Brick factories running with no clearance in Rangamati

Bricks being burnt in a brick kiln near a forest in Kaukhali upazila of Rangamati. Photo taken from Betbunia Sugarmill area recently.Supriyo Chakma

Allegations of making false Environmental Clearance Certificates (ECC) with forged signatures of a former director of Chattogram divisional office of the Department of Environment (DoE), who worked there about 12 years ago, have been raised against seven brick kiln-owners in Rangamati.

They even got stay-orders from High Court by submitting those forged clearance certificates so that those brick kilns cannot be raided. Later, those stay-orders were dismissed when the issue was pointed out to the court.

Two out of these seven brick kilns are owned by two leaders of ruling Awami League. One of those leaders is Md Musa Matabbar, general secretary of Rangamati district Awami League and the other is Syed Hossain, advisor to Raozan Upazila Awami League in Chattogram. The other five kiln-owners, though businessmen, are of the Awami League camp.

Six out of those seven kilns are in Kaukhali Upazila of Rangamati. These are: MBM Bricks owned by Nasir Uddin, Jalalia Bricks Manufacturing of Sirajul Islam, Quader Bricks Manufacture (Unit-2) of Syed Hossan, Amena Taspia Bricks Manufacture Company of Musa Matabbar, Al Madina Brickfield of Abu Mansur and Khwaza Mainuddin Chishti Bricks owned by Faruk Mia. The remaining one is Swapan Mahajan’s Asha Bricks in Bhalukiya of Kaptai Upazila.

Under the backdrop of a writ petition filed by human rights and environmentalist organisation Human Rights and Peace for Bangladesh (HRPB), the High Court ordered to stop activities of 64 illegal brick kilns in Chittagong Hill Tracts on 25 January last.

Then again on 14 March, the court in an order directed to submit a report after demolishing 130 illegal brick kilns located in Bandarban, Rangamati and Khagrachhari, within six weeks. These seven brick kilns were also among those 130 illegal brick kilns.

Following the first court order, owners of these seven brick kilns started applying for writ petition at the High Court for stay order. In the petition they attached certificates acquired from Chattogram environment department office on various dates ranging from 2017 to 2020. Those clearance certificates had former DoE director Md Nazmul Haque’s signatures on them.

Hearing about the forged clearance certificates, I filed a petition at the High Court on 3 April. The court passed a non-prosecution order and the writ petitions were dismissed.
Sajal Mallik, lawyer

On this, the current director of environment department (Chattogram region) Mufidul Alam said, Nazmul Haque did not hold the office at the time that has been mentioned as the period of acquiring the certificates.

Environment department sources say Nazmul Haque retired as a joint secretary of the public administration ministry about two years back. When asked about it Nazmul Haque informed Prothom Alo over phone on last 20 March noon, “There’s no question of me issuing any environmental certificates in between 2018 to 2020. I wasn’t even in Chattogram back then. If anyone has submitted any such certificates, then it’s fake.”

Meanwhile, environmental clearance certificates for brick kilns are issued through meetings of the environmental clearance committee of the environment department. The serial numbers of these meetings keep increasing chronologically every year.

Although those seven brick kilns submitted clearance certificates with dates of different years, the serial number of the meeting in which they were issued is the same, 37. This cannot be accurate in any way, said officials of the environment department.

In this regard, Ferdous Anwar, deputy director of environment department while speaking to Prothom Alo claimed that no brick kilns in the hill tracts can display a legitimate clearance certificate of the environment department.

Lawyer Sajal Mallik represented those brick kiln-owners in the hearing of that writ petition. When asked over phone, he said to Prothom Alo, “After hearing about the forged clearance certificates, I filed a petition at the High Court saying that plaintiffs don’t want to continue the lawsuit on 3 April. The court passed a non-prosecution order and the writ petitions were dismissed.”

Burning wood at brick kilns

Since receiving the court’s stay-order, the brick kilns have been burning fire wood as fuel. The brick kilns in question are situated at hill and forest areas of Sugarmill, Adarsho village and Tarabunia areas in Rangamati’s Kaukhali upazila.

Recently smoke was seen emitting from the furnace of Amena Taspia Bricks owned by Musa Matabbar at the entrance of Adarsho village. There were rows of unbaked bricks on one side while fire wood was kept in a pile on a spot nearby. Two more brick kilns beside this one were also burning bricks with fire wood.

When asked to know about this, owner of Taspia Bricks and general secretary of Rangamati district Awami League Md Musa Matabbar told Prothom Alo, “The brick kiln has been running with six months’ stay-order. Taspia is our family-owned company.” He denied submitting forged documents for getting the stay-order.

Corrupt businessmen have deceived the court by providing false information. Appropriate action should be taken against them.
Akhter Kabir Chowdhury, general secretary of Sujan in Chattogram

According to Burning of Bricks (Control) Act, no brick kilns are allowed within half a kilometer of hills and forest lands. But, all of the active brick kilns in Kaukhali are set right beside the forest.

On this issue deputy commissioner of Rangamati Mohammad Mizanur Rahman said over phone on Sunday night, “They were running the brick kiln under High Court’s stay-order. Now, drives will be conducted once latest orders are received.”

Akhter Kabir Chowdhury, general secretary of Citizens for Good Governance (Sujan) in Chattogram has remarked that submitting forged documents before the court is a punishable offence. He said, corrupt businessmen have deceived the court by providing false information. Appropriate action should be taken against them.