Protect rivers from people like Selim Khan

Residents of Rajrajeshwar Union in Chandpur Sadar Upazila on Friday formed a human chain demanding action to stop illegal extraction of sand with dredgers in Padma and Meghna rivers. This is not their first protest and the illegal extraction of sand is not limited to these two rivers. These sand extractors take every chance to arbitrarily extract sand from the rivers. As a result, the rivers face severe erosion resulting in displacement of the people.

On 2 March, Prothom Alo published the news of a chairman being a sand extractor. It is said that there are many sandbars in the Rajrajeshwar area, across the Meghna river in Chandpur city in Padma. For almost eight years, UP chairman Md Selim Khan has been extracting sand. His people have been extracting sand with more than two hundred dredgers round the clock.

Almost 20 to 40 thousand cubic feet of sand and soil is being extracted daily with each small and big dredger. According to several people involved in the dredger and sand business, sand from the Padma and Meghna rivers is currently being sold at Tk 2.5 to Tk 3 per cubic foot. Sand worth Tk 10 million is being sold daily that stands at Tk 300 million a month and Tk 3.6 billion a year.

According to the district administration, Selim Khan is not following the rules of sand extraction from the river. He is a local Awami League leader and the uncontested UP chairman. According to the officials of the Department of Environment and Department of Fisheries, due to arbitrary extraction of sand, the dam protecting the city of Chandpur has sunk. The river bank is also receding. Breeding of hilsa is at risk.

The government moved to take necessary measures to protect the river in Chandpur, prevent erosion of Meghna, protect hilsa resources and stop unplanned sand extraction after the report was published. Nobody knows how effective this decision will be.

First of all, Selim Khan continued to extract sand by filing a case at the court despite the administration's bar. Second, there is an influential minister behind him. According to the minister, the government receives a lot of revenue through this. But after 2015, Selim Khan did not pay a single penny to the government.

It is unwarranted that a person keeps destroying rivers and public life in this way despite government's ban. Not only will he have to stop sand extraction, he will have to face trial and punishment for the damage he has done to the river, the environment and the local people in the last eight years, and he will have to pay proper compensation.

At the same time, illegal sand extraction in other rivers should also be stopped. Besides the local administration and concerned agencies, the river commission should also step forward in this regard. The river must be protected from these illegal extractors.