Due to continuous encroachment, illegal fish farming by limiting water flow and unchecked pollution, the Mukteshwari River, one of the major rivers in Jashore district, is now on the verge of death.
With little notable action from the authorities concerned, encroachers have been further emboldened.
The Bangladesh Water Development Board (BWDB), however, says a project proposal has been sent to the water resources ministry. The river will be freed from grabbers only if the project is passed.
The Mukteshwari river flows through Jagadishpur Baor and Salua Bazar of Chowgachha upazila, Arabpur union of Sadar upazila, Monirampur upazila to Kolaroa upazila of Satkhira.
Encroachers have obstructed the natural flow of the river by constructing buildings, dumping waste on its banks and farming fish by erecting bamboo fences.
Residents allege that locals have even been prohibited from bathing and fishing in the river after a portion of it was leased by some influentials, who showed the flowing river as being a closed water body.
A closed water body is a body of water that does not drain into an ocean or a river. This means that no water flows out of the lake.
Although the office of the deputy commissioner cancelled the lease, the fences have not been removed and the fish farms continue to operate.
When contacted about his office's inaction to evict the encroachers after cancelling the lease, Jashore Deputy Commissioner Tomijul Islam Khan said if the Water Development Board provides a list of encroachers, the district administration will take action to evict them and free the river.
Nazrul Islam, an elderly resident in Poolerhat area, said the Mukteshwari, once a source of irrigation for agriculture, fishing and other uses by locals, has now become a polluted, narrow canal.
More than 500 people from families of 200 fishermen are facing problems in their livelihood as they are barred from fishing in the river by people who still claim to have a lease.
Iqbal Kabir Jahid, adviser of the Nadi Bachao Andolan (Movement to Save the Rivers), Jashore Committee, said the river is now on its deathbed. Encroachers grab the portions of the rivers at their will and it is not possible to protect the river without evicting the encroachers and excavation, he said.
"We urge the authorities to take urgent steps to save the river," he added.
Expressing resentments, Rukonuddoula, member of Jonouddyog, Jashore unit, said 'Basically, those who are supposed to oversee the river; that authority takes unethical opportunities in exchange of allowing influential people to grab the river. River conservation laws exist, but are not enforced; so not only Mukteshwari, many rivers in Jashore are illegally encroached.
"The dying rivers of the district are a major factor of environment, agriculture and biodiversity loss. Even though we have been agitating for a long time, there is no change thanks to the inaction of the authorities."
In this regard, Executive Engineer of Water Development Board Jashore Md Tawhidul Islam said, "We sent a project proposal to the ministry for excavation of Mukteshwari and clearing of encroachment stretching from the source of the river to Kharnia in Satkhira's Kalaroa upazila. The work for river protection will start only after the project is passed."