The High Court's landmark verdict proclaiming rivers as living entities has largely gone abegging. But it seems not everything is lost. Endorsement of a unique concept by someone ahead of his/her time by 100 or 200 years or even the more enlightened segment of society is one thing and its acceptance by the mass population is a different proposition. It happened in case of Galelio Galilei when he advanced the theory of Earth's orbit around the sun. On a smaller scale it is happening in case of smoking as most people today respect restriction to this awful habit in public transports and also trying to limit the harmful habit in public places.
That rivers are integral to the survival of this small landmass are yet to dawn on most people because they are concerned about only their immediate interests and fail to foresee beyond a longer timeframe, say, 100 or 1,000 years from now. Civilisation has perished simply because rivers turned hostile or the entire geomorphology changed for the worse on account of their change of courses. The death of rivers, change of courses or their furies can hasten the death of cities or towns. It is believed that the ancient Indian civilisation of Mohenjodaro and Harappa were wiped out by invading rivers which during those highly advanced urban settlements' hey days sustained them.
One thing is clear that great cities or human settlements and by extension civilisations have flourished, almost without exception, on the banks of rivers. On that count, Bangladesh capital and for that matter most other cities and towns are no exception. Once when people of this land were used to living close to Nature forging a symbiotic relationship with everything around them without ever trying to dominate it, the friction was almost non-existent. Construction of enormous dams ---and that too without much consideration for its long-term consequences ---in order to redirect water flows or produce hydropower has hampered natural flows of many rivers. Also, with the exponential growth of the population here, there is an ugly competition to capture and possess as much land and natural resources as possible.
However, it is the more privileged and more equal among them whose insatiable possessiveness drive them crazy to claim their ownership on every available unclaimed patch of land no matter if it is khas or can be carved out of rivers. There has been an insane competition in such encroachment. Rivers change their courses and as they devour home, hearth and croplands on one side of its bank, they also give rise to fresh lands on the other side. The stronger and the privileged take possession of the newly emerged lands. A cadastral survey can identify who the real owners of such lands are.
A programme arranged to mark the release of the 'Annual Report 2019' by the National River Conservation Commission (NRCC) on Tuesday directed its focus on what goes missing in the overall effort towards saving the country's rivers. NRCC chairman Mujubur Rahman Howlader contends that river grabbers cannot be stopped from what they are doing by just imposing fines on them. He poses the question why are they not sent to the prison when there is a clear legal provision against the crime? Indeed, if rivers are recognised as living entities and one commits a grievous crime harming or stifling a river to death or near-death, there is no reason why the offenders must not land in jail.
Now that the NRCC has identified 63,249 grabbers of 776 rivers, this monumental achievement should be acclaimed as a tremendous progress towards realising the target of freeing rivers from illegal possession, albeit slowly. Of the total grabbers identified, 18,579 have already been evicted, the chairman informed. Eviction of encroachers is often marked by a cat-and-mouse play. Here is a need for forming a task force with power for summary trial of grabbers and sending them to prison. The various government agencies involved with the eviction process certainly require more manpower in order to wage a total war on the illegal encroachers.
As the NRCC chairman hints that there are biggies among the grabbers who invest huge money and men to protect their interests often go scot-free. Now is the time these bigwigs were taken care of. If the government come hard upon them irrespective of their party loyalty, the campaign for saving rivers to save the country is likely to reach its logical conclusion. Let water bodies including rivers be free from commercial fishing allocation. When these are leased out to people on considerations other than their traditional knowledge of fishing, they exploit the fishery resources so extensively that fresh breeding suffers woefully.
Another vexing problem the HC has instructed for addressing by the authorities concerned is the unabated and random release of industrial effluent and waste into the Buriganga and other rivers. The release points have already been identified and now need to be plugged unless the polluters install effluent treatment plants. Revival and restoration of rivers are a daunting challenge but it is worth taking up vigorously in the interest of the land and the nation.