Sitakunda coast: a hub of illegal sand lifting
With almost no obstructions, influential people are illegally lifting sand from the seabed along Chattogram's Sitakunda coast, increasing the risk of coastline erosion, endangering surrounding croplands and depleting soil fertility of the area.
During a recent visit to several points of Sitakunda upazila, this correspondent found that some influential people have long been using dredgers to lift sand from the Bay of Bengal. Due to the extraction, several deep holes have developed in the seashore area.
They have lifted sand from Salimpur, Bar Aulia, Madam Bibir Hat, Kumira, Barabkunda, Syedpur and Guliakhali sea beach areas of the upazila.
Locals said the perpetrators are using banned dredgers at several points of the seabed along Sitakunda coast, hampering the bay's navigability. Traders are using long pipes to move sand from the bay to the croplands.
Nasir Uddin, a local of the upazila's Muradpur area, told The Daily Star that the local administration occasionally conducts mobile-court drives to halt extraction, fining or imprisoning people discovered there, but the sand traffickers remain out of reach and continue operations after things cool off.
On December 11, the upazila administration seized a dredger and arrested three people while they were extracting sand in Muradpur.
Among the many influentials there, locals have accused Shawkat Ali Jahangir, chairperson of Bansberia Union Parishad, of illegally extracting sand from the sea.
However, Shawkat denied the allegations and said, "I have a few dredger machines. I only rent them out."
Ashraful Alam, assistant commissioner (land) of the upazila, told this newspaper, "We immediately confront the perpetrators after we get information."
"It is not within our jurisdiction to take any legal action other than conducting mobile-court drives. But we cannot stop the activity this way; all departments must take a collective initiative," he said.
"If this [extraction] continues, the coastal defence dam will eventually disappear into the sea," he added.
Illegal sand lifting is destroying the coastal forest, posing danger for the animals, and spoiling the beauty of the coastline, said Kamal Uddin, ranger of Sitakunda Forest Department.
Thousands of trees in Sitakunda coastal forest are in danger due to the activity; hundreds have already fallen. Scores of wild animals there, including deer, have been displaced, he added.
On behalf of Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (Bela), lawyer S Hasanul Banna on January 17 last year served a notice to 14 government organisations to take measures against the sand lifters and protect the beach of Sitakunda upazila.
Dr Md Sharif Uddin, director of marine fisheries department in Chattogram, told The Daily Star that the crime is negatively impacting the area's entire marine ecosystem.
According to the Sand Fields and Soil Management Act, 2010, extracting sand from open spaces and waterbodies for commercial purposes without permission from authorities concerned is a punishable offence.
"We are taking legal action against illegal sand lifters regularly," said Ashraf Uddin, assistant director of the Department of Environment's Chattogram district office.
He claimed, "We conducted several drives at different points of Sitakunda upazila to stop illegal sand lifting and also fined the accused last year. We also filed more than 10 cases against the offenders."