‘Life & River’- a tale of the community people
Buriganga Riverkeeper, Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon (BAPA) and Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (BELA) jointly organized a citizens’ meeting in cooperation with Bangladesh Bank to observe the ‘Earth Day 2016’. The program was held by the Buriganga riverbank near Basila (old) Government Primary School on April 21, 2016 at 10:30 am. ‘Life & River’- a tale of the community people, was the title of the program, where the people of all walks of life living on the Buriganga riverbank and adjacent areas participated. A number of people from different livelihoods spoke in the program. They shared their experiences, expectations and demands related to the River Buriganga. Later Sultana Kamal, the Vice President, BAPA; Rasheda K. Choudhury, the Vice President, BAPA; Sayeda Rizwana Hasan, the Chief Executive, BELA; Khondokar Morshed Millat, the Deputy General Manager, Bangladesh Bank; Sharif Jamil, Buriganga Riverkeeper and the Joint Secretary, BAPA and Abdul Karim Kim, Surma River Waterkeeper spoke on the occasion.
The River Buriganga is the lifeline for Dhaka city. Unfortunately, a few industrialists in the name of development are polluting and grabbing the river and affecting lives and livelihood of millions of people on the river bank and adjacent areas. As a part of the celebration of the ‘Earth Day 2016’, the organizers had arranged this citizens’ meeting to address the pollution and encroachment of the river and impact on the riverbank people. In the program, Gedu Mian, boatman; Ratan Rajbongshi, fisherman; Sunil Chandra Rajbongshi, Temple Committee; Manik Bepari, President, a School Managing Committee, Tofazzal Hyder and Imraz Hossain spoke on behalf of the local community. They said, even a few years ago the River Buriganga was clean and full of fish. They used to use this water for household activities. But now, the water is polluted and bad smelling. The fish have been declining at an alarming rate. The water borne diseases have been broken out in the area. Gedu Mian, a boatman who runs boat across Buriganga for few decades said, water of Buriganga was once well and there were huge fishes in the river, but now water is poisonous and creating diseases. Manik Bepari, a resident of the riverbank said, he has seen the water clean in 1995, but after that tannery wastes contaminated the water.
Ratan Rajbongshi, from fisherman community said, now they are struggling with their existence as they do not get any fish from the river. But in past, the fisherman community of Basila used to depend on this river for their livelihood. All the participants from community urged the government to take action against river polluters to save the river for the benefits of future generation.
Sultana kamal said, Bangladesh is a riverine country, but we are losing our rivers. River pollution and encroachment is incerasing at an alarming rate. She said, government is indulging river encroachment. The illegal occupant should be brought under trial, she said. Addressing the meeting, Sultana Kamal mentioned the contribution of the environmental activists and said, trying to stop environmental movement is not wise. She also added that, the movement for protecting the Sundarbans is logical and environmentalists are fighting for the sake of the earth.
Educationist and social activist Rasheda K. Choudhury said, without considering affected people, the government is trying to save the river polluters rather than punishing them. Referring to a recent study, she said, about 25 percent children in the capital city are being affected with different diseases due to polluted water and air. She requested the government to initiate necessary actions to protect the river from all types of encroachment and pollution.
Sayeda Rizwana Hasan, the Chief Executive, BELA said, the river Buriganga is almost dead, though it still has water. Because of the disaster, Dhaka is losing its green and the temperature is increasing. Dhaka is becoming unhealthy day by day. She said, tannery wastes from Hazaribag is polluting this river and creating environmental and economic hazards. The government did not take action against the polluters who were destroying rivers, waters and environment. Rather, she said that due to ‘serious faulty finance policy’ the polluters are getting financial supports from the banks to make more profits by risking lives of the thousands of affected people. To relocate the tannery, government has sanctioned land and other facilities, but the tannery owners are not willing, she added.
Addressing the meeting, Khondokar Morshed Millat, the Deputy General Manager, Bangladesh Bank said, Buriganga is your river and you have to step forward to save it. To protect the river from encroachment and pollution you should raise voice, he added.
Sharif Jamil said, the initiative of the government to relocate the tannery industry to Savar, should be implemented immediately. But we have to ensure a comprehensive surveillance so that this industry cannot pollute water and environment of Savar, he added.
Abdul Karim Kim, the Surma River Waterkeeper said, we always remember the disastrous condition of River Buriganga, while initiating any activities to save River Surma; our failure may create another Buriganga.
The program was followed by a cultural show where Asir Uddin Boyati and his group performed traditional Baul songs on life and river.
Each year, April 22, marks as the Earth Day, the anniversary of the birth of the modern environmental movement in 1970. This year the 46th Earth Day is being observed around the globe. The environmental activists/organizations of Bangladesh also expressed their solidarities with the day and had initiated different programs to celebrate the day in a befitting manner.