Are sand lifters above the law?
We strongly protest the assault on Kamal Hossain, a correspondent of Bangla daily Sangbad in Sunamganj's Tahirpur upazila, who was beaten up for his attempts to collect information on illegal sand and stone extraction in the area. A video clip obtained by The Daily Star shows a traumatised Kamal tied to a tree at a local bazar, begging for mercy to his attackers. Four people were subsequently arrested in this connection. Kamal was reportedly investigating the activities of sand lifters on the banks of Jadukata, a transboundary river once famed for its scenic beauty which has now reportedly lost its navigability due to unchecked and unplanned extraction of sand and sand-mixed stone over the decades. Sand lifting has always been a major environmental challenge in the region. But the fact that nothing could stop it shows how powerful and unrelenting those involved with the business are.
In fact, the attack on Kamal Hossain is the latest in a long list of transgressions committed by these people. A June 2020 report by this paper highlights a trend that couldn't be broken despite judicial moratoriums on sand extraction and leasing out of sand quarries ("balumohal"), sporadic drives and arrests by officials, and protests by local residents. The report shows how the illegal activities resumed with renewed zeal after every drive, for which the local administration was no less responsible. The administration has either leased out new quarries or attempted to do so, enabled the operations of extraction parties in other ways, or simply looked the other way. This is despite a High Court ruling on June 3, 2010 terming sand extraction in the Jadukata river "illegal". Activists say the impunity enjoyed by influential people involved with the business and the oft-complicit silence of the local administration are responsible for why sand extraction continues unabated, despite its devastating effect on the river.
Journalist Kamal Hossain is another casualty of this mindless drive for profits. We urge the government to take all measures necessary to ensure he gets justice. Equally importantly, the government must take decisive action against sand extraction in line with the High Court ruling, and hold to account officials who fail to uphold it. We understand that the sand of a river may need to be dredged for navigability purposes, but that must be done in a planned manner, and only after proper hydrographic surveys. Dredging or sand/stone lifting for private gains must not be allowed under any pretext.