Save Someshwari: Cancel lease of sand banks immediately

Prothom Alo illustration

Like many other rivers of Bangladesh, the river Someshwari has a rapid current too. This river came down from the Garo hills in India, attracting tourists with is beauty and providing livelihood to the people with this fish resources. Someshwari's mahashol (mahseer) fish is famous around the country.

However, due to a section of sand grabbers, Someshwari is now on the verge of extinction. According to an investigative report in Prothom Alo on 21 October, the state of Someshwari is more than alarming. The report said that after entering Bangladesh through Netrakona's Durgapur upazila, the river is no longer a river, but a narrow stream. Hundreds of illegal 'Bangla dredgers' extract sand from the river every day, leaving it narrow and moribund.

Using the excuse of ensuring the navigability of the river, in 2005 the government gave permissions to dredge the river and extract sand. The five leased sand banks of 'balumohal' stretch out over around 2000 acres. Every day around 2.1 million sq ft (21 lakh sq ft) of sand is lifted from here. Around 2000 truckloads of sand are removed from the area. These excessively overloaded trucks have destroyed the roads too.

Executive engineer of the Road and Highway (R&H) Department in Netrakona, Mahmud Al Noor Salehin, told Prothom Alo that that the newly constructed Shyamganj-Birishiri road has been broken and damaged in innumerable places because of the trucks excessively loaded with wet sand. Over Tk 10 million (Tk 1 crore) is being spent on repairing every kilometre of the damaged roads.

Echoing the concern of Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (BELA)'s chief executive Syeda Rizwana Hasan, we also want to say that no development at the cost of the environment is acceptable

The bottom line is, the sand grabbers are not just destroying the rivers, they are ruining the roads too and disrupting the lives of the local residents. These sand grabbers are so powerful that they are not bothered about the prohibitions of the local administration. The locally influential leaders and activists of the ruling party get lease of the sand banks. The administration on 4 September issued a letter to the lessees, directing them to halt unapproved dredgers, transportation of wet sand and disrupting people's lives. These letters made no difference, as reported by Prothom Alo.

It is not just in Someshwari that all this is happening. The sand grabbers are destroying Bangladesh's main river Meghna too. The local deputy commissioner was harassed when he tried to prevent them. Former chairman of the river commission Manzur Ahmed Chowdhury had to step down from office even before his tenure ended.

Echoing the concern of Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (BELA)'s chief executive Syeda Rizwana Hasan, we also want to say that no development at the cost of the environment is acceptable. The removal of only the amount of sand required to maintain navigability of the rivers, can be allowed. A survey must be conducted by experts and then the sand can be removed by dredger in a scientific manner under government management. Sand cannot be removed indiscriminately.

Many rivers of the country including Teesta are dying due to water being blocked upstream. But the problems with Someshwari are different. The water of this river flows down from upstream properly, carrying sand along with it. The river can be dredged to remove the excessive sand, but in no way can be river be destroyed.

Someshwari must be saved from the sand grabbers. After the damage that has already been done to the river, there is no justification in keeping up the lease of sand banks there. These leases must be cancelled immediately. At least save Someshwari from the hands of the sand traders and sand grabbers who have become billionaires overnight.

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