When Sylhet municipality was upgraded to city corporation in 2002, no one was concerned about the rapid urbanisation that might hit the city, especially in the suburban areas.
Over time, uncontrolled urbanisation has taken a toll on Sylhet Sadar upazila, which surrounds around two-thirds of the country's smallest city.
Massive amount of waste is generated by the growing population, posing a serious threat to the environment, while upazila authorities are struggling to bring the situation under control.
According to Sylhet City Corporation (SCC), there were 50,000 holdings in the city back in 2006-07, and 55,000 holdings are currently paying taxes.
"A fresh assessment was started last year which will conclude soon, and we estimate there should be over 75,000 holdings in the city now," Chandan Das, tax assessor of SCC said.
Ashfaque Ahmed, chairman of Sylhet Sadar upazila said, "There is no assessment of holdings in the upazila, but the population and holdings are rising rapidly. We are conducting a holding assessment which will end next week."
Sylhet city takes up only 26.50 square kilometres, and there is a proposal of extending it by 160.62 sq km, which will eventually dissolve most of Sylhet Sadar upazila.
But until the extension is approved by the local government ministry, some areas of the sub-district, especially Khadimpara, Tultikor, and Tukerbazar unions of Sadar upazila are bearing the brunt of unplanned waste-dumping.
Tilagarh, Baluchar, Majortila, Shahporan, Tukerbazar, Akhalia, Nayabazar and some other areas under these unions have taken the worst hit.
Mohammed Laheen Uddin, a college teacher and resident of Tilagarh area under Khadimpara union, said, "A natural canal named Kanachara here has turned into a prime destination for garbage. Walking by the canal over the bridge at Sylhet-Tamabil highway is becoming impossible due to the foul stench."
Abdur Rahim, a shopkeeper at Baluchar area under Tultikor union, said, "The canal beside the road to Nayabazar from Baluchar point has become a waste dumping point with locals dumping garbage directly in the canal. The union parishad never took any steps to solve this problem."
While visiting the unions, this correspondent found garbage stockpiles here and there on all narrow roads, as well as on at least ten spots by the Sylhet-Tamabil highway.
SM Ali Hossain, chairman of Tultikor union, said, "Most areas have garbage collectors that get waste materials from house to house, but the problem is dumping. We are planning to set a large dustbin where people could place the garbage temporarily and then it could be taken to City Corporation's dumping yard. But the process is delaying as we are not finding suitable spot for the bin."
Khadimpara Union Parishad Chairman Md Afsor Ahmed, said, "We didn't have manpower or vehicles for proper waste management. But now all areas have garbage collection van and uncontrolled waste dumping has reduced."
"We have already contacted with the City Corporation so that garbage vans can use the corporation's temporary garbage transfer station at Tilgarah and then it can be dumped at the corporation's dumping yard in their trucks," the chairman said.
He added, "We have planned to clean the stockpile of garbage at Kanachara and trying to aware locals not to dump garbage anywhere except the vans."
Kazi Mahua Mamtaz, upazila nirbahi officer of Sylhet Sadar said, "There's no way the upazila administration can plan proper waste management but we have already urged union parishads to take necessary steps."
"We also contacted with the City Corporation to clean the garbage that has been dumped all around, and then the union parishad will step in to raise awareness on the matter and restrict waste dumping here and there," the UNO said.
Bidhayak Roy Choudhury, chief executive officer of Sylhet City Corporation, said, "There is no official agreement to manage waste with any union parishad adjacent to the city but they have urged us many times to support them."
"We are struggling to manage waste generated in the city every day with already limited resources, so it would be impossible to support the upazilas with the existing resources," he said.
On the effects of improper management of waste, Abdul Karim Kim, general secretary of Bangladesh Paribesh Andolon (Bapa) Sylhet chapter, said, "Uncontrolled waste dumping cannot be tolerated as it poses a serious threat to the environment, polluting water and air. It can also become a health hazard."
Dr Jahir Bin Alam, professor of civil and environmental engineering at Shahjalal University of Science and Technology, said, "The tiny city needs to be extended very soon by including vast areas of the sadar upazilas to resolve all problems arising from urbanisation of the surrounding areas."
"Hundreds of holdings are being built in these city adjacent areas, they depend on the city, charge house rent as per the city holdings — but they are not bound by any urban regulations as well as deprived of urban facilities, such as waste management," he said, urging the administration to take prompt and necessary steps to extend the city's area.
To extend Sylhet city's area, a meeting was organised by Sylhet District Administration on November 16 last year where Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen, also the parliamentarian of Sylhet-1 constituency which includes the city and Sadar upazila, was present.
Contacted, M Kazi Emdadul Islam, deputy commissioner of Sylhet, said, "After the meeting, we forwarded a proposal to the concerned ministry of local government and we're waiting for further instruction."