When quarry labourer Sundar Ali heard yesterday morning that some children including his son had gone to collect stones in the Lovachhara river, he knew how dangerous this could be.
He rushed to the place to get the children out. When Sundar reached the spot, his son, seeing his father, realised that he was in trouble and ran away.
Sundar then started yelling at the other children to get out of the river. The children started climbing up to the steep cliff when a large chunk of earth subsided and fell into the river taking the six teenagers and Sundar with it, locals said.
Five of the children and Sundar were killed.
Locals rescued one injured student from the spot. All of the victims were from the Bangla Tila area in Kanaighat of Sylhet.
Koyesur Rahman, member of Laksmiprashad Purbo Union, said the annual jalsha (religious gathering) of a local madrasa was scheduled for last night and the children had gone to collect stones thinking they would earn some extra selling those on jalsha night.
The deceased were: Jakir, 16, Nahid, 13, his brother Shakil, 12, Maruf, 13, and Abdul Kadir, 13.
Three of the children were students of the madrasa, locals said.
Abdul Ahad, officer-in-charge of Kanaighat Police Station, said police with the help of locals recovered the bodies.
Muhammad Shamsul Alam Sarkar, additional superintendent of police of Sylhet, said the police were trying to stop the illegal stone extraction.
Over the years, influential stone traders have been illegally extracting stone from the Lovachhara river and its nearby hillocks in Kanaighat upazila, destroying the environment and putting locals at risk, even though the officially declared quarry area was a long way away from the spot where the six died yesterday.
Bangla Tila, Lalmatir Tila, Bakhal Chhara, Rajar Tila, Monipur village, Deya Tila, Daukergul, Bajekhel, Saudgram, Paschimpara, Miraping Shah Tila and some other areas are being ravaged by the syndicate of stone lifters, locals said.
Upazila Nirbahi Officer Tania Sultana said, “We had conducted a mobile court raid last week in the area.”
To investigate the death of the six, a three-member probe body, led by Syed Mohammad Aminur Rahman, additional deputy commissioner of Sylhet, has been formed by the district administration.
Rahat Anwar, deputy commissioner of Sylhet, said manual stone extraction was legal only in the quarry area, but these children were trying to extract stone from an unusual and risky spot.
“We have been very active in stopping illegal stone extracting in all quarry areas in Sylhet and a taskforce continuously runs drives. More steps will be taken to completely stop illegal stone extraction,” the DC said.
Lawyer Shah Shaheda Akhter, regional coordinator of Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (Bela), said the spot of where the accident happened yesterday was not officially a quarry yet stone extraction was going on.
Police also formed a separate three-member probe body, led by Abul Hasnat, additional superintendent of police of Sylhet, to investigate the deaths.
The committee was asked to submit its report within five working days, said Samsul Alam Sarker, additional SP (media) of Sylhet.