Stone quarry in Sylhet threatens environment


The hilly river Dholai and stone quarry in the bordering Companyganj upazila in Sylhet have become a boon for many while a bane for others.

The course of the river is getting changed in some places while it is being silted up at many points.

On the other hand, there has been rivalry between the interested groups or people over the stone quarry and its attached lands for years together. Besides, internal feud, repression on labourers, discrimination in payment of wages, illegal toll collection and clashes between the groups have become a regular affair in the area. Recently, interested groups of villagers have been locked in rivalry after getting no space or land along the nearby area of the quarry. Even, a good number of them have already erected kutcha structures in the area.

Over 50 thousand people including women are engaged in different jobs around the Bholaganj quarry. Among them, about 35,000 are engaged in stone collection by small country boats locally called 'BARKI.' Every morning, gigantic activities begin along the whole quarry area. Motors (shallow engines) are also engaged in stone collection in the quarry.

Thousands of people engaged in the stone extraction in the quarry originally hail from Kishoreganj, Netrakona, Mymensingh, Brahmanbaria and Comilla, besides, a good number of people from the four districts of Sylhet division. These poor men and women, dependent on the stone collection job for livelihood area are being deprived in many ways. Organised gangs of illegal toll collectors who have blessings from the political leaders are very much active here. Besides, law enforcing people like police also have very good relationship with such groups of toll collectors. A man gets Taka, 120 to Taka 150 as wage per day while it is Taka 100 for a woman.

This year the trader-labourers did not get 'site' for dumping/stockpiling the stones along Katakhal area. They have now taken possession on the khash lands on the bank of the river illegally for stockpiling the extracted stones. Even, many of them have already erected kutcha structures on the khash lands without taking permission from the government. In the pervious years, they used to stockpile the stones there. But, this year they have to stockpile the stones at the bank of the Nayagang and carry those to Katagang by truck for stockpiling. This is why, the price of stones has already gone up by Taka 7 or Taka 8 per cft. With the arrival of monsoon, the stones would be transported to different destinations by big cargo vessels.

Indiscriminate and haphazard process of stone collection caused a serious problem for the environment/ecology of the whole region.

The Shah Arpin tila small hill has already been collapsed due to the indiscriminate collection of stones due to abrupt digging in the attached lands over the past few years. The area has now become a land of random looting of natural wealth.

Due to largescale and unplanned extraction of stones by digging ditches (from much depth) over about 10-kilometre long hilly area, huge loss has been caused and the area has already been damaged. Besides, about 5 kilometres area along the Zero line has also been damaged.

Due to random digging and extraction on the 'No man's land' areas, a number of border pillars have already been untraced. Immediately it should be stopped, it is widely felt.

A severe environmental disaster along the 200-square kilometre area is being apprehended. A section of officials in the Ministry of Mineral Resources have been blamed for causing such a situation as they issue 'allotment' for pieces of lands along the quarry areas and others indiscriminately for stone collection. These are being done without any prior report or opinion from the local authority or administration or revenue officials. Such a 'liberal' policy by the ministry people is totally responsible for the above mentioned disastrous situation, opined an administration official, here. Anybody can obtain such a permit or allotment from the ministry only by paying an amount of Taka 10,000 to Taka 20,000, he said. It is a clear violation of the standing rules of the government, said the official adding, Waqf land can not be allotted this way.

Stones worth crores of taka is being looted from the Waqf land belonging to the Shah Arpin Tila, attached to the majar of the great saint Shah Arpin. The shrine of the saint is also now on the verge of erosion/ruination. Inhabitants of about 20 villages of the nearby area are now apprehending an early hilly flood and erosion before the monsoon starts.

Source: The daily Star, March 10,2001