Sand looting in Sugandha river: Why delay in detaining the looters?

Though sand looters have been indiscriminately extracting sand from Sugandha river in Jhalakathi district, the administration is keeping mum.

According to a Prothom Alo report, a quarter is freely extracting sand without facing any obstruction from anyone from the Sugandha river in Jhalakathi, even though there is no government-recognised balumahal there. This  indiscriminate sand removal from different parts of the river leads to three villages along with the city protection embankment under threat of erosion. The local people fear that the district town’s Qutubnagar bus stand may also be eroded by the river at any time.

Section 4 (c) of the Balumahal and Soil Management Act, 2010 states that sand or soil cannot be extracted from the river bed in cases where any river bank may suffer erosion threat due to dredging for extraction or marketing of sand or soil.

Local people claim that a gang under the aegis of some local Awami League leaders has been extracting sand from Sugandha river for years. The administration, however, says that they do arrest the dredger (excavator) workers and fine them by raids on receiving information about sand excavation.

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The administration launches an operation on receiving information of sand extraction. But no one from the administration stays on the spot when the sand is lifted at night. A gang of at least 16 people runs a sand mining business in Jhalakathi and the town Jubo League’s former president Abdul Haque Khalifa controls this business. Apart from this, member of the district unit of Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami and former municipal councillor Md Mujibur Rahman is also involved in sand business.

Despite having uneasy relations in the field of politics, the Awami League and Jamaat leaders have no difficulty in lifting sand and looting it together.

On the same day, Prothom Alo ran another report on sand extraction in Meghna river. It said that the chamber court of the Supreme Court’s Appellate Division stopped Borhan Khan, the owner of Brishti Enterprise, from extracting sand from the Meghna river flowing through eight mauzas of Chandpur Sadar and Haimchar upazilas.

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Borhan Khan is the younger brother of Md. Selim Khan, Chairman of no. 10 Lakshmipur Union Parishad (UP) in Chandpur Sadar Upazila. Selim Khan, through M/s Selim Enterprises, extracted sand from the shoals of Padma and Meghna rivers. He is accused of destroying the environment and biodiversity. On 2 March in 2022, Prothom Alo carried a report on the activities of Selim Khan.

Selim Khan was also first allowed by the High Court to excavate sand. On 29 May in 2022, the Appellate Division annulled the judgement given by the High Court in this regard. After that, Chandpur district administration asked Selim Khan to deposit over Tk 2.67 billion in the government treasury for sand extraction. But he did not deposit any money in the government coffers.

Where do these sand looters get the courage to ignore the orders of district administration?

The question is, why are only the workers arrested, not the big shots?

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Not only Meghna and Sugandha rivers as such, sand is being extracted indiscriminately from almost all the rivers of the country. This causes erosion in the rivers, localities are lost, people become displaced after losing their houses, the environment gets destroyed and the course of the river also changes.

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We are demanding an intervention of the local administration so that the town protection embankment and the riverside villages are not damaged by the extraction of sand in the Sugandha river. Also, the government must take measures so that all rivers are saved as living beings.