As the winter season approaches, owners of brick fields have started rampant cutting of hills in different areas of Khagrachhari district.
The brick kiln owners have long been eating away at the hills in Khagrachhari's remote areas, even though the local administration has been vigilant about stopping the illegal practice.
However, some of them have become more confident and now have started razing the hillocks on the roadside.
During a visit to Choungrachhari area in Mahalchhari upazila last week, the Dhaka Tribune found workers cutting a hill beside the Khagrachhari-Rangamati road.
Md Shamim, a tractor trailer driver, said a local brick field owner named Bidhan Dey had hired them to supply the soil from the hill to his brick kiln.
The day labourers started cutting the hill on October 27. Each day, three to four tractor-loads of soil are being carried to that brick kiln.
Bidhan Dey could not be reached over phone despite repeated attempts.
However, when contacted, another brick kiln owner named Akhter Ul Alam admitted that he knew it was illegal to cut the topsoil of hills, but he added that it was something the brick kiln owners could not do without.
“A huge amount of money has been invested to set up each of the brick kilns. The government did not consider the interest of the brick kiln owners when the law was enacted. How will the brick manufacturing industry survive if the soil is not available? It is only to protect the business that we are collecting the soil from wherever we can.”
Local sources in Matiranga upazila said hill cutting had been going on unabated in remote areas of Adarshapara, Durgabari, Gomti and Sadar areas over the last couple of months.
Although the locals are worried about the threats of hill razing, they are forced into silence by the brick kiln owners who are said to be enjoying political back up.
In Lakkhichhara upazila, hill cutting is going on right under the nose of the administration.
A hillock in the upazila headquarters is being razed by workers. The authorities of Lakkhichhara Degree College is responsible for the illegal act as they are planning to construct a new building for the college.
An upazila administration official, requesting anonymity, said they were well aware of the illegal act, but were helpless to take any action as the college authority had support from both the locals and the army.
Md Mosleh Uddin, executive engineer of Roads and Highways Division's Khagrachhari Office, said unplanned hill cutting was only adding up to the threat of landslides that are causing scores of deaths in the hill districts every year.
Khagrachhari Deputy Commissioner Md Rashedul Islam said they had already warned the brick kiln owners against cutting the hills and taking soil from agricultural lands. “The administration will show zero tolerance against hill cutting.”
The Brick Manufacturing and Brick Kilns Establishment (Control) Act 2013 prohibits the use the soil collected from agricultural land or hills as raw material in brick manufacturing.
Earlier in June this year, landslides triggered by heavy rainfall killed 161 people in Chittagong division, including three in Khagrachhari district.