All the five canals of Rajapur upazila are under threat of disappearance as they are being grabbed by the people living on their banks.
At first, grabbers make a bamboo enclosure on the bank of a canal close to their homestead and gradually dump trash and waste into it, said Jasim Uddin, a resident of the upazila.
After some months or years the enclosure is filled and becomes a part of the homestead of the grabbers, he added.
On a visit to the upazila, this correspondent saw that many structures have been constructed by grabbing the canals, but the grabbers do not feel guilty about it.
“I do not find anything wrong in grabbing the canals as many people are building structures on canals,” a grabber said, seeking anonymity.
Hundreds of structures were constructed in the last ten years, many residents of the areas said.
“I saw the canals at least 100 metres wide only a decade ago but they are now only 10 metres wide,” said Abdus Sattar, an elderly man.
“I used to catch fish in the canal when I was a college student around 12 years ago, but now that is only a memory as the canal has become a narrow drain due to grabbing,” said Sajib, a local who feels pain and agony when he sees the tragic condition of the canals.
“The canals were a good source of fish only two decades ago, but now they are barren as they have lost their width and depth,” he added.
“We still use the canal's water for our daily purposes, although it is not clean due to throwing of rubbish into it,” said Hasina Begum, who collects water from the canal every day.
Waterlogging is common in many areas during the rainy season due to grabbing of the canals, locals said.
A canal protection committee, led by assistant commissioner of land (AC land), was formed recently to save the canals from encroachment but the committee is inactive as the AC has been transferred, said Rahim Reza, a member of the committee.
“These canals were used for irrigation and communication by the farmers but now they cannot use them due to the grabbing.” said Tilok Ghosh, upazila agriculture extension officer.
“We are working for demarcating the canals quickly so that none gets the chance to grab them. We will conduct a drive to demolish all illegal structures from the canals,” said Upazila Nirbahi Officer Afroja Begum Parul. The canal protection committee could not start work as the AC land was transferred as soon as the committee was formed, she added.