- BIWTA yet to get 721 acres of foreshore land for the port
- Cox's Bazar district admin says it is working on the matter
- As handover drags on, influential locals occupy river banks
- BIWTA identifies 131 land grabbers, sends report to authorities
The establishment of a river port on the Bakkhali River in Cox's Bazar has been at a standstill for more than a decade as the district administration is yet to transfer foreshore land to the Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority (BIWTA).
According to the BIWTA, the government appointed the agency as conservator of the Bakkhali river port on 6 February 2010. The notice in this regard instructed the district administration to hand over 721 acres of foreshore land to the agency.
However, due to objections of the district administration, a joint survey of foreshore land was conducted on 20 December 2020 which determined 269.43 acres to be handed over.
Recently, a survey by the BIWTA found a large part of the land beside the river is being occupied by land grabbers, including local politicians and influential people. It identified 131 people involved in river grabbing and sent the list to the authorities concerned, including the district administration, to evict the illegal occupiers.
As per the BIWTA report sent to the Ministry of Shipping, the government proposed the Bakkhali river port, considering the importance of Cox's Bazar as it would play an important role to increase import and export activities through the country's internal waterways. The report mentioned this would also generate government revenue.
Later, the ministry also sent a letter asking the administration to transfer the foreshore land to the BIWTA.
Despite all this, the land has not been handed over to the BIWTA yet.
Earlier, Md Raihanul Mostafa, a Supreme Court lawyer, filed a writ petition with the High Court, seeking directions for speedy transfer of the foreshore land and Maheshkhali jetty to the BIWTA.
After the full hearing of the petition in 2016, instructions were given by the court to transfer the land within 60 days of the verdict. As this was not implemented, a contempt petition was filed against the secretaries of the local government ministry and the ministry of land, and the chairman of the BIWTA.
Raihanul Mostafa told The Business Standard (TBS), "The government had announced Bakkhali river port to develop the communication infrastructure and industrial sector of the Cox's Bazar region. But the local district administration is not handing over the riverbanks to specific agencies."
He said, "Due to the delay, influential people are occupying the river banks. It is necessary to hand over the Bakkhali River banks to the BIWTA as soon as possible for protection of the environment and human welfare."
He said conflict between two government agencies is not desirable in any way.
The district administration has said they will take action after reviewing old documents.
Mamunur Rashid, deputy commissioner of Cox's Bazar, said, "The declaration of the river port came more than a decade ago. There is no way but to implement the directions of the High Court. The district administration is working on the exact reason why the land on the river banks has not been transferred to the BIWTA."
Commodore Golam Sadeq, chairman of BIWTA, told TBS, "The Bakkhali river port is very important to implement the short to medium and long-term policies of the government's blue economy projects. The port would help in extracting marine resources too."
"But despite the court's instructions, the district administration has not transferred the land of the river banks to us. We have sought the help of the ministries concerned and efforts are being made to resolve the crisis through the ministries," he added.
Environmental activists say the Bakkhali river is gradually being occupied by land grabbers as the authorities are not implementing the river port.
Moazzem Riyad, environmental activist from Cox's Bazar, said, "The government has been investing a huge amount of money in infrastructure development of Cox's Bazar for the past decade. However, the region still does not have a complete river port."