Reckless and illegal sand extraction from the riverbed and banks in villages of Rajibpur Upazila of Kurigram district is causing untimely river erosion and threatening nearby homesteads. Some influential figures of the area are running a rampant sand mining business right under the noses of the administration, which shows no sign of taking any actions against them, locals complained. They said that the administration was not playing any role regarding Illegal sand mining in Kurigram as some influential people in the area are running the business.
Row upon row of dredging machines are helping the sand miners to illegally lift sand from the banks of Brahmaputra, Jinjiram, and Sonavari rivers in Rajibpur Upazila of Kurigram. There is a lucrative market for the extracted sands as the fast-growing economy has a booming construction sector, particularly civic infrastructure. Concrete, paved roads, ceramics, metallurgy, petroleum fracking, even the glass on smartphones, all require sand, and river sand is best.
But sand mining can change the course of rivers over time, bringing about profound changes in the lives of those who live on a river's banks, and are usually dependent on it for their livelihoods. In Kurigram, the residents of the following villages are most apprehensive of the impact of sand mining on the rivers flowing through the district: Mohanganj, Char Newaji, Kodalkati, Baul Para, Baliamari, Rajibpur, Munsipara are under threat.
A resident of one village, wishing anonymity due to fear of the sand mafia, told UNB of the fear they harbor of a dredging machine owner named Uzzal Hossain, who is known to belong to a bandit group. If anyone speaks against him, he has threatened to plunder them. He intimidated of plunderage if anyone dares to spill a word against them .’
Matiur Rahman, a dredger owner, told UNB: "Money can buy everything if someone is willing to pay. We just have to pay in Tk 2000 per month (to the administration)."
Shamim Hossain, who we saw operating a dredging machine owned by someone else, said: "I have the permission to work here as the Awami League president of Rajibpur Upazila Abdul Hai Sarkar officially inaugurated the project."
Contacted, Awami League president Abdul Hai Sarkar denied the allegation and said: "I have a dredger machine for extracting sand but we are using it on government projects for constructing roads and Water Development Board’s project.".
Despite the administrative ban, the sand business is flourishing as some influentials are abusing their power. Rajibpur Upazila Land Commissioner and Executive Engineer of Kurigram Water Development Board have never taken any action for an unknown reason though they were informed repeatedly.
Rajibpur Upazila Commissioner (Land) Golam Ferdous said, "I haven't permitted anyone to run the dredger machine. I managed to stop illegal dredgers with the help of the Assistant Land Officer of Mohanganj Union Khalekuzzaman a few days back. Recently as I was busy, I couldn’t pay a visit to the area. But I will take action soon."
In the first week of this month, Ariful Islam, an executive engineer of the Kurigram Water Development Board, came to inspect the river governance work, confiscated some parts of dredger machines, and left giving instructions to stop illegal dredging. But after some days those machines were plugged in once again.
In this regard, the executive officer of the Water Development Board said, "I have not permitted any dredger machine. Firm steps will be taken against anyone who runs a machine using my name."
Upazila Nirbahi Officer Nabirul Islam said strong action would be taken if anyone files a complaint in this respect.