Locals say if the embankment collapses, many homes and croplands will be flooded
A gang of influential people including a ruling Awami League (AL) leader have been engaged in illegal sand theft from the Padma River in Pabna's Ishwardi upazila, day after day.
According to the Sand Quarry and Soil Management Act, sand lifting is not allowed within one kilometre of any important government and non government establishments, including bridges, roads, highways, forests, and embankments.
However, defying the law, Milon Chowdhury, involved with the Ishwardi upazila Awami Jubo League unit, is lifting sand from the river illegally, using at least 40 dredger machines in full view of local administration.
Locals said a vacuum is forming in the riverbed owing to the illegal sand lifting, which could destroy the flood control embankment near Sara union. If the embankment collapses, the whole locality including croplands and homesteads, will be flooded.
Visiting the spot, this correspondent saw the illegal sand lifters taking sand from a 2 kilometre area , stretching from Sahebnagar village of Sara union in Iswardi upazila, to Charmohardia village of bordering district Natore's Lalpur upazila.
The sand lifters are extracting at least 100 cubic feet of sand every day and selling it on the open market. Seeking anonymity, some dredger owners in the area said Milon Chowdhury is backed by some influential people of the upazila.
According to multiple sources, Ishwardi upazila chairman Nuruzzaman Biswas, Iswardi municipality Awami League unit general secretary Ishaq Malitha, and former chairman of Lakhikund union parishad, Anis Molla, are on the list of influentials.
Residents of Islampur village in Sara union, said they are afraid to protest the illegal sand lifting as the lifters are politically influential. Apart from that, the sand lifters are managing local administration and police by paying bribes.
Azad Miah said sand lifters were illegally taking sand from his 10 decimal land a few days back. " I protested the sand lifting and later some police from Ishwardi police station came here. But the sand lifters extracted sand from my land in the presence of police.”
Regarding the matter, additional superintendent of police (Iswardi Circle) Firoz Kabir said no policeman was involved in illegal sand lifting. "If any cop is found involved in illegal sand lifting, he or she will face legal action.
Sara Union Parishad chairman Emdadul Haque Rana said: "My union was hit hard by river erosion many times. The government has spent a whopping amount of money for making a flood protection embankment and tackling river erosion here .
"But due to the illegal sand lifting, the union is at risk of river erosion," he added.
Ahad Ali, a resident of Sara union, said Milon Chowdhury along with some influentials are extracting sand illegally, day and night. “Local administration is not doing anything to stop this illegal activity. If it continues unabated, our land, our homes will go into the river in this rainy season.”
This correspondent tried to contact the alleged sand lifters including Milon over the phone, but they did not respond to the telephone call.
Speaking on the issue, Ishwardi Assistant Commissioner (land) Momtaj Mohol said: "We seized sand from Islampur village and put it on auction a few days back. But we do not know about the other places where sand lifting is going on. We will look into the matter."