Rivers The Living Entities
Prof. Dr. Ahmad Kamruzzaman Majumdar & Advocate Marufa Gulshan Ara :
World Rivers Day, set for September 27, is a global celebration of our rivers. With the support of United Nation the very first Rivers Day was celebrated in 2005 and since then it has been gaining in popularity with many events being organized around the world. Rivers Day was launched put forward by Mark Angelo in 1980, who was already an international river advocate. World Rivers Day aims to raise awareness and highlights the importance of rivers and encourages people to preserve important and beautiful rivers. Bangladesh Paribesh Andolan (BAPA) has been observing this day every year with the partners organizations since 2004.
More than 230 rivers are flowing over the territory of riverine Bangladesh. The biodiversity of these rivers plays an important role in maintaining the balance of the environment and thus protecting us. The livelihood of the riverine people of Bangladesh depends on these rivers. Bangladesh has come a long way, especially in the development of RMG and other industries. And 70-80 per cent of the factories in Bangladesh are built in the bank of the river. If you only look at Dhaka and Chattogram city, you can see that a large number of industrial factories have sprung up along the banks of the Karnafuli, Buriganga, Shitalakshya and Turag rivers etc.
At present, the rivers Buriganga and the Shitalakshya, the Turag, the Balu and the Dhaleshwari which flows through or around Dhaka city of Bangladesh, are highly polluted, one of the sources of which is industrial factories. Many small and big factories have been buildup on the banks of these two rivers. Factories use water for production, releasing water into the river without any subsequent filtering, purification or treatments. According to a survey conducted by Bangladesh Center for Advance Studies (BCAS), only less than 40% of the factories treat the waste water and discharge it into the river, while many of these factories operate Effluent Treatment Plant (ETP) only during the day or while it was inspected by the DoE authorities, causing the river to lose its balance. Lack of Sewage Treatment Plant (STP) is one of the causes of river pollution. According to a survey by the Bangladesh Paribesh Andolan (BAPA), there is a layer of polythene about 13 feet thick at the bottom of the Buriganga River, which dumps 60 per cent of industrial waste and 30 per cent of Dhaka WASA and City Corporation waste. Commercial cities like Chattogram are also discharging sewage waste into the river without any treatment, which carries deadly heavy metals in addition to excreta. As a result, the river is losing its navigability, aquatic animals are losing their habitat, and the environment is being damaged.
The relocation of the Hazaribagh tannery industry to Savar is not making any benefits, but instead the Buriganga has been replaced by a new Dhaleshwari river has started killing. Unplanned industrialization, municipal sewerage, construction and aggravation of brickfields are increasing both surface and ground water pollution. Due to the sinking of ships transporting various types of oil, coal and goods, the ecosystem of the river has been largely destroyed. Unplanned river governance and dredging are changing the course of the river. Taken together, it is understood that the man-made factors are responsible for changing the normal state of the river. According to the BAPA, 1500 rivers have been disappeared in the last 1,000 years.
The historic and landmark High Court judgment delivered on February 3, 2019 recognizing the river Turag as a living entity should be treated as a momentous development. Released on July 2 last, the judgment contains a 17-point directive aimed at saving not only the Turag but all rivers of the country from grabbing and pollution. As the HC judgment endorses that "Rivers are living entities. A River is a legal person, a juristic person and has the right to protect its rights", in fact all rivers and water bodies come under the purview of the protective clause. The State has been empowered 'to act as the trustee of all rivers, hills, sea beaches, canals, beels and other water bodies'. The National River Conservation Commission (NRCC) has been given the mandate to protect rivers.
The Government of Bangladesh has a provision of punishment under the Environmental Conservation Act 1995 for the person or organization responsible for river pollution in Bangladesh. According to Article 9 of it, if an organization discharges any type of pollutant into the river, it can be punished with imprisonment for a maximum of 10 years or a fine of Tk 10 lakh or both. The sense of conscience and awareness among the industrialists and the common people can help save the rivers of life in Bangladesh. If we all try, we may still be able to protect the rivers.
During Covid-19 lockdown we have seen dramatics improvements of River water quality all over the country. "How was a lockdown for just a few weeks able to achieve what authoritiescouldn't for decades?" As long as the movement for human being was restricted, the rivers were getting clean. It was about to enrich its ecosystems again. But unfortunately we have started polluting our rivers again as soon as the coronavirus restriction released. But Covid-19 gives us lessons about the main sources of river water pollution. A recent analysis by the Stamford Center for Atmospheric Pollution Studies (CAPS) that the quality of the Buriganga River, flowing along the capital has also improved during the lockdown. We believe concern authorities should study data collected during the lockdown to devise better environmental policies. Taking this lesson future river environmental restoration plans can be taken up by applying this coroner's learning.
(Dr. Kamruzzaman Majumder and Advocate Marufa are involved in teaching in the Department of Environmental Sciences at Stamford University Bangladesh)