Unscrupulous traders continue to exploit the natural resources of Sylhet’s Sari River by illegally extracting sand, stone, marble, coal and other minerals from its waters, ignoring a High Court order that earlier directed the government to put an end to such practices.
The local administration claimed that aggressive protests by the local labourers had thwarted repeated attempts by the authorities concerned to stop the illegal extraction of natural resources from the river.
The upazila nirbahi officer of Jaintapur, Khaledul Islam, told the Dhaka Tribune that the workers extracting the materials from the river refused to listen to him when he visited the site and ordered the community to obey the High Court order – which was issued on February 3 for saving the river’s flow and navigability. Later, the labourers also beat up an official who went to the site to issue another warning on behalf of the UNO, he said.
Blaming a syndicate of local politicians for foiling efforts to implement the High Court directive, Khaledul also emphasised that a combined task force of law enforcers and border guards was urgently needed to solve the problem.
Local sources also echoed the UNO, saying an influential 20-member syndicate of local ruling party leaders was behind the illegal extractions in the river. They also claimed that the leaders indirectly involved with the business included local lawmaker Imran Ahmed’s close aide Liyakat Ali, Jaintapur Jubo League Joint Secretary Foyez Ahmed Babor, former general secretary Shahed Ahmed, and Darbast union Chairman Kamal Ahmed.
However, while talking to the Dhaka Tribune, Liyakot Ali snubbed out the allegations.
Asked on the issue, union Chairman Kamal admitted that he was previously involved with the traders who operated when there were sand quarries or Balumohals in the area. But he claimed that he was no more involved in such business, adding that it was only individual labourers – not syndicates – who now extracted materials from the river.
Despite repeated attempts, the Jubo League leaders could not be reached for comments.
The river Sari – located in Jaintapur near the Indian border – has long been a popular tourist destination. But the unregulated extractions from the river had been polluting the crystal-clear water as well as damaging its navigability.
Owners of local resorts told the Dhaka Tribune that coal extraction from the river has caused the colour of the river water to change significantly in the last three years. Comparing the situation to “slow poisoning,” the businesspeople claimed the pollution of the water was affecting local residents as well as discouraging domestic and international tourists from visiting the site.
The illegal trade was not only damaging the ecological balance, but also destroying the natural beauty of the area, they added. The resort owners also urged the government to immediately implement the High Court order to preserve a 3km area of the river and to enlist the place as an ecological heritage.
Asked about the situation in Sari River, Prof Abdur Rob, head of Dhaka University’s department of geology and environment, told the Dhaka Tribune that if the unplanned sand collection was not stopped immediately, it would cause river erosion soon.
Continued extraction would also result in an imbalance in bio-diversity which would then threaten the existing ecology in the area, he said, adding that a few species of fishes native to the river had already waned in number in recent times.
Dumping coal dust from the upstream was also a criminal offence under the international river law, the professor said, warning that the coal dust would cause slow poisoning.
Meanwhile, Syeda Rizwana Hasan, chief executive of Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (BELA), expressed her frustration at the local authority’s failure to implement the High Court order – which was made based on a writ petition from her organisation.
A letter has already been sent to the local deputy commissioner to take proper initiative regarding the court directive, Rizwana said, adding that BELA was also going to issue a contempt notice to the DC as well as moving to the High Court once again with a contempt petition for saving the river.
Sylhet Deputy Commissioner Shahidul Islam, meanwhile, claimed that they were trying hard to solve the problem, adding that the leasing of any local sand quarry has already been banned. The only way to prevent extraction of sands and coal from the river was to guard the place around the clock, which was not possible because of logistical reasons, Shahidul added.
Nurul Alam, the police superintendent of Sylhet, however told the Dhaka Tribune that the police was not informed about the High Court order and had not received any notice on this regard from the DC office.
No criminal offence had been reported from the site, he added. Discarding claims of a political syndicate controlling sand extraction business in the Sari River, the SP said only local labourers carried out the work for their livelihood.
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