A hub of illegal sand mining
Bunobhir union of Moulvibazar's Sreemangal upazila has become a hub of illegal sand mining, posing threat to nearby farmlands and damaging the soil fertility in the area.
Locals say they have to live with constant fear of landslides, as sand extraction is continuing unabated on the adjacent hill creeks. Besides, there has been a shortage of pure drinking water as a result.
Environmental activists and locals claimed that the authorities are playing the role of silent, spectators as influential groups are behind such illegal acts.
During a recent visit to Bunobhir, Satgaon Station, Chaumuhoni, Bhumbir Temuhana and Shamsherganj Road, this correspondent saw traders lifting sand using dredgers and long pipes.
The workers ignored this correspondent's questions and said they have "permission" to extract sand.
Abdus Sattar, a resident of Bunobhir, said influential groups have been extracting sand from agricultural lands by setting up excavator machines and dredgers, leaving nearby crops, hilly land and canals vulnerable.
Bilkish Akter, another local, said they are not getting water from some tube wells. "Moreover, the continuous sound of sand extraction machines has created a public nuisance," she added.
Farmers are also worried about the fertility of their farmlands if sand mining goes on. They demanded immediate steps by the authorities concerned to protect their crops.
Advocate Shah Shaheda Akhter, Sylhet regional coordinator of Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association, said it is a contempt of court to extract sand from farmlands despite a High Court ban.
Abdul Karim Kim, general secretary of Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon (Sylhet), said without assistance from the administration and local politicians, it would not have been possible to extract sand in the union.
Asked, Bunobhir UP Chairman Abdur Rashid said, "These traders are very powerful and connected. They are not willing to comply."
When asked about their identities, he refused to answer.
Acknowledging the existence of a powerful syndicate, Sreemangal UNO Nazrul Islam said, "Multiple cases have been filed against those responsible for illegal sand mining. Locals also need to be aware and inform the administration in this regard."
Seeking anonymity, locals alleged that political leaders including Nanu Mia, Kawshar, Ferdous, Kabir Mollah, Jalil, Kadar Ali, Mokaid and Saddam are involved in this illegal trade.
A case was also filed against Kabir Mollah, a local trader, in this regard recently.
Contacted, Kabir Mollah said, "I have been accused of sand mining but the allegations have not been substantiated yet."
One of the accused, wishing anonymity, claimed that they had been lifting sand by "managing" the administration.
Asked, the UNO said the claim is not true. "We will look into the issue," he added.