Two important bridges over the Monu river and a nearby embankment in Kulaura upazila of Moulvibazar are at risk due to extensive riverbed sand extraction just 500 metres from the bridges.
“A lot of sand is being taken from the Monu river,” says Abu Sufian, a resident of the Kotarkona area where the affected Kulaura to Shamsernagar road and nearby rail bridges are located. “If we have heavy rain the bridges risk being eroded along with the embankment here. The procession of sand trucks is also causing damage.”
About a thousand people per day rely on the road bridge, while many more board trains that cross the railway bridge. So concerned are locals by the ongoing sand extraction that they have written to the deputy commissioner to ask for the activity to be stopped.
The local upazila administration reports that for this Bangla year 1425, the Moulvibazar district administration has leased the Monu river to one Juber Ahmed from Robi Bazar area in Partimpasha union of the upazila for the purposes of sand extraction, for a price of around one crore taka.
Under the lease, sand extraction is said to be permitted in nine locations, but it is occurring in several other places including Kotarkona, too. To take sand from any place that adversely affects bridges, roads or dams is not allowed.
The Daily Star observed six sand extraction machines at work in the Salon and Kotarkona areas, with twelve trucks being loaded while a similar number waited nearby. On condition of anonymity, five workers said up to 200 sand-laden trucks left the area daily.
The chairman of the local Tilagaon union council, Abdul Malik, says that the union had been supervising repair work on the flood-damaged embankment near the Monu river in the Dhundalpur area, but last year sand was extracted from the same area. The union subsequently stopped the work, leaving the water development board to fix a 600-foot long gap in the embankment, work that is currently ongoing.
“Due to unabated sand lifting, the embankment is at risk of collapse,” Abdul Malik says.
By phone, leaseholder Juber Ahmed claimed his sand extraction operations are compliant with the lease conditions.
“In the past, sand was extracted from different points along the Kotarkona road, to the right side of the Monu rail bridge,” says Kulaura Upazila Nirbahi Officer Chowdhury Md Golam Rabbi. “Due to this extraction, both bridges are at risk. But instructions were given to stop sand extraction from those sites. The current lease allows sand to be extracted not less than one kilometre from the bridges. If the leaseholder disobeys, we will take necessary measures.”