Structures built by him encroached on the Bakkhali, a key river in Cox’s Bazar. Besides, a huge amount of garbage is dumped into the waterbody every day at his instruction.
Despite harming the river, he is a member of the river conservation committee formed by the district administration.
The man in question is Mujibur Rahman, the mayor of Cox’s Bazar municipality and the general secretary of ruling Awami League in the district. The district administration co-opted him into the committee in 2017, apparently giving in to his political clout.
In 2014, Mujibur was named on a BIWTA list of 52 people who encroached on the Bakkhali. The Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority prepared the list after it failed to build a river port in Cox’s Bazar town’s Kasturighat area due to encroachment, show BIWTA documents.
The BIWTA have not been able to construct the port yet. Neither could it reclaim the encroached banks as the grabbers’ political connections came into play, officials said.
Mujibur was chairman of Jhilongja union parishad in 2014. He became the mayor in 2018.
Over the last 10 years, the AL leader built a number of shacks and a warehouse grabbing parts of the Bakkhali in the town’s Natun Baharchhora area. He rents out the structures, BIWTA and municipality officials and locals said.
This correspondent visited a place in Natun Baharchhora area last month and found a portion of the river filled up with earth. There were 10 shacks and piles of bamboo on the grabbed portion.
Locals said the bamboos, brought from other areas on boats, are sold in the local market. Mujibur is at the heart of the business.
One of the demarcation pillars of the river was seen right next to an illegally constructed building.
During multiple visits to the river in Kosturighat and BITWA Bungalow areas throughout last month, this correspondent saw trucks dumping garbage into the waterbody.
Asked, Saker Ali, supervisor at Cox’s Bazar municipality, told The Daily Star that the waste was collected from different parts of the town and that every day at least 100 truckloads of garbage are dumped into the river.
Several municipality employees, wishing not to be named, said the waste is dumped there at the mayor’s instruction.
As river has shrunk in the area due to garbage, a few tin-roofed buildings were built on the bank.
The rampant grabbing can be seen for a stretch of around seven 7km between Nuniachhora and Bangla Bazar. This reporter saw at least 500 illegal structures there.
The 70km Bakkhali originates from the hills in Bandarban and reaches the Bay of Bengal in Cox’s Bazar through Ramu and Maheshkhali.
DIST ADMIN’S LIST
Following a writ filed by the Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (Bela), the High Court in 2014 directed the Cox’s Bazar district administration to prepare a list of river grabbers and reclaim the land based on surveys carried out earlier by the authorities concerned.
The court also directed the authorities concerned to take steps to stop the pollution.
In 2015, the district administration made a list of 92 river grabbers. Mujibur was not on the list.
Cox’s Bazar Deputy Commissioner Kamal Hossen said officials did not find Mujibur’s involvement in river grabbing during their survey.
Asked about Mujibur’s inclusion in the committee, he said the AL leader was in the body for his position as the mayor. “There was no personal choice or any other reason.”
He, however, said it would not impact their drive against illegal encroachment on rivers.”
“Court asked us to reclaim the river as per a CS survey. As there was no CS survey done in Cox’s Bazar, we sought court’s direction in this regard. Once we get the direction, we will start our work.”
In another order in 2015, the HC asked the Cox’s Bazar municipal mayor to stop dumping solid or liquid waste into the Bakkhali or on its banks.
On multiple occasions, Bela served notices to the district administration to take steps for stopping the pollution, but the efforts went in vain.
Muzibur Rahman Howlader, chairman of the National River Conservation Commission, said it was inconceivable that the district administration co-opted someone like Mujibur in its committee to protect river.
“He can’t serve as member of the committee. The committee will be ineffective, if such man remains in it. I will look into the matter and ask the deputy commissioner to drop him from the body as early as possible”, he said.
Asked, Mujibur told The Daily Star he was not aware of being on the BIWTA’s list of grabbers.
He, however, admitted building an ice-making plant and several shacks for his employees on a land which he said was once covered by a small stream in Natun Baharchhora area.
Asked about garbage dumping, he claimed the place where garbage was dumped was purchased by the Cox’s Bazar municipality.
This correspondent, however, saw the place getting inundated during high tide.
“We don’t have any place to dump waste. We are trying to purchase new land. Once we have the new land, we will take the garbage there,” Mujibur said.
The HC in July last year declared that all river grabbing and pollution are criminal offences,
The judgment came following a writ petition filed by Human Rights and Peace for Bangladesh. The organisation had cited The Daily Star report “Time to declare Turag dead” published on November 6, 2016, and the court thanked this paper for the report.