. Such a delay would defeat the aim of using inland waterways to cut transportation cost and time. To ensure ships do not run aground on this route, both countries have started a Rs 187 crore dredging project between Sirajganj and Daikhawa in Bangladesh, a distance of 175 km. The project — 80% of which is funded by India — is expected to be completed by 2021. Earlier this week, Dhaka has agreed to conduct fortnightly surveys on select river routes and share data on depths, channel alignments and such with New Delhi so that these issues can be avoided. Looks like it will be bon voyage on this route only next year. (8 Dec. 2019) https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/industry/transportation/shipping-/-transport/dry-run-indias-plan-for-an-inland-water-route-from-kolkata-to-guwahati-hits-a-rough-patch/articleshow/72419509.cms
China, Bangladesh nod to Brahmaputra river project China and Bangladesh have given a no-objection to the Assam Inland Water Transport Project (AIWTP) on the Brahmaputra, funded by the World Bank. https://www.telegraphindia.com/states/north-east/china-bangladesh-nod-to-brahmaputra-river-project/cid/1730754 (28 Dec. 2019)
Ramsar tag makes Indian Sunderbans largest protected wetland The Indian side of the Sunderbans has received the prestigious ‘Wetlands of International Importance’ tag under the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, making it the largest protected wetland in the country. Home to the royal Bengal tiger, this is the second Ramsar site in Bengal after the East Kolkata Wetlands, which got the tag in 2002. The decision was taken at a Ramsar convention in Geneva on Feb. 1, 2019.
The Bangladesh part of the Sunderbans had received the Ramsar tag way back in 1992. Together, both sides of the wetlands spread over an area of over 10,000 sq km rivals the famed Congo River basin and the Amazon estuary as one of the largest trans-boundary wetlands in the world. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/kolkata/ramsar-tag-makes-indian-sunderbans-largest-protected-wetland-in-country/articleshow/67813084.cms (3 Feb. 2019)
Meanwhile, netting of fish has been banned in all the canals of Sundarbans from July 1 to August 31 in order to promote safe breeding and to preserve aquatic animals. The move is also being imposed to stop netting of fishes by spraying poison in the creeks of Sundarbans, reports Bagerhat correspondent quoting Divisional Forest Officer of Sundarbans East Mahamudul Hasan.
The area of the Sundarbans in Bangladesh part is 6,737 sq km of which the aquatic area is 1,874.1 sq km. This is 31.15 percent of the total Sundarbans, he said. In the water body of the Sundarbans there are 13 big rivers including Bhola, Baleshwar, Salah, Passur and around 450 small creeks, the correspondent reports. The mangrove forest which is constantly flooded with tidal waters is home to 210 varieties of local fish like Bhetki, Roopchanda, Datina, Chitra, Pangas, Leyte, Churi, Med, Parese, Poya, Tapsay, Lakhna, Koi, Magur, Shol, Kain and Hilsa. A total of 24 species of shrimp including Bagda, Chali, Chaka and Chamti are found here. There are total of 14 species of crab in the Sundarbans. (30 June 2019) https://www.thedailystar.net/environment/fishing-in-sundarbans-remain-banned-in-july-august-1764592
Largest freshwater lake inching towards death Kaptai Lake, the biggest manmade lake in Bangladesh, is heading for a tragic end as sediments fill up its bottom and waste materials continue to pollute it every day. The 688 sq km lake, created by damming the Karnafuli River in Rangamati for hydroelectricity in 1960, has been providing livelihood for a large portion of the local population through tourism, fishing, transportation and much else. Pollution and the use of pesticides are playing big roles in the water body’s decline, environmentalists say. Sunil Kanti Dey, a Rangamati-based journalist who has seen Kaptai Lake from its inception, says that it is now a pale shadow of its former self. “Restoring the lake’s former glory will be very difficult, if not impossible,” he says. “It’ll be too late if we don’t act now.” (6 May 2019) http://www.ipsnews.net/2019/05/bangladeshs-largest-freshwater-lake-inching-towards-death/
West Sundarbans hit hard by Cyclone Bulbul Around 4500 trees, including Sundari plants have been affected by Cyclone Bulbul in the Sundarbans, largely in the western side of the world’s largest mangrove forest, according to a primary assessment report of the forest department.
