SYLHET, Mar 12: Different spots of frontier upazilas of Sylhet like Companiganj, Gowainghat and Kanaighat were known for stone and sand collection manually by labourers. But with the change of things, manual process is almost non-existant while organised groups had started using mechanised tools and motors for stone and sand extraction.
With the abnormal rise of indiscriminate extraction on almost all the places, the number of deaths due to landslides on the sites has gone up, raising questions over the process as a whole. Poor and innocent labourers become the victims while the masterminds earn huge money and remain behind the screen, enjoying the administrative support.
A number of locals said the administration as well the leading people failed to bring the situation under control due to the unabated use of mechanised tools locally called 'Boma machine'. Using Boma machines was declared illegal by a high court bench in 2009.
Sources informed over a hundred deaths took place due to the landslide incidents of stone and sand quarry locations in the districts only in 2 decades. These include, Jaflong, Bholaganj, Bisnakandi, Utmachhara, Lobhachhara etc.
The latest incident took place at Jaflong on Wednesday last as labourer Mostakin Mia, hailing from Habiganj, met his tragic end of life as he was engaged in stone collection. Just two days ahead of this, landslide had claimed life of another labour Faruque, 32, at Utmachhara in Companiganj. With this the death of 10 are reported in two months, police said.
Contacted, the Assistant Director of the Environment, Sylhet divisional office Mostafizur Rahman said often drives are launched against the illegal stone collectors by the Environment officials along with the executive magistrate and the lawmen, but they resume same things soon after. Even a huge number of tools including over a thousand 'Boma machines' were destroyed during the drives in last 8 years, he added. It is very hard to stop such illegal things without the locals' support and political will, the official said. Besides, serious environmental degradation is also caused by such acts, he added.
A number of experts said extraction of stones through digging about 10 feet is very much risky whereas the organised groups compel the poor labourers to dig even 30 to 40 feet due to their greed.
Two probe committees, one formed by the district administration and the other by the police after the landslide on 23 January at Sharpin tila in Companiganj identified at least 47 persons who ran the illegal stone quarry. These were formed after five labourers were killed in the incident. As the bodies got involvement and negligence, the UNO and Officer in charge of Companiganj were transferred and withdrawn immediately.