New Delhi: In a landmark judgment, a Bangladesh high court has ordered that river encroachers cannot run for election or seek bank loans.
A PIL was filed in the court after environmentalists expressed concern that most of the 450 rivers in the country were under considerable threat from pollution and land-grabbing.
A judicial enquiry found that these activities are spearheaded predominantly by influential people, government offices and even the Gazipur City Corporation.
The high court came down hard on the encroachment. Individuals who are encroaching rivers will henceforth be disqualified from contesting in the union parishad, upazila, pourasava, city corporation and Jatiya Sangsad elections, the Daily Star reported.
The Bangladesh Bank has also been instructed to not give loans to individuals or corporations found guilty of these acts.
In addition, the court has also asked the government to compile and publish a list of land-grabbers.
“The Turag is a living entity,” a bench comprising Justice Moyeenul Islam Chowdhury and Justice Md Ashraful Kamal noted. of the upper tributary of the Buriganga river. The judges asked the authorities to remove all structures from the river in 30 days.
Finally, the court declared the National River Protection Commission (NRPC) to be the “legal guardian” of all rivers and that it will act like their “parents”. The state in this scheme is to act as the ‘trustee’ of all water bodies.
According to the Daily Star, the Bangladesh government will have to amend the NRPC Act 2013 to include provisions to punish and fine those involved in river grabbing. The government was directed to submit a report to the court in six months, specifying the action taken against encroachers.
The lease of an influential businessman, A.K. Azad, was ordered scrapped. The lease between Ha-Meem Group and Gazipur district administration allowed the former to set up a washing plant adjacent to the Turag.
Further, the education ministry was asked to hold classes every two months at all public and private academic institutions to build awareness about the importance of rivers.
The industries ministry will also arrange meetings every two months with factory workers across the country to create awareness.
In a recent interview with The Third Pole, Zafar Ahmed Khan, the secretary of the ministry of water resources, said the government has also been mulling a new law to protect rivers.
“Yes, I strongly believe that there is utmost necessity of a stronger river protection law. The present one will have enforcing and controlling authority over the organisations that are closely related to river protection management. So, this river law will play an effective role to save all the water bodies in Bangladesh from pollution, grabbing and filling,” he said.
The draft is still being framed, he added, although the high court verdict may just catalyse it.