Ship-builder eating away Meghna

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The Daily Star May 10, 2019

Ship-builder eating away Meghna

An enclosure being made in the Meghna river for constructing slip-ways of Ananda Shipyard and Slipways Limited. The photo was taken in Narayanganj’s Sonargaon recently. Photo: Rashed Shumon Tawfique Ali

In an onslaught on the Meghna, a private ship-building company is constructing its shipyard’s slipways into the river at Meghnaghat in Sonargaon, but the river custodians are doing little to stop it.

For over six years since 2013, Ananda Shipyard and Slipways Limited has been running the shipyard, illegally occupying river foreshores and navigable channels. The company does not have the mandatory licence and other approvals.

A couple of months ago, Ananda Shipyard put up a makeshift enclosure made of corrugated iron sheets and timber poles, well below the river’s lean-season low water-mark.

Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority (BIWTA), the primary custodian of rivers and foreshores within the river port limit and the licence issuing authority, is turning a blind eye to this illegal act, said official sources. 

Md Gulzar Ali, BIWTA joint director and port officer of Narayanganj River Port, said Ananda Shipyard has been running the shipyard without foreshore licence.

Mahbub Alam Sarkar, head of administration in Ananda Shipyard, said, “We have not had a valid foreshore licence for the past six years, as the company’s foreshore licence expired in May 2013. Though we applied for renewal, the authorities have not issued it.” 

He could not say how much of the foreshore the company has occupied.

According to information provided by the company officials, they own an estimated 10,000-square-foot of the flowing river. They have two slipways there, each measuring 105 feet long and 50 feet wide.

A slipway is a slope built leading down into the water, and it is used for launching and landing boats and ships or for building and repairing them.

In August 2017, the BIWTA ordered the Ananda Shipyard authorities to clear in seven days the river’s 24,000-square foot area where the company had done earth filling.

The notice dated August 22 also warned the company that its act of filling up a flowing river was a gross violation of the 2009 High Court verdict over river conservation, port act and environment conservation law.

A vast swathe of the Meghna is being filled with earth near Baidyerbazar area of Narayanganj’s Sonargaon. Photo: Rashed Shumon

That apart, the company has also occupied other parts of the river foreshore, according to official sources.

The river foreshore is the sub-soil between the lowest-water mark during normal dry season tide and the highest-water mark during normal monsoon tide.

During a visit to the river in late February, this correspondent found the company’s workers filling up the river’s navigable channel well below the river’s lean-season low watermark, with sand.

To obtain a licence to use river foreshores, a company must build its slipways or jetties on its own land above the foreshore line.

Following a February 9 news report carried in this paper, the National River Commission chairman made calls to all authorities to immediately intervene and stop the grabbers of Meghna. But this has yet to be heeded to.

During repeated visits in February and March, at least a dozen well-known business conglomerates were seen to have illegally grabbed and filled up portions of the river and its foreshores along the bank from Char Balaki and Char Betagi through Meghnaghat to Baidyer Bazar in the upstream, under different mouzas of Gazaria and Sonargaon upazilas of Narayanganj.  

Under the Bangladesh Water Act, occupying river land or its foreshore is illegal.  Diverting the river course or creating obstacles in its course is also punishable under this law.

Asked why the company had occupied the river and foreshores, Mahbub, head of administration, claimed, “The Meghna river was not where you see it today.”

Sacks of sand dumped into the river for encroaching on it in Jhauchar area. The photos were taken recently. Photo: Rashed Shumon

Saiful Islam, technical director of Ananda Shipyard, said they were repairing the existing slipways. “Is it harming the river?” he asked.

Replying to a question, he said, “We have the licence for building slipways on the river. If you think that you can stop it with a news report, then you have some ulterior motives.”

The company does not have the permission from the shipping department and the environmental clearance, which are needed before getting a foreshore licence.

Asked why they have not taken action against river grabbing by Ananda Shipyard, Gulzar Ali said, “We are waiting for an excavator from the Dhaka River Port to carry out an eviction drive.”

Talking to The Daily Star early last month, he said the BIWTA has only two excavators to carry out eviction against river grabbers.

There was no eviction drive as of yesterday.      

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