Environmentalists fear the vast natural forest, including the reserve one in the hill district, would disappear in the near future if the illegal practice continues
At least 40 illegal brick factories continue to operate in Khagrachhari hill district posing a threat to the environment and agriculture. All the brickfields use firewood as fuel.
According to sources, owners of the 40 bricklins have been running their business for the last six years without clearance certificates from the Department of Environment (DoE).
Environmentalists fear the vast natural forest, including the reserve one in the hill district, would disappear in the near future if the illegal practice continues.
This correspondent visited nine upazilas of the district and found at least 40 brickfields in Khagrachhari Sadar, Matiranga, Mahalchhari, Manikchhari, Dighinala, Panchhauri, Ramgar, Guimara and Laxmichhari. They use up around three crore mounds of firewood illegally a year.
The authorities do not take any action though use of coal is mandatory.
Agriculturist Sathoai Marma said the brick kilns have been built without obtaining permission from the DoE and local administration, posing a serious threat to the forests, croplands as well as public health alike.
The illegal brick fields have been continuously burning firewood, and tyres instead of the specific standard of coal for brick production. They are also using chimneys which are in poor condition, and below the legal height, which pollutes the environment, and causes serious health problems to locals, including women and children.
A vast stretch of arable lands of the hill district has already lost their fertility due to being in close proximity to the brickfields, declining their production capacity thus causing economic loss to farmers.
Moreover, the owners of these illegal establishments are razing hills in full swing for necessary raw materials, which is also contributing to ecological damage.
When asked, Jahangir Alam, owner of Four Star Bricklin Industry in Guimara upazila, how they operated their brick kilns without permission from the authorities concerned.
If the brickiln owners in three hill districts want to follow the law of the DoE, they cannot run the business, he replied.
Asked, another owner in Khagrachhari confessed he has no licence for his brickfield as the DoE does not allow its operation as he does.
Environmentalists said the vast natural forests in Khagrachhari are reduced as use of firewood continues unabated.
None of the 40 brickfields has any licence. Their owners even do not bother to acquire the licence, said Ripon Chakma, organizer of Trinomul, a non-government organization.
Chimneys of most of the brickfields are 20 to 30 feet in height. This defies rule of the DoE which mandates erecting 120 feet high chimneys.
Prodip Chowdhury, president of Pporibesh Surakha Andolon, said biological balance will be seriously hampered in the region if cutting woods go unabated.
Khagrachhari co-ordinator of Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon (BAPA) Muhammad Gafur Talukdar said the diminishing forest in Khagrachhari is going to have a negative impact on the environment in the entire region as most of the brickfields use firewood.
He blamed the brickfields for trees not bearing any fruits, which is a common phenomenon in many villages.
Divisional Forest Conservator Sarwar Alam said at least 27 cases have been filed against the illegal brickfield owners in the 2019-20 fiscal year.
“We cannot always take proper steps due to manpower shortage,” he added.
Khagrachhari Deputy Commissioner Pratap Chandra Biswas said the administration conducted drives in different parts of the district several times and fined the brick kiln owners for operating illegally.