Illegal soil extraction continues unabated in two upazilas of Feni district — Sadar and Shonagazi — posing serious threat to farmlands in the vicinity, despite nation-wide restrictions on the practice.
Residents of several villages in these two upazilas are worried over the plunder of soil and claim that their repeated complaints to the authorities concerned against the soil mafia — powerful syndicates that illegally lift soil and sell it to brick kilns — in the past couple of years have only fallen on deaf ears.
Some residents even allege that the illegal trade continues in the two upazilas because of local political and administrative connivance.
Abdur Rauf, a farmer in Uttar Kashimpur village in Sadar upazila, says he was recently forced to sell his meagre landholdings to a brick kiln owner as his agricultural land had been partially damaged due to illegal soil lifting from an adjacent farmland. The owner of that land had sold his farm to the same brick kiln owner.
“It’s a vicious cycle. In every village, the soil mafia lures few farmers to sell their agricultural land to local brick kiln owners at high prices. Once these brick kiln owners acquire a piece of land, they carry out illegal soil extraction in connivance with the mafia and the local political and administrative representatives,” he adds.
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The cycle doesn’t end there. Large-scale soil extraction usually causes severe damage to the nearby agricultural fields. And the owners of the affected farmlands are then forced to sell their fields to the same brick kiln owners through the soil mafia at throwaway prices, according to the villagers.
Abdul Rab, another affected landowner of Uttar Kashimpur, says a big chunk of his land under boro cultivation has sustained damage owing to soil lifting from the adjacent field.
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Similarly, in Sonagazi upazila’s Char Sahavikari village, it has come to light that soil is being extracted illegally from a land parcel belonging to the Water Development Board allegedly at the behest of local businessman Nafiz Uddin.
Mohammad Quamrul Hasan, assistant engineer of Bangladesh Agriculture Development Corporation (BADC), says topsoil is more fertile than other layers. “If it’s removed, then the land would lose its fertility,” he adds.
According to Anwar Hossain Manik, chairman of Pachgachia union in Sadar upazila, several roads in the area have also been damaged due to rampant soil lifting. “Why is the local administration turning a blind eye to the menace,” he asked.
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Mohamamd Tofayel Ahmed Chowdhury, a deputy director of Feni Department of Agriculture, has assured that they will carry out regular drives against illegal soil lifting.
However, Mohammad Wahiduzzaman, Feni’s deputy commissioner, claims that the administration regularly conducts drives against those involved in soil extraction. “We have imposed huge fines on offenders during our past drives,” he says.