The Dhanshiri River in Jhalakathi was at least hundred meters wide around two decades ago, but over time it has become much narrower as land grabbers have been illegally occupying land on both sides of it.
However, instead of reclaiming the land on the riverbanks, the authorities concerned recently took up an excavation project with a faulty design which will kill off the river very soon, complained many people living beside the river.
"This process is leading to the death of the river as it is being excavated like a narrow drain," said Sabur Howlader, president of the Rajapur upazila unit of the Jubo League in Jhalakathi.
Under the project, 8.5 km of the river will be excavated in the first phase at a cost of Tk1.99 crore, said Md Rakibul Islam, executive engineer of the Water Development Board in Jhalakathi.
In this phase, the river is being excavated for deepening and widening the riverbed so that the river can carry more water. The top of the river will be excavated in the next phases because it cannot be excavated for long at a time, said Md Rakibul Islam.
After the completion of the project, the width of the bottom of the river will be 5-7 metres. Its depth will also be increased by 1.31 metre from its existing depth, said the engineer.
However, the river is not excavated according to the work order as its bottom level is excavated around 1-2 metre only, said Jalal Howlader, chairman of Mathbari union, an area through which the Dhanshiri flows.
The river is excavated only for misappropriating public money and ensuring that the riverbank grabbers continue with their illegal possession of the land, said Akijur Rahman, a farmer from Indrapasha area in Jhalakathi.
He said the farmers there currently cannot grow anything on the land beside the river because of a scarcity of irrigation water.
Residents of Rajapur upazila recently organised a human chain to protest the ongoing excavation.
"We do not want to know about the work order or design but we are witnessing that the mighty river is dying because of this excavation," said Abdul Awal, a representative of the protesters in Rajapur.
Awal also alleged that the river is excavated in a way that allows the river grabbers to prevail on both sides of it.
"If the river is excavated in the way it is being done now, it will lose its navigability," said Fakrul Islam Khan, another resident of the area.
The 10-km-long stretch of the Dhanshiri links the Gabkhan Channel and the Sugandha River in Jhalakathi Sadar upazila and the Jangalia River in Rajapur upazila in Jhalakathi.
The river has had a great contribution to agriculture, fisheries and naval communication as well as goods transportation.
It used to have a vital role in the agriculture, fisheries and naval communication of the area.
Small launches and different types of goods-laden cargo vehicles plied on the river around three decades ago, said Nazrul Islam, a trader from Bagri Bazar area of Rajapur upazila, who used to transport his goods on large trawlers from Jhalakathi and Barishal.
It was the main communication route for the people of the area, he said, adding that the river was the prime source of water for irrigation as many canals emanating from it flowed through the villages and agricultural lands in the area.
Many of these canals have already dried up as the Dhanshiri River cannot carry as much water as it once did due to the activities of the river grabbers.
People dependent on fish in the river have also been suffering as the fish population in it has also dwindled over the years.