Save Gogalichhara River, a Maltreated River in Bangladesh, Needs Justice

Waterkeepers Bangladesh is working to save the river Gogalichhara, flowing through Kulaura and Juri Upazillas of Moulvibazar District. The story of Gogalichhara River is very pathetic. Though this flowing River originated from Hazargoj Forest of Juri Upazilla in the India-Bangladesh Border, it has been shown as a stagnant water body in the government documents and brought under lease as a ‘Jalmohal’ by corrupt officials through a gazette notification from the Land Ministry of Bangladesh government.

It has been known from the Upazilla Land Office and the local people that an initiative had been taken by the UNO in 2007 to lease the Gogalichhara River to a fisherman union by declaring the River as “Jalmohal”. On 9 October of that year, a person named Islam Uddin from Sadipur village of Bhukshimol UP filed a case at the Assistant Judge Court of Kulaura to withdraw the lease arrangement. But on 8 November of that year, Deputy Commissioner of Moulvibazar district sent a written application to the Divisional Commissioner of Sylhet to lease out Gogalichhara River as a stagnant water body. Later on 16 August 2008, a letter had been given to Deputy Commissioner of Moulvibazar from Divisional Commissioner’s Office to authorize the proposal and record it in document six (scheduled document of Jalmohal) stating it as stagnant Jalmohal.

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The river provides a buffering effect on the surface water system of the locality. The resident of Shahpur village of Juri Mohammad Shamsul Islam, Salim Ullah, Matchin Ali said that flash flood coming from upstream mountain during the monsoon is extracted through this river. Moreover, in dry season, around 20,000 acres of agricultural land is irrigated by building dams in different part of the river along Hakaluki Haor of Juri and Kulaura. If the river is leased, fish cultivation by the local fishermen will be stopped. The poor fishermen of the locality will lose the right of fishing.

However, the court rejected the case of Islam Uddin on 29 April 2016. Then on 26 June 2016, a letter sent from Mohammad Kamrul Hasan, Deputy Commissioner of Moulvibazar to Mohammad Shahidul Islam, UNO of Juri stating that two fisherman unions have applied to take the Gogalichhara stagnant water body. He also ordered to send report after verifying the application.

In a meeting arranged by Upazilla Jalmohal Management Committee on 10 July 2016 presided over UNO Mohammad Shahidul Islam, it has been decided to give lease arrangement to a society called “Dighalbaak Fisherman Cooperative Society Limited” from 1421 to 1423 Bengali year(for two years)  at a royalty of BDT 40,000per year along with a recommendation to the Deputy Commissioner.

As a remediation of long suffering by the local people and result of motivation by the green activists, especially Waterkeepers Bangladesh, the local people had appealed to cancel the lease arrangement to Deputy Commissioner of Moulvibazar on 11 August 2016.

At the same time, due to the movement of the people organized by the Waterkeepers Bangladesh, newspapers came ahead with this issue. Md. Shamsul Alam, UNO of Kulaura of that time and Md. Shahidul Islam, UNO of Juri informed the staff reporter of Prothom Alo that, they don’t know the details about Gogalicchara Jalmohal. But the UNO of Juri said that they have sent a proposal to verify the application of two fishermen unions and rate a lease price according to the letter of DC. When asked, the DC of Moulvibazar Md. Kamrul Hassan told the Prothom Alo that they decided to lease Gogalichhara as a stagnant Jalmohal. If Gogalichhara is a river, then how it could be documented as a stagnant water body! They would investigate the issue. But the DC of Moulvibazar sustained his original decision and misbehaved with the staff reporter of Prothom Alo. On 13 September 2014, a report was published in Prothom Alo in the heading “Leasing River as Stagnant Water Body”. Another report was published in Daily Star on 19 September 2016 in the heading “River Leased as Wetland”. But the Administration remained silent.

