A syndicate of influential people allegedly started lifting stone illegally from the Dharla river at four villages in Patgram upazila in the last week of November, threatening erosion by the river and damaging village roads by transporting stones on trucks.
Around 50 dredgers are lifting stone round the clock, locals said.
Locals are the worst sufferers of the stone lifting, but they do not dare protest against it as musclemen of the area are involved in the malpractice.
Abdul Quader, 48, of Banglabari village, alleged that some musclemen have been lifting stones round the clock. “We cannot sleep peacefully at night due to the very loud sounds from the dredgers,” he said.
Shanti Akhter, 50, of the village said they cannot tolerate this malpractice as it is harmful for them. “If we dare to protest illegal stone lifting, we will have to face unnecessary harassment,” she said, adding that their croplands and homesteads are under threat of erosion.
“We are not getting any help from the administration or the police to stop illegal stone lifting, as they are allegedly 'managed' by the syndicate,” said Mahbubur Rahman, 42, of Kafirbazar village. “Living in the river embankment area has become risky,” he added.
Saheb Ali, 56, of Burimari village, said illegal stone lifting was stopped for one and a half years as local administration, police and political leaders jointly took strong steps, but the syndicate is back to the activity again, he said, adding that almost all the syndicate members are involved in politics.
Dredger owner Azizar Rahman said he gets Tk 5,000 as rent for each machine, except fuel cost. “We can lift around 3,000sft to 3,500sft of stones by each machine every day,” he said, adding that the syndicate members deal with the total matter of lifting and selling stones.
Syndicate member Rashedul Islam Pakhi of Banglabari village said he and nine others are involved in lifting stones, and he alone controls six dredgers.
Patgram Police Station Officer-in-Charge Sajjad Hossain said the upazila nirbahi officer (UNO) will conduct drives and police will assist him during the drive. “I do not enjoy benefit from illegal stone lifting and I am not managed by the syndicate,” he added.
Patgram Upazila Nirbahi Officer Abdul Karim said he is not aware about illegal stone lifting, and he will conduct drives if he gets any complaint. “There is no possibility of managing me for illegal stone lifting,” he added.
Deputy Commissioner Shafiul Arif told this correspondent that he has heard about illegal stone lifting and has asked the UNO to take legal action against the syndicate members.