Last Thursday, the government did what was long overdue. It stripped the Dhaka Water and Sewerage Authority (DWASA) of its authority over the city's 26 canals and 10 kilometres of box culverts. The responsibility of managing and maintaining the natural and manmade water channels was formally vested in the two city corporations of Dhaka. The main reason behind the transfer of the responsibility is the DWASA's abysmal failure to redress the problem of water-logging during the monsoon.
Right at this moment, it is difficult to predict the success the two city corporations might achieve in handling the problem of water-logging in Dhaka city. Most residents, however, would welcome the change. They have been suffering for long because of the inaction on the part of the DWASA.
In 1988, the task of managing and maintaining the city canals was transferred to the DWASA from another pure government agency---the Directorate of Public Health Engineering (DPHE). Sadly enough, the long stretches of city canals had disappeared by then because of the indifference of the authorities. Local influential people grabbed and filled up most part of the water bodies. In many areas, residents dumped garbage into canals and blocked their natural water flow. It is not just 26 canals. Dhaka city once had nearly 50 canals. Most of those are gone and the remaining ones are on the verge of extinction.
Late Dhaka North City Corporation (DNCC) mayor AnnisulHuq on a number of occasions had floated the idea of transferring the responsibility of managing the city canals. He had a reason for suggesting so. The city residents see the mayors as their elected representatives and apprise them of their respective localities. The problem of water-logging has always figured prominently during the late mayor's interactions with the city people. The incumbent mayors of both parts of Dhaka also have been pursuing the issue relentlessly.
The problem of water-logging has turned severe, primarily because of the DWASA's indifference. This state entity has never been serious about recovering the canals from unauthorised occupation, re-excavate or cleanse them and restore water flow. It has always considered the job of managing and maintaining the canals as additional and an unimportant one. The agency has a full-fledged drainage division, but it is hardly used.
A glaring example of DWASA's inaction is a project that was approved by the executive committee of the national economic council (ECNEC) a couple of years back to re-excavate and restore five major canals in Dhaka city at a cost of Tk 6.5 billion. Even after the expiry of the project deadline, the agency could not make any notable progress. The fact remains that the agency has never taken the issue of ridding the Dhaka city of the water-logging problem seriously.
It is truly praiseworthy that both the city corporations volunteered to take up the responsibility of retrieving the city canals and restoring them to their old state as far as practicable. The task, for understandable reasons, might prove very difficult. The corporations are required to address a host of other civic problems. So, the mayors would have to be particularly attentive to the issues of managing and maintaining the city canals to avoid any sort of criticism.