Posted on February 27, 2023
Shipyard owners and local public representatives are extracting sand illegally in a 30km area of Sandwip Channel in Sitakunda upazila, according to an environmental report, causing concerns for Karnaphuli estuary – the main navigation channel of Bangladesh’s premier Chattogram seaport.
Last week, the Chattogram Port Authority sought the intervention of the district administration and said port officials will lend a hand if raids on sand lifting are conducted.
On the issue, Commander M Arifur Rahman, chief hydrographer of Chattogram Port Authority, said, “The impact of rampant sand extraction may not be felt now, but it could turn catastrophic in the future. Inland shipping of goods through the Sandwip Channel has already been exposed to several risks.”
He said the port authority plans to use the newly developed chars in the channel as an extension of the Bay Terminal in the future. But the illegal sand extraction from the bay will ruin that as well.
Sand lifting spots at the Sandwip Channel have neither been declared a “Balu Mohal” (sand field) nor does the dredging have any permission from the district administration, the Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority (BIWTA), the Department of Environment, the Chattogram Port Authority or other authorities.
According to local residents, a local enterprise was allowed dredging at Sitakunda Channel for only six months in 2018, after a newly developed shoal was found deterring scrap ships from being towed to the shipbreaking yards.
But then, a number of shipyard owners went into sand lifting from the channel, prompting the Department of Environment to inspect the area at least four times in the past two years.
In the latest development on 4 January this year, Chattogram environment department officials visited the site and recommended legal action over the given situation.
According to the inspection report, around 3 lakh cubic feet of sand has already been extracted from Sitakunda’s Bashbaria, Barabkunda and Akilpur and sold out later.
In addition, some low-lying land in the areas is also being filled illegally by dredging sand from the bay, according to the Department of Environment.
The environmental report accused Mother Steel Limited’s shipbreaking yard official Abul Kashem, Bashbaria Union Chairman Shawkat Ali Jahangir and Barabkunda Union Chairman Sadakat Ullah Miyazi of lifting sand, renting dredging equipment and filling land.
Earlier in March last year, the Department of Environment fined Sitakunda Upazila Chairman SM Al Mamun Tk20 lakh over sand extraction from Salimpur beach.
According to the department, the illegal sand extraction has not stopped due mainly to the involvement of local influential elements.
Ferdous Anwar, deputy director of the Department of Environment Chattogram office, said, “Unplanned and illegal sand extraction from the channel has endangered the embankment on the beach. Besides, it is causing serious damage to the local landscape, environment and ecology – which is an offence under the Bangladesh Environment Protection Act.”
Urging the BIWTA and environment department to file regular cases against the sand lifters, Chattogram Deputy Commissioner Abul Basar Mohammad Fakhruzzaman said the district administration can conduct mobile courts, but those are not quite effective.
The Kumira Jetty on the Kumira-Sandwip route collapsed in May 2022 owing to the rampant sand dredging at the Sandwip Channel, according to Mahfuzur Rahman Mita, lawmaker from Sandwip.
The parliamentarian has also filed a complaint with the Ministry of Shipping in this regard.
BIWTA Deputy Director (Acting) Nayan Sheel said the BIWTA has asked several public agencies to take stern action against the sand lifters.
AFM Nizam Uddin, superintendent of Chattogram River Police, told The Business Standard that the police conduct raids regularly. But the sand lifters return as soon as the police campaign ends.