The hungry tide
The receding water of the Jamuna is devouring fresh areas in a village near the eastern side of the Bangabandhu Bridge in Tangail.
Many homesteads in Kalihati's Gorilabari village have already been swallowed and locals fear the entire village and its surrounding areas might be gone if steps are not taken immediately.
Talking to The Daily Star, Water Development Board (WDB) officials said large-scale illegal sand lifting near the village could have slightly changed the course of the river in the area, leading to the erosion.
The practice also might threaten the bridge protection embankment as well as the bridge itself in future, they said.
Fresh erosion hit Gorilabari, about 1.5 kilometres south to the eastern side of the bridge, early on Friday, said Nazrul Islam Talukder, a member of Gorilabari Union Parishad.
Shajahan Siraj, executive engineer of WDB in Tangail, said it was difficult to understand the ever-changing course of the Jamuna.
The confluence of the Jamuna and the New Dhaleswari rivers is nearby and the water is swirly. Sometimes, such water causes erosion. The massive-scale illegal sand lifting in the area is also to be blamed, he said.
Asked about immediate measures to stop the erosion, he said they could take some steps for the time being but it would be of no help and just a waste of money.
"We have sent a proposal to our higher authorities for constructing a one-kilometre embankment on the mouth of the New Dhaleswari River for stopping the erosion permanently,” he said.
Earlier, vast tracts of lands, including around 50 homesteads and a bank protection dam near the bridge protection embankment, were devoured by the Jamuna River in seven days from August 23, said sources at the Bangladesh Bridge Authority (BBA).
The BBA had constructed the 200-metre bank protection embankment, near the confluence of Jamuna and New Dhaleswari rivers in 2003, to protect the eastern side of the bridge protection embankment and nearby localities from river erosion, the sources added.
Visiting the erosion-hit areas last month, local Awami League leader Mozaherul Islam Thandu, also the upazila chairman of Kalihati, blamed illegal sand lifting near the bridge and negligence of authorities concerned, including the BBA, for the situation.
"We have submerged sand-filled geo-textile bags in the river to check further erosion in the area. The BBA also has a plan to construct a new embankment for protecting the area," Wasim Ali, assistant engineer of the site office of BBA in Tangail, told this correspondent recently.
On the other hand, locals alleged although sand lifting is banned within 6km radius of the bridge, syndicates of influential people have long been doing that using powerful dredgers, posing a threat to the country's longest bridge.
One of the syndicates, comprising a dozen sand traders and led by a local union parishad chairman, has been active at the Kalihati side of the bridge while another syndicate, comprising around two dozens of sand traders and led by another local union parishad chairman and another local influential man, has been active on the other side of the bridge in Bhuapur upazila, they said.
The syndicates claim that they buy sand from Sirajganj and only use the sites in Tangail as landing stations (ghats) for selling sand. In reality, they, however, lifted sand there particularly during night and transported it with hundreds of trucks on a flood-protection embankment/road beside over a dozen ponds owned by the BBA.
Recently, sand lifting near Gorilabari has stopped as the Kalihati upazila administration launched drives against illegal traders following the fresh erosion.
However, the same thing is still happening in Bhuapur thanks to some “influential” sand traders, said locals, adding that a section of dishonest politicians are also linked to the illegal business involving crores of Taka.
Asked, Wasim Ali said sand lifting near such an important bridge was totally illegal and that they filed several general diaries with local police stations over the matter in the past.
“Over a year ago, the BBA also sent a letter to the deputy commissioner in Tangail asking for actions against the illegal sand business," he added.
Contacted, DC Khan Mohammad Nurul Amin said the district administrations had carried out mobile court drives against the illegal sand business on several occasions.
"However, the sand lifters could not be ousted from such a sensitive place as they included members from influential quarters, especially politicians,” he added.