Will not leave the land alone
The Mongla Port Authority is still adamant to dump sand on arable land in Banisanta union of Khulna's Dacope upazila despite having alternatives to pile up the to-be dredged sand elsewhere.
This has triggered a spark of anger among the locals who have been waging protests to protect their cropland.
The port authority took up the project which was approved by Executive Committee of National Economic Council (Ecnec) in 2020 to dredge 2.16 crore tonnes of sand from Pasur river to facilitate its navigability.
The conflict between locals and the port authority ensued at the beginning of 2020 when the latter selected 300 acres of arable land in Banisanta for dumping the dredged sand.
Satyajit Gain, member secretary of Banisanta Krishi Jomi Rokkha Songram Committee, told The Daily Star that the port authority decided to dump the sand on their arable land without consulting them.
Satyajit said they proposed three alternative sites for piling up the sand. The sand could be used in the construction of Khan Jahan Ali Airport or the Mongla-Khulna Highway.
The third option is Kainmari and Chila area which are situated in a lowland.
Local farmers -- on whose land the sand will be piled up -- have been protesting for more than two years, urging the authority and knocking at every door of the government's higher-ups to protect their cropland.
Bissojit Mondol, a farmer of Banisanta, said his family solely depends on the land for their livelihood.
"This is not about how much money I am getting in return. This is the question of existence. The port authority seems to have taken a vow to displace us."
"If our livelihood is destroyed, we will be displaced from the land where our ancestors have lived hundreds of years," he said.
Samir Mondol, another farmer from Bhujankhali village of Banisanta, said, "Round the year, from every bigha we can earn Tk 1.5 lakh from paddy and Tk 1 lakh from watermelon. We live off depending on the land," he said.
Rear Admiral Mohammad Musa, chairman of Mongla Port Authority, could not be reached for comments as he is currently abroad.
Acting chairman Commodore Abdul Wadud Tarafdar told The Daily Star that they were waiting for the public sentiment to soften. In the meantime, they are in talks with the local administration and police as to how they can appease the locals.
"As locals and some environmentalists raised questions about dumping sand on the 300-acre area, we are working on how to dissipate the concern raised by them," he said.
He also mentioned that recently, the secretary of the Ministry of Shipping visited the area and a proposal considering all the options has been sent to the Prime Minister's Office.
However, Commodore Tarafdar claimed that the options were not feasible.
"The airport is 26 kilometres far from Mongla Port. The dredger that will extract sand can take the sand at best five kilometres from the Pasur. The other options are also not viable. There are technical bottlenecks," he said.
"We singled out the site for dumping sand after a feasibility study which found it viable for the sand to piled up," he added.
Contacted, Syeda Rizwana Hasan, chief executive of Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (Bela), said they talked to the deputy commissioner of Khulna district, who agreed on an alternative site at Khulna's Chila upazila, where the port authority has already dumped sand on 400 acres of land out of the 700 acres they requisitioned.
"The port authority can engage a booster pump which can carry sand more than five kilometres. They don't have it right now. But they can borrow it from the Chattogram Port Authority. Our question is why you will remain adamant to destroy arable land when you could save it by resorting to other options," said Rizwana.