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Encroachment in Jessore puts rivers in death threat

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A Correspondent

Benapole (Jessore): Almost all rivers in Jessore district are in a moribund state as their flows have fallen drastically for widespread encroachment by land grabbers and unplanned government development projects.

Sources concerned said though official records put the number of rivers in the district at 36, existence of two dozen could not be found.

Many rivers have disappeared from the map of the district.

Among the live rivers are Kobadak, Bhairav, Mathabhanga, Kumar, Naboganga, Ichhamati, Betrabatri, Harihor, Mukteshwari and Chitra.

But the rivers have shrunk to either narrow canals or large drains due to encroachment on their areas and unplanned river training.

Illegal business establishments have sprung up on both sides of many of them.

Locals said the river Bhairav flowing through the district town has now dried up with drastic fall in its water flow.

Strolling down memory lane, they said once water vessels used to ply the river stretching over 150 kilometres area.

The river originating from the river Mathabhanga in Meherpur district passes through Damurhuda, Chuadanga, Kotchandpur, Chowgachha, Jessore, Basundia, Phultola, Daulatpur and Khulna.

Educationist Prof Afsar Ali, convener of Bhairav Bachao Andolan (movement to save the river Bhairav), said the once profusely flowing river is now on the verge of death due to rampant use of its bed for cultivating crops and grabbing of its large areas.

He blamed a section of government officials for encouraging grabbing of river lands, saying that corrupt administrative officials lease out river lands on long-term basis to grabbers creating legal complexities in reclaiming those.

MR Khairul Umam, former president of Institute of Diploma Engineers, Bangladesh (IDEB), Jessore, said the government has killed rivers in the name of river training, adding that bridges were constructed over many rivers in the district under unplanned development projects.

He mentioned that different government agencies including Roads and Highways Department (RHD) and Local Government Engineering Department constructed small culvert-sized bridges over the rivers shrinking them to narrow canals.

River experts said dredging works that began in the Kobadak river to bring back its navigability will not bring any benefit if effective discussion with India is not held over due share of water.

During a field visit, the UNB correspondent found that land grabbers erected numerous structures, including dwelling houses and fish enclosures, on both the banks of the river from Khayertola in the district town to Basundia area.

Locals alleged that many land grabbers recorded river lands as their personal properties.

Sources at the local Water Development Board (WDB) office, quoting a survey conducted by the organisation in 2008, said 292 villages in Jessore and Satkhira districts go under water every year leaving the residents on the bank of Kobadak in terrible situation.

Convener of Kapotakkha (Kobadak) Bhachao Andolan Anil Biswas said due to encroachment on large areas of the river, the Kobadak has now turned into a ‘death trap’ for 10 lakh people living on its bank.

He stressed the need for dredging vast area of the river to save people of the region from flood.

Wishing anonymity, some WDB officials alleged that river encroachers in collusion with a section of politicians and bureaucrats destroyed many rivers including the Kobadak.

Sources concerned said the river network in Jessore has collapsed due to construction of the rail-bridge at the estuary of Mathabhanga’s tributaries-Kumar, Naboganga, Chitra and Bhairav rivers.

Asked about river encroachment and construction of illegal structures on the riverbanks, Additional Deputy Commissioner (revenue) of Jessore Zahrul Haque said the Land Department has been working to remove the illegal structures conducting mobile court drives.

However, he said in many cases, actions can not be taken against the unscrupulous land grabbers because of the cases filed by them.

The ADC said they were continuing legal battle against the encroaches of the river lands.

Local people have been demanding that the grabbed rivers in the district be freed from the clutches of the encroachers.