Molla Bricks is one of these brick-kilns set up on the Madhumati river bank in Ramkantapur village
The unrestricted use of wood instead of coal in the traditional chimneys of brick-kilns across Bangladesh has been showing open defiance to the environmental laws for years now. The scenario is more or less the same in Narail district, where many brick-kilns owners are continuing their anti-environmental activities without restraint. In recent times, some brick-kiln owners have been digging up soil and sand from Madhumati river to burn bricks –and the local administration is silent on the matter.
In the rainy season, Narail’s Madhumati river swells up, becoming a curse to the locals. People of the Shiorbor, Ramkantapur and Kalna areas of Lohagora upazila face severe consequences of river erosion, and the water development board struggles to deal with it. Yet seven brick-kilns have been set up on the bank of Madhumati river in Shalnagar union. Of them, three brick-kilns collect soil for making their bricksby digging up alluvial and sand deposits directly from the river.
Molla Bricks is one of these brick-kilns set up on Madhumati river bank in Ramkantapur village. The brick-field was set up on eight acres of arable land in 2016, defying the environmental law that allows setting up brick-kilns on only two acres of non-arable land. However, it managed to get approval from the Department of Environment. Most of these brick-kiln owners are influential men. In the past three years, Mollah Bricks has been digging up soil from riversides and from riverbeds. As a result, the soil structure of approximately 500 meters of the river bank has started to collapse.
A hydraulic excavator machine has been brought to the area to speed up the dig up process. The machine’s operator Yunus, a resident of Gopalganj, said it can excavate around 7,000-8,000sqft of soil a day.
When asked why heis digging up river soil illegally, he said: “The boss Pannu Bhai summoned me to excavate soil, saying that this is his property. My job is to dig up and gather soil while some 20 to 22 labourers will carry the earth to the brick-field.”
Omar Ali, one of the day labourers, said: “I do not know whether it is legal or not. I just work here and get paid per day.”
It isknown that not only Molla Bricks, but also other nearby brick-fields such as Hira Bricks, and another one in the Char Shamukkhola area, are digging up riverside soil in a similar manner.
Alauddin Molla, a local of Shiorbor village, said: “From what I know, this piece of land belongs to Pannu Molla. Though it is creating some damage to the river, he (Pannu) is entitled to dig up earth from his own land.”
Molla Bricks got clearance from the Department of Environment and started its operation using a union parishad trade license.
Pannu Molla, the owner of the kiln, said: “I have all the necessary documents, including a registration certificate from Deputy Commissioner’s office and a clearance certificate of the Department of Environment.”
When asked who gave him the permission to excavate river, he said: “It is my land and it spans some portion in to the river.”
When he was told by the Dhaka Tribune correspondent that digging up riverside soil is illegal, the owner urged the reporter not to report the matter and offered a settlement deal instead.
People in the area expressed distress over the activities of the brick-kilns. SA Matin, a freedom fighter and leader of Nadi Bachao Andolan (Save the River Movement) in Narail, said: “Despite the government’s zero tolerance stance against corruption, officials of the environment administration are somehow givinga pass to these influential brick-kiln owners. This is absolutely unfair and we must act immediately to save the rivers.”
Shalnagar Union Parishad Chairman Khan Tasrul Islam, who himself is a brick-kiln owner, said:“Nearly half of my union is affected by Madhumati river erosion. I have already requested the brick-kiln owners not to excavate river, and I will reiterate my call and urge the local administration to take action.”
Md Shahnawaz Talukder, an executive engineer of the Narail water development board, said: “We are aware that Molla Bricks isdigging up the river to burn bricks. Such an action will further endanger areas that are already hit by river erosion. Hopefully quick action will be taken in this regard.”
Anjuman Ara, the deputy commissioner (DC) of Narail, said: “Right after joining office, I had summoned the brick-kiln owners and asked them to stop all such operations that are harming the environment.”
“We are currently conducting drives to shut down the brick-kilns that are not Eco-friendly yet previously got approval. Those who are digging up the river to make bricks will also not be spared,” she added.