Meghna protection initiative: Illegal sand extractors must be stopped

Eventually the government has woke up. Selim Khan, a local Awami League leader and chairman of the local Union Parishad (UP), has been embezzling millions by extracting sand from shoals in the Meghna river for four years in the name of keeping the river flowing. Selim Khan filed a writ petition with the Supreme Court in 2015 seeking directions to conduct hydrographic survey in Meghna river at his own expense in 21 mouzas in Chandpur and Haimchar upazilas. The writ petition was filed to reactivate the waterway. Referring to a letter from the Hydrography Department in the verdict of the High Court, dated 5 April 2018, it was said that there was enough sand or soil in those mouzas and there is no problem to extract those.

Officials from the Department of Environment and the Fisheries Research Institute say the embankment in Chandpur has caved in due to indiscriminate sand mining in the Meghna. The river bank is also eroding. Breeding of Hilsa is also at risk. People from all walks of life in Chandpur were protesting against this. On 2 March, Prothom Alo published a report on this.

The prosecution then plead for leave to appeal. According to Balu Mahal and sand management rules, hydrographic survey report is not the sole basis for sand extraction from any river. According to the Balu Mahal and Soil Management Act, the deputy commissioner will take the opinion of the concerned authorities if there is any possibility of damage to the environment, landslides or diversion of rivers or canals, government facilities (such as bridges, culverts, roads, ferries, hat bazaars, tea gardens, river dams, etc.) and residential areas.

After this leave to appeal, Justice M Enayetur Rahim of the Appellate Division has stayed till 25 April the High Court verdict that allowed Chandpur UP Chairman Md. Selim Khan to extract sand from the Meghna river. Attorney General AM Amin Uddin and Deputy Attorney General Kazi Mainul Hasan were representing the state in the hearing. Selim Khan's sand extraction freely and illegally will be stopped as the permission given by the High Court has been suspended.

The decision of the Appellate Division Chamber Judge to suspend permission for sand extraction in Meghna is relieving. No such step that damage one of the major ecosystems in Bangladesh, Meghna river, can be allowed to continue. Many rivers have already died or lost navigability. But why would it be so in the case of Meghna? If dredging is required to keep the river flowing, it can be done by the concerned department of the government.

Unfortunately, when Selim Khan sought permission from the court to extract sand, no objections were raised by the land secretary, shipping secretary, BIWTA chairman, Chandpur deputy commissioner and director of the hydrographic department. After much damage, they are now protesting. Chairman of the National River Protection Commission, Manjur Ahmed Chowdhury, also inspected the site and directed the concerned persons to take action to stop sand extraction. The future of Meghna, also known as the Hilsa sanctuary, depends on how successfully the state can present the issue of loss of indiscriminate extraction of sand from Meghna before the full bench of the Appellate Division.

We cannot allow Meghna to be killed in any way just to serve the interests of a few individuals and groups. The illegal sand extractors must be stopped.