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Decaying rivers and water crisis

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16th-May-2018       
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Contd from page 36 :
Bad effect of the Teesta Barrage Project in the northwest region (NWR)
Similar situation might take place in the northwest and northeast regions of Bangladesh following commissioning of the Teesta Barrage Project by India. All these would be a great blow to the welfare of a nation that came into being after a nine-month long battle with Pakistan in 1971.    (Source: Environmental and Social Impact Assessment of Gorai River Restoration Project, Ministry of Water Resources, Government of Bangladesh, 2001)
The Bhairab river, which also originates from the Ganges at Jalungi in India and enters into Bangladesh in Meherpur district, is now completely dried up and its mouth has also been closed due to continuous heavy siltation. The Bhairab which ends up with the Shibsha near Paikgachha in Khulna is also unable to supply fresh water to the rivers of the southwestern region like the Gorai. The Kobadak is an off-shoot of the river Bhairab and it meets with the Kholpetua in the Sundarbans. But this river has no flow at the moment due to heavy siltation. It should be mentioned here that the epic poet Michael Madhusudan Dutt had his village home, named Sagardari, beside the Kobadak under Keshabpur upazila in Jessore district. This river during the British period was navigable and was also a source for agriculture and fishery. Michael Madhusudan made an enthusiastic and unique tribute to the Kobadak river when he compared the flow of the river to the milk of a mother. Beside Madhusudan Dutt, a number of scholars and writers were also born alongside the river Kobadak, such as Haraprasad Shastri, the great Sanskrit expert who made discovery of the Chorya songs or the Buddhist mystic songs from the museum of the Royal Nepalese Academy, Nepal. Chorya songs or the Buddhist mystic songs were the earliest evidence of Bengali language and literature; the renowned scientist Acharya Profulla Chandra Roy, the linguist and Indologist Khan Shahib Abdul Wali, who contributed to our folklore and literature. Wali, lived along the Kobadak, was also a famous Persian scholar of his time.
The river Kobadak is now almost dead as no water is available in the dry season. In the absence of water during dry season, the rivers stand as a mute monument of gross human failure. This has caused serious damage to agriculture and fishery beside navigation.
In the wet season, however, flood water from India enters Bangladesh through the Bhairab and the Kobadak and causes high flood in the region causing heavy  damage to property and crops. The region also suffers from severe water logging. The suffering of the people knows no bounds. Most of the rivers in the southwest region have the same fate.
The Ganges is known as the Padma when it enters into Bangladesh near theRajshahi district. The river Gorai that takes off from the Padma near the Kushtia district Headquarters, two miles downstream of the historic Hardinge Railway Bridge, has been the largest perennial distributor of the Ganges -Padma river, supplying fresh water to the southwest region of Bangladesh for hundreds of years. The Chorya songs or the Buddhist mystic songs, the earliest specimen of the Bengali literature recorded the names of the Ganges and the Padma. There is, however, no doubt that these names of the rivers have been used quite symbolically to serve the mystic purposes. The Gorai river too is a historic one as the name also appears in a number old and middle Bengali literature. These rivers actually provided succor to the people for generations. Eight greater districts of SWR are dependent on the Ganges-Padma water and their tributaries such as the Gorai, the Madhumoti, Ichhamoti, Nabaganga, Bhairab and Kumar. The total areas cover around 20,000 square miles. The districts, however, include Rajshahi, Pabna, Kushtia, Faridpur, Jessore, Khulna, Patuakhali and Barisal viz, Rajshahi, Pabna, Kushtia and Faridpur.   The fresh water flow of the Gorai is key to the maintenance of environmental, social and ecological balance in the region, especially in terms of checking salinity intrusion .More than 50 years ago, steamers, launches and big cargo- boats, known as Bajra used to ply on the Ganges-Padma, carrying on trade and commerce and provided economic support to the people living along these rivers. Markets developed and flourished. Kumarkhali, presently, an Upozila under Kushtia district and located by the side of the Gorai, was a subdivision of neighbouring Pabna district during the British. It earned name and fame for handloom and weaving products. Here lived Rabindranath Tagore and his brothers who were landlords of the Tagore estate founded by their father and great grandfather at Shelaidah, three miles from Kumarkhali town and six miles from the district headquarters. The Shelaidah Kuthibari of Rabindranath Tagore was built beside the mighty, majestic and graceful Padma. Rabindranath Tagore in many of his articles, poems, and letters mentioned that the Padma and the Gorai left a tremendous impact on his mind and shaped   his poetic career. The influence of these rivers was much too deep on his life. He came very close to the people and became a development philosopher. Fish were available in abundance, so much so that his son Rathindranath Tagore dumped thousands of Hilsha for use as fertilizer for his agricultural farm. The noted Manik Bandapadhyay in his novel, 'Padma Nadir Majhi' (Boatmen of the Padma) mentioned that Hilsha fish were available in abundance in the Padma.But these did not change the fate of the fishermen because of exploitation by the middlemen known as the, Mahajans'. Lalon Shah, the noted mystic and Baul Poet lived along the Gorai and the Kaliganga river that moved through Kushtia. Kangal Harinath Majumdar, the noted journalist, and Mir Mosharraf Hussain, The author of Bishad, Sindhu, historian Akshoy Kumar Maitra, Jaladhar Sen., all lived along the Gorai, in Kumarkhali. The Tagore Estate was also under Kumarkhali Upazila. Rani Bhavani, the noted Queen of Natore had her Temple beside the Tagore estate. The environmental position was then so good that a host of people including scientist Sir Jagadish Chandra Bose had been regular visitors to the Shelaidah Kuthibari of Tagore. The Gualondo ghat and railway station which was located by the side of the Padma and had connections with Kolkata  on the one hand and Dhaka on the other, greatly flourished and it earned name and fame as a gateway to the Golden Bengal. All these now are matters of the past. The whole of Gualondo is now either a sand-bank or a vast barren field. The Padma now flows through the Daulatdia ghat, a couple of miles downstream from the Gualondo ghat and the total scenario of the locality has taken a different look.
Environmental degradation in the south-west region
In the past there had been a secular decline in surface water availability in the north and south western part of Bangladesh sometimes called 'moribund delta', as tributaries of the Ganges in the north and distributaries in the south began to silted up. The process was accelerated by the upstream of diversion of water from the river system for consumptive and non consumptive uses. The reduced availability of surface water in the region adversely affected the normal recharge of the ground water table in a number of areas. A smaller surface water run off also impacts on salinity level in the coastal areas. For example: in Khulna area during the dry season of the 1990s salinity line moved further inland.
    contd on page 38

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