In that situation, on 25 September 2016, a unique protest activity was arranged by Waterkeepers Bangladesh and Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon (BAPA) by releasing paper made boat in Gogalichhara River. The program was presided over the divisional Coordinator of Waterkeepers Bangladesh Abdul Karim Kim (Surma River Waterkeeper) and executed by the Organizer of Kulaura Poribesh Andolon Mr. Alamgir Alam Shahjahan. The speakers of the program were Dr. Nazia Chowdhury, Vice President of BAPA Sylhet branch; Mr. Moin Uddin Jalal, Organizer of Angikar Bangladesh Sylhet Divisional Committee; Mr. Samar Bijoy Sea Shekhor, President of Nagorik Moitri Sylhet; Md. Shahjahan, former Chairman of Union Parishad; Mr. Safikur Rahman on behalf of the local people, Mr. Azad Hossain of BAPA, Mr. Badrul Islam Chowdhury, Mr. Shyamol Shingh, Mr. Sharif Uddin Bulbul etc.

The speakers said that some dishonest government employee and political leaders are encroaching river area and polluting it for their personal benefits. Consequently, they leased out this flowing river Gogalicchara showing it as a stagnant Jalmohal.

The speakers exclaimed, “where the honorable Prime Minister has promised to save the rivers, how the DC of Moulvibazar did this!” They also said, “Not the DC but the local people know which one is a river and which one is a beel. We will not accept if a river is claimed as a stagnant water body. The lease has to be canceled. Otherwise, strong movement will be declared”.

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One month had passed after the program. But the lease was not canceled. On 28 October 2016, a Villagers’ Gathering was arranged in Bhuiyan Bazaar along the river Gogalichhara by Waterkeepers Bangladesh and BAPA.  The program was presided over by Mr. Arzid Ali, a farmer of Shahpur village where the chief guest was the Member of National River Conservation Commission Ms. Sharmeen Murshid.

The speakers of the program said, “Leasing Gogalicchara River as a Jalmohal is a corruption of the administration.  And to some extent, this is their ignorance. They are doing it against the law. Thousands of acres of agricultural land in Hakaluki Haor are irrigated using the water of Gogalichhara River. Irrigation will be hampered and right to fishing of villagers will be lost by leasing out the river ”.

Demanding the cancellation of the lease of Gogalichhara River the speakers said, “The local administration has done boundless injustice by leasing out the River. Gogalichhara is not a stagnant water body. In the upstream, millions of Taka has been allocated by the government to dredge this river but at the downstream they not even recognizing this river! So, leasing Gogalicchara as Jalmohal is nothing but a crime”.

In the meeting, the speakers were Sharif Jamil, Coordinator of Waterkeepers Bangladesh; Abdul Karim Kim, Surma River Waterkeeper; Vice-Chairman of Juri Upazilla Parishad Mr. Kishor Roy Chowdhury Moni; UP Chairman of Jayfornagor Hazi Masum Reza; Member of BAPA Advocate Sabbir Ahmed; Mr. Shyamol Singh; Mr. Badrul Islam Chowdhury etc.

The clear definition of the river is given in Environmental Protection Act, 1997 and thereby, a flowing river cannot be said a stagnant water body. Environmental balance will be hampered if a river is given lease to any individual/organization what happened in case of Gogalichhara. Due to leasing out this water body to a fisherman union, the local people suffered from irrigation crisis of 20 thousand acres of Boro land.  Even, it has been said in a government notification by Ministry of Land ( 4 September 1995) that to save the interest of poor fisherman communities and their livelihood, Government had decided to cancel the lease of river, khal and open water body which are under Jalmohal. At the same time, they ordered the relevant administrative officers to halt the settlement until the final disposal of the court.

To return Gogalichhara to its original condition, several programs have been implemented, like human chain in 15 September 2014, protest meeting on the 28 September 2014. But the wrongdoing of the local administration couldn’t be corrected though the lease of 2014-‘15 was made ineffective by sending a memorandum to the honorable Prime Minister. The two events of 25 September and 28 October 2016 boosted up the protest on this issue. Thus, Waterkeepers Bangladesh is working to protect the river from degradation, maintain the water balance of the locality, ensure sufficient water for irrigation and upheld the right of poor fishermen, working continually with the local people and the mass media. But fights for protecting Gogalichhara will continue until it is free from the greed of the money mongers and corrupt officials.

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