Unplanned Industrialisation: Curse on the Sutang
With the goal of bringing fresh water from the Sutang river to irrigate surrounding villages, the authorities re-excavated the Shoiljura canal in Habiganj. Seven years later, the canal has become a means of hazard for nearby villagers and the river itself.
Pollution of the canal caused by a number of factories established on its banks is affecting at least 30 villages in Habiganj Sadar, Chunarughat and Lakhai upazilas. Korab, Lukra, Nurpur, and Rajiura villages in particular are facing the brunt, according to environmentalists.
The spiral 82-kilometre-long Sutang river, once host to a thriving fish population, is now too toxic for aquatic life and for irrigation because of the pollutants streaming in via the Shoiljura canal, said locals.
Rajiura Union Parishad Chairman Abul Kalam Babul said the Shoiljura canal was re-excavated in 2014 in order to provide irrigation in the area.
"We were supposed to get fresh water for irrigation, but we are getting contaminated water as various factories are dumping waste into this canal. The end result has been the pollution of the Sutang," he said.
Several demands raised by environmentalists and initiatives taken by local representatives to save the river have all failed and the pollution continues to rise, he added.
Yusuf Ali, a farmer from Alipur, which houses many of the factories polluting the canal, said water from the Sutang causes skin diseases and also damages the crops.
"But we are using it as we do not have any other choice," he added.
Habiganj environmental activist Tofazzal Sohel said the industrial waste of various factories are flowing into the Sutang river through the Shoiljura canal.
"Unplanned and unregulated industrialisation in Habiganj's Madhabpur upazila turned this beautiful river into a stream of waste."
As the Sutang is connected with the Meghna, the industrial pollution is also ultimately impacting this major river, he added.
The Sutang flows from the hilly streams in the Tripura border on the Bangladesh side, according to the Habiganj Water Development Board.
UNCHECKED INDUSTRIAL GROWTH
Abdul Qayyum, an environmental activist and a business owner in the Shahpur Natun Bazar area in Madhabpur, said due to the low price of agricultural land, and easy availability of gas, electricity and a good communications system, large companies have been buying land and setting up factories along the river.
"But nobody cares about how those factories are polluting the river and canals," he added.
A total of 44 factories are operating in Habiganj Sadar, Madhabpur, and Sayestaganj upazilas in the district, according to Department of Environment (DoE) data.
Habiganj Additional Deputy Commissioner (Revenue) Tareq Mohammad Zakaria told this correspondent that the factories in question are not under any EPZ [export processing zone].
"It has been established by people buying land in private," said the ADC.
Director of the Sylhet divisional office of the DoE Amran Hossain told this correspondent that DoE officials are monitoring whether those factories are running their effluent treatment plants (ETP).
"But usually we find their ETPs running," he said.
However, he added, it is possible that untreated industrial waste is being discharged through less visible streams into the canal at night and other times.
Narayan Saha, former head of the Department of Forestry and Environmental Science at Shahjalal University of Science and Technology, said, "If the industrialisation around Sutang is not strictly regulated, it will destroy all including wetlands, agriculture, and the rivers."
Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (Bela) recently served legal notices to 20 different officials of the government -- including the secretaries of the land ministry and the environment, forest and climate change ministry -- urging them to save the environment by putting a stop to industrial pollution of the river in three upazilas of Habiganj.
Bela's Chief Executive Syeda Rizwana Hasan said a full list of all the industrial establishments occupying and polluting the Sutang river has been prepared and the organisation strongly demands that these be evicted.
"Considering the current condition of the river, it is requested to declare the river as an environmentally critical area and take necessary steps to maintain it as an environmentally sensitive area," added the Bela chief.