Operation of brick kilns in the Ecologically Critical Area (ECA) of Hakaluki Haor badly affects environment and agricultural output in the area.
The government in 1999 declared Hakaluki Haor, covering 40 thousand hectares of land in 11 unions of five upazilas under Moulvibazar and Sylhet districts, as an ECA to save it from rampant tree looting, fishing by drying up shallow parts and bird hunting.
But brick kilns have been set up around the haor, defying environment law.
Md Nurul Mohmain Milton, general secretary of the environmental journalists' forum, said there are three brick fields in Juri upazila and three others in Barlekha upazila of Moulvibazar, two in Golapganj upazila and one in Fenchuganj upazila of Sylhet under the ECA around Hakaluki Haor.
“Law prohibits establishment of brick kiln in any ECA. According to Burning of Bricks (control) Amendment Act 2010, setting up of brick fields within three kilometres of farmland, forest, township and human habitation is illegal. But a section of influential people defy the rules,” he added.
Brick kiln owners are collecting topsoil of two feet depth from the farmlands, much to the harm of soil fertility, said Jamal Miah, Abdul Muhaimin and others of Begbanpur village in Juri upazila.
A section of middlemen motivate poor farmers to sell the surface soil of their land to the brickfield owners, they said.
“I used to receive 50 to 54 maunds of rice from three bighas of land even four years ago but the yield has fallen to 26 to 28 maunds since a brick kiln was set up in the area,” said Naser Mia, a farmer of the village.
Dr Zakir Hosain, resident medical officer of Kulaura Upazila Health Complex, said kids and elderly people are more vulnerable to lung-related diseases caused by black smoke emitted from the brick kilns.
Md Mustafizur Rahman, owner of M/S Sapla Brick Kiln in the ECA area of Juri upazila, claimed that they have set up brick kilns with permission from the Department of Environment (DoE).
Abdul Karim Kim, general secretary of Bangladesh Paribesh Andolon's Sylhet chapter, said at least nine brick kilns have been set up around the haor even after its declaration as an ECA in 1999.
Asked about the matter, Saleh Uddin Chowdhury, director of the DoE in Sylhet, said he does not know this matter.
Topsoil contains most nutrients for crops and so, continuous use of topsoil in brick kilns lead to fertility deficit in the arable lands and the situation is especially harmful for Boro production in the area, said Narayon Saha, former head of the Department of Forestry and Environmental Science at Shahjalal University of Science and Technology.