Sand is being lifted illegally from the Dudhkumar River right under the nose of the administration, leaving the lives of 120 families under the threat of riverbank erosion.
Locals said a syndicate in connivance with Upazila Parishad man, Shafiqul Islam, has been continuing illegal sand lifting for about two weeks. They said accidents are taking place in the river everyday due to a pipe placed in the river for extraction of sand.
During a visit to the area, it was found that sand was indeed being lifted illegally from the Dudhkumar at Nurani Para near Jatrapur Bazar in the sadar upazila.
Locals told that the entry to Jatrapur Bazar remained blocked because of silt deposition at the mouth of the Brahmaputra, leaving the Dudhkumar as the only means of river communication with Jatrapur Bazar.
More than 300 inhabitants of the chars (lands created by accretion in a river course or estuary) in the region go to nearby Nageshwari-Ulipur-Roumari-Chilmari and Rajibpur upazilas using the narrow Dudhkumar River.
Locals have become panicky as sand is being lifted using a dredger in this erosion-affected area.
Last year, the Water Development Board filled the embankments with geo sandbags and piling works on Dudhkumar at a cost of Tk 3 crore to tackle erosion at Nurani and Farazi Para areas.
The residents of the area said the syndicate began extracting sand by putting dredger in that river in the same area where the work was done by WDB. They said written complaints were sent to the Deputy Commissioner, Upazila Parishad Chairman, UNO, WDB and Kurigram Press Club in this regard.
Ironically, it was Shafiqul Islam who visited the spot on August 21 on behalf of the administration, ostensibly to have the pipe removed. Later, after his leaving, the dredger operated throughout the night, according to local journalists.
The machine was found in operation by the UNB correspondent and other journalists when they visited the spot on August 26 and then again on August 29.
Local residents said the contractors are lifting sand for use in the construction of a four-storey building of nearby Chakenda Khanpara High School.
Those who are involved in sand business declined to speak on record, saying that besides ruling party activists, sand is being lifted at the instruction of influential people of the school committee.
Boatmen Enamul of Jatrapur, Mahalom of Doikhawar and Kamal of Char Jatrapur said it was taking them an additional 30-40 minutes to ferry passengers through the river due to the dredger
Jatrapur Union Chairman Ayub Ali Sarkar said the machine had been removed once earlier following the protest of the villagers.
“However, they again began extracting sand by setting up the dredger on the opposite bank,” he said. “It has been obstructing the movement of boats and causing accidents.”