How a river turned into a canal

Once flowing profusely through the old town of Cumilla, the Gumti river has now been reduced to a trickle in most parts of its course and is on the brink of death.

Local residents claim that illegal encroachments by “some influential people” are gradually eating into the river bed. And with authorities turning a blind eye, the squatters are having a free run at the cost of the environment, they allege.

A reality check by UNB has revealed that a number of illegal structures have come up abutting the Gumti in areas like Chanpur, Dumuria Chanpur, Shuvopur and Tikkerchar in the past two years, despite rules prohibiting construction near water bodies.

Not only illegal structures, including houses and shops, the squatters have managed to construct makeshift roads along the banks, thus constricting the flow of the river.

Many local residents recall a lively river, where they spent much time in their youth, swimming or fishing. But with the illegal encroachments rising with each passing year, the Gumti is under the threat of becoming extinct in several areas.

Though the local administration has prepared a list of 522 “land grabbers” and sent them several notices, the residents say that no concrete steps have been taken to dismantle the illegal structures.

Omar Faruk, a resident, said, “If the government takes immediate steps to recover the river bank and remove the encroachments by adopting a proper plan, then it can emerge as a ‘green lung’ of the city.”

Once called “the river of sorrows” as it used to flood many areas of the old town, the local administration changed its course in the 1960s by erecting a dam.

UNB has learnt that though the authorities have taken a number of initiatives to free over 258 acres of land from grabbers through drives over the years, it is yet to see any success — thanks to the “unholy” nexus between the land sharks and local politicians.

Hundreds of acres in Kaptanbazar, Bhatpara, Shubhopur, Chanpur, Sujanagar, Gangchar, Tikkerchar, Mogoltuli Shahsuja Mosque Road, Old Chowdhurypara and Brazrapur area are now occupied by land sharks.

Mosleh Uddin Ahmed, President of Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon (BAPA), Cumilla, said, “We have organised many programmes seeking to save the river from encroachments and memorandums were also submitted to the deputy commissioner and city Mayor.”

When contacted, Abdul Latif, the executive engineer of Water Development Board, Cumilla, said, “We have made a list of occupiers and submitted it to the local administration. We hope the local administration will take immediate steps.”

Mohammad Main Uddin, additional deputy commissioner (revenue), said “Authorities concerned conduct regular drives to evict squatters.”

Source: United News of Bangladesh