Owners are supposed to use half portions of soil and sand to create a layer protecting the topsoil, but this is not enforced
Lack of awareness among farmers, ignorance from Department of Agriculture Extension (DAE) officials and silence from the local administration have paved the way for brick kilns to silently take off the topsoil of arable lands in the district.
While this is causing the farmlands to lose their fertility, the farmers are also losing out on production targets.
They are also alleging that the tractors and trolleys used to transport bricks are leaving devastating effects on the region’s roads, bridges and culverts.
A letter has been sent in this regard from the executive engineer of the local government engineering department (LGED) AKM Amiruzzaman to the deputy commissioner of the district, in which he complained of excavators and trolleys destroying arable lands from Aditmari upazila to Bhelabari GC Road.
The letter also states that three out of four brick kilns operating in the district’s Patgram upazila have updated papers, while seven brick kilns out of 16 in Hatibanda upazila are operating illegally.
Scores of other illegal brick kilns were shut down by the district administrators previously, but they are said to have brought stay orders from courts to continue their activities. Many of them do not possess any fire extinguishing licenses.
Upon investigation by this correspondent, it was found that one SA Bricks, operating from Goral area of Kaliganj upazila, did not possess any valid papers but was still continuing to remove topsoil and produce bricks. Lack of monitoring by administrators and DAE was also evident.
There are also allegations of brick kiln owners paying off farm owners so that they do not raise any objection to the damage caused to their lands.
In principle, the brick kiln owners are supposed to use half portions of soil and sand to create a layer protecting the topsoil before producing bricks. But this is not enforced by any of the owners.
Shahidul Islam, owner of SA Bricks, told the Dhaka Tribune that he had not paid off any farm owner; rather they had voluntarily offered their lands to him.
He also cited a stay order he acquired from a local court that allowed him to continue operating his brick kiln, despite not meeting the minimum standards.
Ahmed Ali, another brick kiln owner in Hatibanda upazila, said the revised policies set by the Department of Environment has made it difficult for them to obtain or renew their existing licenses.
“Writ petitions are the only way we can continue for the moment,” he said.
Abdul Hamid, a farm owner, said he did not consult with DAE before giving his land to the brick kilns. “I did not know about the negative implications it would have on my farmlands. Had I known, I would have prevented the owners affecting the topsoil.”
When asked about this, deputy director of DAE Bidhu Bhushan Roy said it is the local administrator’s job to monitor brick kilns’ activities. “If farmers sell off their lands in hopes of more money, then we cannot help it,” he said.
But he said awareness campaigns would be arranged soon to prevent further lands from losing their fertility.
Shafiul Arif, deputy commissioner of the district, said the stay orders obtained from the courts are preventing them from taking harsher measures to keep the brick kilns in check.