Of the 4,589 trees uprooted, which is worth Tk 50.35 lakh, 4,002 trees were damaged in the west zone while 587 others in east zone of Sundarbans, a Unesco world heritage site, after the Cyclone Bulbul wreaked havoc in the country’s coastal districts in the early hours of Nov 10. Of the trees damaged in west zone, 874 are Sundari, and 1,534 Geoa trees. https://www.dhakatribune.com/bangladesh/nation/2019/11/17/west-sundarbans-hit-hard-by-cyclone-bulbul (17 Nov. 2019)
Trilateral PPA on cards Minister of Energy, Water Resources and Irrigation Barsha Man Pun said the govt expected a trilateral Power Purchase Agreement between Nepal, India and Bangladesh on the Upper Karnali Hydropower Project during the investment summit slated for March 29 and 30 for export of 500 MW from the project to Bangladesh.
“The Indian side told me the draft PPA to be signed between GMR and Bangladesh govt was in the final stage and that they were ready to sign a trilateral agreement, including Nepal,” he said. Pun said he also floated an alternative proposal in Delhi that if GMR was not able to develop the project, Nepal govt would build it by allocating shares in the project to GMR equivalent to its investment so far. “Haryana govt has agreed in principle to buy 300 MW electricity from GMR,” Pun said. GMR has been holding the project since 2006 when it won the contract through global biding. As per the contract agreement, Nepal Electricity Authority will get 108 MW energy for free and 27 per cent equity share.
– Pun said Nepal had already started exporting surplus energy to India under the energy banking system. He said the exports amounted to Rs 160 million so far this fiscal, while last year’s exports stood at Rs 70 million. “We will export energy worth billions of rupees from next year after Upper Tamakoshi project starts generating 456 MW electricity. We are not very far from becoming self-reliant in energy” He said. He said the govt was working to ensure generation of 3,000MW energy in the next three years, and complete projects generating 5,000MW in five years. The govt plans to generate 15,000MW in 10 years. (18 Feb. 2019) https://thehimalayantimes.com/nepal/nepal-india-bangladesh-trilateral-ppa-on-cards/
India-to-work-as-transit-hub-for-nepals-power-export-to-third-countries India has said it would allow Nepal to use its power transmission backbone to export electricity to countries like Bangladesh and Myanmar, in a major boost to foreign investors who express concerns about lack of access to foreign markets for energy produced. Sanoj Kumar Jha, secretary of the Central Electricity Regulatory Commission told the Nepal Investment Summit in Kathmandu. https://thehimalayantimes.com/business/india-to-work-as-transit-hub-for-nepals-power-export-to-third-countries/ (30 March 2019)
Bangladesh keen on funding 20 hydropower projects in Nepal Bangladesh has expressed willingness to invest in 20 hydropower projects in Nepal during bilateral trade talks held in Kathmandu on Oct 22, 2019 in the fourth meeting of the Nepal-Bangladesh Technical Committee for promotion of trade. The Seventh Joint Steering Committee meeting on Nepal-India Cooperation which concluded last week had decided to hold a tripartite meeting within three months to materialise the issue of using Indian transmission grid for BD importing power from Nepal. https://www.thedailystar.net/world/news/bangladesh-keen-funding-20-hydropower-projects-nepal-1818160 (24 Oct. 2019)
GMR finalise PPA rate of UKHEP Bangladeshi govt and GMR, developer of the 900 MW Upper Karnali Hydro Electric Project (UKHEP), have finalised the power purchase agreement rate to purchase 500 MW from Nepal. The proposal for the as yet undisclosed rate of power purchase by the Bangladesh govt is now submitted to the Cabinet and will be made public after Cabinet approval. https://thehimalayantimes.com/business/gmr-bdesh-finalise-ppa-rate-of-ukhep/ (21 Nov. 2019)
South Asian countries join forces to destroy the last free-flowing river In November 2019 Bangladesh and Indian Company GMR have moved closer to signing a power purchase agreement to pave the way for the Indian developer to build the 900 MW Upper Karnali scheme in western Nepal and sell 500 MW to Bangladesh, officials say. According to GMR Chief Operating Officer Harbinder Monocha, a cabinet meeting of Bangladesh has allowed the company and energy authorities of Bangladesh to go ahead with an agreement on the purchase rates.
The project cost is estimated by dam proponents to hover around $1.1 billion (judging from experience with such dams and average cost of construction in Nepal being above 2000 USD/kW it will be at least twice more expensive). The GMR company has plans to collect 15 per cent of investment through Nepali banks and financial institutions. “We are also in negotiations with Indian Exim Bank, Chinese Exim Bank, Asian Development Bank, World Bank and Netherlands Development Finance Company (FMO) and other multilateral lenders for the remaining financing for the project”- said GMR representative. (28 Nov. 2019) http://www.transrivers.org/2019/2915/