Nironjon Das, a fisherman of Jele Para in Hathazari upazila, spent his life comfortably like his forefathers, by fishing for a living.
But until a few years ago, pollution in Madari canal has stripped him of his only source of income. The 56-year-old now pulls a rickshaw to feed his family of four.
The 20-kilometre-long canal where they used to fish had an abundance of aquatic life once upon a time. But now, the murky waters are devoid of any fish species owing to the release of effluents from a paper mill, 15 kilometres upstream.
Established in 2006, the Asian Paper Mills began operations in 2007. Over the years, its production increased and the water quality took a turn for the worse since 2011.
Das told The Daily Star that the number of fishes in the water have decreased gradually over the years.
“We had a happy life as we used to catch at least two to three kilograms of fish a day seven years back. Now the whole fishing community works as temporary day labourers.”
About 300 people of 40 families in his village have become destitute as they could no longer live off the water bodies.
He said they witnessed caustic foam that is typically released from paper mills, in the canal waters twice a week over the years.
“The pollution not only snatched away our source for income, but we are also suffering from various skin diseases.”
Sudhir Das, a leader of the fishing community, said, “Although we reached out for help several times previously, no one was willing to help save the fishes in the water.”
“There is a ban on fishing in Halda river since 2010. So, we can’t fish there either.”
“But now the waters are so bad that no fish can survive and we cannot even bathe in the filthy waters,” he added.
Locals even formed a human chain in September this year to urge the authority to take steps to put an end to the pollution.
Amin Munna, organiser of the human chain, told The Daily Star over the phone that many farmlands along the canal have turned into wastelands due to the pollution. The canal is of no use now, he added.
Earlier in September 2017, the Department of Environment asked its Chattogram branch to take action against the polluting factories within a month.
An investigation team paid a visit to Chattogram Asian Paper Mills, but did not see any effluent being dumped by the factory touted to be a zero-discharge plant.
But even though there were no heavy industries in the neighbourhood, a stream and the Madari canal nearby were found heavily polluted by industrial waste.
The team, led by its senior chemist Sayed Ahmed Kabir, in July 2018 found the water quality of the canal to be far below the standard level and identified Asian Paper Mill as the reason for the pollution.
The mill was finally ordered shut on August 19 by the DoE.
“We have thanked the authority for finally shutting down the paper mill. Steps should now be taken to restore the water body to its previous condition so we can return to fishing in the future,” said Munna.
Professor Manzoorul Kibria, an eminent Halda researcher, told The Daily Star recently that the pollution from Asian Paper Mill has stripped the people in the area of their livelihood.
Shafiul Alam, chief engineer of Asian Paper Mills, who joined his post four years ago, said, “There have been issues with our effluent treatment plant in the last four years. I cannot comment on the situation before I joined though.”
“We used to store the wastage from the plant in a pond like area inside our factory premises. There would be spillage and overflows from this area during heavy rainfall as well.”
“Authorities have asked us to address these issues before we are permitted to resume operations. We have fixed all our problems and are awaiting approval from DoE now,” Shafiul further said.