The government is moving forward to formulate a tightened law aiming to protect rivers, reservoirs and all other water sources in Bangladesh.
After enactment of the proposed law, each division will have one or more special courts called ‘River Conservation Tribunal’, which will be linked to the National River Conservation Commission (NRCC). All matters related to rivers and reservoirs in the country will be judged in the court.
Besides, mobile court will also be carried out if required to ensure immediate punishment in case of river encroachment and pollution and other crimes related to the rivers and other water bodies. Other than the NRCC, any aggrieved person can file case to the court against eviction and pollution to protect the river and waterbodies.
The provision of setting up ‘River Conservation Tribunal’ was mentioned in the proposed ‘National River Protection Commission Act’. The proposed law will cover all the rivers, reservoirs, haors, wetlands, canals, seashores, fountains, lakes and all water sources of Bangladesh and bring them under the NRCC.
The fresh law will replace the old river law which was formulated in 2013. The fresh law was designed to formulate a tightened law and shun the loopholes in the old laws. The proposed law will be placed in the Parliament for passage after completion of necessary proceedings.
Quamrun Nahar Ahmed, Member (Additional Secretary) of the National River Conservation Commission, on Saturday (September 11) told Bangladesh Post that they prepared the draft of the National River Conservation Commission Act. “The draft law is now in the Shipping Ministry. It will come up in the inter-ministerial meeting.
After completion of some necessary processes, the fresh law will be enacted. We hope that the country is getting a good law to protect rivers and reservoirs,” she said.
The draft law has been formulated following a judgement. The High Court delivered the judgment on February 3 in 2019, declaring all rivers of Bangladesh as legal entity and assigning the NRCC as the legal guardian in protecting the rivers and all other water bodies and other natural entities. In that judgement, the court issued 17 major directives for addressing the water pollution and encroachment of river and other water bodies.
The spirit of the verdict has been largely reflected in the provisions of the proposed law, said an official of the NRCC.
The proposed National River Conservation Commission Act contains 108 sections. One of the primary objectives of the draft law is to ensure the independence of the NRCC, which was mentioned in Section 3(2). Section 4 states over fixed budget every year for the NRCC.
The proposed law incorporated the provisions to address the increasing concerns on river encroachment and pollution. As per Section 16, all rivers are declared as public trust property.
Punishment for causing death to rivers, encroachment and pollution was mentioned in Chapter V of the proposed law. It was stated that the activities that obstruct the normal flow of the river, such as possession of the river, construction of infrastructure and fish farming would be considered a criminal offence. If any government official illegally allocates river places and shores to someone’s name, he will also be punished.
The proposed law empowers the NRCC authorities over arrest, saying that an officer or representative of the Commission or the naval police can arrest a person or head of an institution without arrest warrant on suspicion of being involved in a river-related offence punishable by one month or more.
Chapter IV of the draft law mentions the duties of stakeholders. Educational institutions are directed to conduct class on the importance of rivers and the schools are directed to conduct field-visits to rivers in their respective areas. Public representatives’ roles are also mentioned, while owners of industries and factories are directed to properly educate their staff on rivers and their significance. These provisions echoed the directions of the High Court’s verdict.
Chapter XII states that one or more ‘River Conservation Tribunals’ will be set up in each division which will be linked to the divisional office of the NRCC. The court will be presided over by one judge and he will be assisted by three assisting members with specialist knowledge on rivers. Mobile Courts have also been empowered subject to requisitions issued by upazila offices of the Commission to try offences relating to river pollution in their areas.
Environmentalists and water experts called upon the government to enact the law as soon as possible.
Dr Muzibur Rahman Howlader, immediate former chairman of the NRCC, said that the Commission identified the areas and occupants of the rivers across the country in 2018-19. Now the local administration has to continuously evict the occupants. No compromise can be made with anyone in this regard.
He also said that rivers are the vital force of country’s development. If the river can’t be saved, the country’s overall development will be hampered. Therefore, immediate steps should be taken to pass the fresh river law.
Abu Naser Khan, chairman of Poribesh Bachao Andolon (Poba), said, “Our economy, ecosystem and development totally depend on rivers. We don’t realize the need for monsoon and floods. If we don’t understand these things, we can’t survive. Therefore, it is necessary to immediately mark the boundaries of the river and release them. If the fresh law is enacted and it is applied properly, this will play a vital role for the survival of rivers.”