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Pillars of problem: Demarcation goes off the rails on Turag River

Pillars of problem: Demarcation goes off the rails on Turag River

Photo: BFirst/Noor-A-Alam

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Turag River, a vital waterway flanking Dhaka City, faces the constant threat of encroachment while the BIWTA claims its demarcation pillars curb illegal land grabbing, but environmentalists argue these very pillars might be enabling it

Sadiqur Rahman

Publisted at 10:22 AM, Wed Jul 10th, 2024

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On the left side of the Rustampur ghat (boat station) over the river Turag in Deul Mouza, the Crown Cement Redymix Factory occupies approximately 1,500 feet of the riverbank, obscuring some river demarcation pillars. 

To the right of the ghat, another construction material processing site takes up around 1,100 feet of the riverbank.

Travelling south along the Turag via Mirpur Road, several other concrete ready-mix factories can be seen situated on the riverbank. 

Moreover, multiple earth-filled areas are being used along the riverbank as sand landing stations.

A series of river demarcation pillars—either pyramid-shaped or having a mast on the pyramid base—marked with fluorescent red at their tops, are erected on both sides of the river.

Although the Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority (BIWTA), the implementing authority for setting demarcation pillars, claims that the encroachment of the Turag has been halted by these pillars, environmentalists argue that these “faulty” pillars only serve to institutionalise the illegal grabbing of the Turag banks.

Consider, for instance, pillar number 87 at the southern edge of Deul Mouza, which appears to misguide the direction of the river flow as it stops just before a private property named Turag Recreation World in the Birulia area. The subsequent pillar, positioned at the northern edge of Bara Kakar Mouza, is set just 300 feet west at a 90-degree angle.

Within this confusing arrangement of pillars, NDE Ready Mix Company’s third terminal occupies roughly 10,000 square feet outside the demarcated river boundary. 

Further complicating the issue, pillar number 2 and onwards are set along the 1,900-foot-long city-side riverbank, edging the premises of the controversial Dhaka Boat Club and Turag Recreation Club. 

Photo: BFirst/Noor-A-Alam

Placement of the pillars seems designed to protect these private properties from legal action.

Habibur Rahman, owner of Turag Recreation Club, showing copies of BIWTA and RAJUK approval, claimed that his land, along with the land of Dhaka Boat Club (of which he is a member), is not developed on the river area.

It is noteworthy that the River Conservation Commission of Bangladesh in 2019 prepared a list of grabbers of Turag riverbanks, which included Crown Readymix, Turag Recreation Club, and Dhaka Boat Club, among others. However, this list was later removed from the commission’s website.

According to a study titled “Mapping Urban Encroachment in the Rivers around Dhaka City: An Example from the Turag River”, scattered settlements are located along both banks of the Turag, mostly along the southeastern bank (city-side bank). 

Settlements along the city-side banks of the river are particularly concentrated in the Mirpur and Tongi areas. 

The study identifies encroachment of the Turag riverbanks at least 51 points between the Buriganga Third Bridge (Shaheed Budhijibi Bridge) and Tongi Bridge.

A less than amicable future

Dhaka City is centrally situated on the flat deltaic plain formed by the confluence of three major river systems - the Ganges, the Brahmaputra, and the Meghna. 

The city is encircled by their distributaries, with the Balu and Shitalakhya rivers to the east, the Turag to the west and north, and the Buriganga to the south.

Whenever monsoon-season waterlogging cripples the overpopulated and unplanned Dhaka city, the need for conservation of the neighbouring water bodies, particularly rivers, becomes apparent. 

According to professionals, encroachment has become one of the major problems faced by the rivers around Dhaka City. River encroachment is the illegal intrusion into a navigable river, often accompanied by obstructions. The gradual encroachment of riverbanks is narrowing the rivers, threatening their very existence.

The Turag flows through Gazipur, skirting the northwestern edge of the Dhaka City Area. It merges with the Buriganga at Mohammadpur in the east and at Shalmasi in Keraniganj to the west. Keraniganj and Savar Upazila lie on the western side, while Tongi Municipality area is located on the northern side of the river. 

Photo: BFirst/Noor-A-Alam

On the southern side are Uttara and Turag Thana, with Mirpur and Mohammadpur situated to the east of the Turag River.

According to the Bangladesh Water Development Board’s estimation in 2004, the Turag had an average width of about 0.12 km during the dry season, covering about 276 hectares of water body, which increases to about 500 hectares during the flood season.

Following a historic verdict from the High Court in 2009, the government initiated the demarcation of the Dhaka rivers. 

The High Court directed the district administrations in Dhaka and Gazipur to demarcate the rivers around Dhaka City as per the Cadastral Survey (CS) and Revised Survey (RS) and to protect the river area with pillars, walkways, and tree plantations.

Supported by the district administrations with land-related data, BIWTA planned the protection of 110km of riverbanks surrounding Dhaka city with a target to set 7,562 demarcation pillars on both sides of the rivers - Buriganga, Turag, Balu, and Sitalakhya. 

According to BIWTA officials, 5,500 pillars, including 2,737 along both banks of the Turag, have been erected so far.

“Demarcation of the Turag along with the Buriganga has been completed. Setting the pillars has stopped illegal grabbing of riverbanks and controlled waste dumping,” said BIWTA Superintending Engineer Abu Zafar Mohammad Shahnawaz Kabir, also the project director of Construction and Installation of Demarcation Pillar, Walkway, Bank Protection, Jetty with Allied Work on Evicted Foreshore of the River Buriganga, Turag, Balu, and Sitalakhya (2nd phase).

Recently, the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council extended the project tenure until June 2025 and increased the cost to Tk1,275.96 crore from Tk848.55 crore in 2018. 

Initially, June 2022 was set for the completion of the project, but it was later revised to June 2023 with an increased estimated cost of Tk1,181.10 crore.

Photo: BFirst/Noor-A-Alam

Waterkeepers Bangladesh Coordinator Sharif Jamil and executive committee member of Waterkeepers Alliance, criticised the settings of demarcation pillars, saying none of the pillars has been erected as per the High Court directives. 

“The High Court order says demarcation pillars must be set along the riverbank, not the foreshore. But BIWTA set pillars along the lean flow of the dry season waterline, which attracts illegal earth filling and grabbing of the river area,” Sharif told Bangladesh First.

According to him, a river area consists of the riverbed (low-water), a slope with the foreshore and the mark of the high-water level, the riverbank, and the adjacent flood zone. 

He warned that the Turag would not be protected by the wrongly placed demarcation pillars.

With concerns about the wrong placement of the pillars, a committee headed by a joint secretary of the land ministry found in 2014 that one-third of the 6,000 pillars installed till that time were put in the wrong places. 

The non-government River and Delta Research Center surveyed the location of 3,006 pillars installed from 2016 to December 2020. The survey, conducted through a global positioning system and field visits, revealed that 1,915 pillars were in the wrong positions.

When inquired, BIWTA Superintending Engineer Zafar said the pillars have been set up following the information of the district administration. 

“Setting of the pillars in the future will also follow the district administration’s information,” Zafar said.

Photo: BFirst/Noor-A-Alam

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