Jan 21, 2008

Chittagong Hill Tracts: Costs of Rock Extraction

Illegal rock extraction and lack of government scrutiny is leading to increased erosion and flooding, threatening lives and livelihoods.

Illegal rock extraction and lack of government scrutiny is leading to increased erosion and flooding, threatening lives and livelihoods.

Below is an article published by Jasim Majumder in The Daily Star:

Illegal extraction of rocks from hills goes on unabated in Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT), posing a serious threat to the ecology.

Extraction of rocks cause erosion of soil and hill cliffs, triggering landslides and claiming lives, particularly in rainy season.

Besides, rivers, canals and water bodies are being silted by the eroded soil from hills, carried by water, accentuating flooding.

Over 8 lakh cft rocks are collected annually from 28 upazilas in CHT. On an average, around 40,00 cft rocks are collected in a day during dry season and one cft is sold at Tk 130 to Tk 150, according to rock collectors.

The government should get at least Tk 5 core revenue annually from eight lakh cft rocks at the rate of Tk 62 per cft (set for rocks collected from water bodies), sources at divisional forest office said. But the revenue collection is nil now, they said

The illegal extraction goes on unabated under the nose of officials of government departments concerned, they said.

An Assistant Commissioner in Bandarban district administration seeking anonymity said, "We only authorise collection of natural rocks from Chhara or Ziri (streams). Extraction of rocks from hills is illegal. It is the responsibility of forest department to check this”.

Divisional Forest Officer in Khagrachhari Shah-e-Alam said according to law, forest department issues 'transit pass' for rock collection and collects revenue.

"I am not aware of extraction of rocks from hills. I will probe the matter and take action", he said

Primary buyers of the illegally extracted hill rocks are contractors of different government projects under municipalities, LGED (local government and engineering department), Chittagong Hill Tracts Development Board, Power Development Board (PDB) offices, three hill district councils and the Roads and Highways Department in the three hill districts. The illegal work is going on allegedly in connivance with a section of officials, the sources claimed.

This correspondent during visits saw huge stockpiles of hill rocks at Nunchhari, Champaghat, Gugrachhari and Mohalchhara in Khagrachhari Sadar upazila; Akhbari, Dharmopur and Ramsira in Matiranga upazila; Baradam, Babuchhara and Araimail in Dighinala; Kongchairipara and Simanapara in Panchhari; Sindukchhara and Karbaripara in Mohalchhari; Jouthakhamar and Headmanpara in Ramgar upazila, and at different spots in Laxmichhari and Manikchhari upazilas in Khagrachhari.

Huge stocks of boulders collected from hills without government approval were also seen in at lest 43 spots in Rangamati and Bandarban districts.

Different political leaders, influential groups and sections of businessmen are involved in the illegal rocks collection, said Mohammad Ibrahim Khalil, secretary of local environmental organisation Parivesh Andolon Forum.

The syndicate supplies rocks to construction companies who used those in construction work, its member Mariom Akter Rumu said.

The unscrupulous traders have a syndicate and employ day laborers to collect rocks, said Pradip Chowdhury, Khagrachhari district coordinator of Center for Sustainable Development (CFSD).

Sanu Mong Marma, a rock collector in Gugrachhari, told this correspondent that he was not aware of any adverse ecological effect of rock extraction from hills.

A high official in Khagrachhari district administration said indigenous people collect hill rocks to build their prayer houses while Bangla speaking people are also engaged in the illegal work as a source of income.

The district administration does not have any team to check illegal extraction of rocks, officials said.