Speakers at a discussion meeting in the capital on Saturday said most government measures taken to protect rivers and strengthen the river transport sector are positive but slow in implementation.
Green Club of Bangladesh, an organisation working on environment and citizen rights, arranged the discussion with Mohammad Shahid Miah, president of the National Committee to Protect Shipping, Roads and Railways, in the chair.
"It's essential to expand the shipping system further through the efficient use of natural rivers so that the common people become more dependent on waterways and less dependent on roads…we need to popularise waterways," said Dr Mir Tareque Ali, a professor of Naval Architecture & Marine Engineering Department, Bangladesh University of Engineering & Technology (Buet).
Dr Ali, also the president of Buet Teachers' Association, said Bangladesh needs to ensure the use of land by giving priority to geo-natural conditions and its huge population.
Principal Ashique-e-Elahi, convener of Adi Jamuna Bachao Andolan, said the initiatives the present government has so far taken to protect the shipping sector are positive, but the implementation process is slow and ineffective.
The National River Protection Commission was formed under the Shipping Ministry, which is absolutely unacceptable as no commission can work independently staying under the authority of a ministry, he said.
"Now waterways are declining in Bangladesh as rivers are drying up," he said, adding that once the waterways were the main means of transportation and communications for the people of the coastal areas, including greater Khulna and Barishal regions.
Aminur Rasul Babul, member secretary of Unnayan Dhara Trust, said the present government has the political will to execute any initiative in public interest and has taken many positive initiatives to protect rivers and strengthen the shipping system in line with its electoral manifesto.
"But there's a lack of coordination among the ministries and agencies concerned to implement the initiatives. This is why there has been no desired modernisation and development of waterways," he said.
Mihir Biswas, joint secretary of Bangladesh Poribesh Andolan (BAPA) and Ashesh Kumar Dey, GCB general secretary, also spoke on the occasion.