THE death from landslide at Companiganj in Sylhet on Monday is shocking. When a group of 12 workers were illegally extracting underground stones from Matiatila, a part of the hillock Shah Arefin Tila, as New Age reported on Wednesday, the landslide took place leaving at least four dead and the rest injured. Death in landslide is nothing new, especially in Chittagong and Sylhet where illegal cutting of hills for various purposes have for long been rampant. In Chittagong, landslide death has made the headlines almost every year in the period as dozens of families, mostly migrated from different villages after losing all their belongings to river erosion or for some other reasons, lived in makeshift houses illegally built at the foot of hills in different parts of the city. In Sylhet, particularly the hilly areas such as Bholaganj under Companiganj, which is known for hard rock coming down from the nearby Meghalaya hills in India, illegal extraction of stones off and on leads to fatal landslide. What is unfortunate is that while, in the face of growing public criticism, the local administration in Chittagong launched some drives, albeit episodically, against the illegal housing at the foot of the hills, the Sylhet administration has so far appeared to be indifferent to the problem.
One can easily attribute the indifference of the Sylhet administration to its general apathy to the lives of poor and marginalised people who have so far invariably fallen victim to the landslides there, a tendency regrettably shown by most people in public administration, be they at the top or at the field level. There are also hardly any reasons for one to rule out the allegation that there is a nexus between the illegal hard rock traders and corrupt people in the local administration, which is responsible for the government inaction over the issue. It is important to note that hard rock usually sells for lucrative prices and the business is thriving by the day, with construction activities both at public and private sectors increasing manifold. Besides, the illegal extraction of stones from the treasure of hard rocks at Bholaganj continues despite protests from locals and green activists in particular. The protests came as the blanket cutting of the hills there has already left an adverse impact on the environment and ecology of the area that is rich in biodiversity. Additionally, as the hard rocks extracted from the hillocks are generally crushed in the locality, it continues to raise public health concerns with many people there having already been suffering from various respiratory diseases that mainly result from inhaling dust in the air.
In any case, the government should take stern action against those responsible for the landslide, apart from ensuring proper compensation for the victims. It is also expected to immediately make the local administration effectively stop illegal stone extraction that, according to experts, makes the soil of the hill loose and, thus, vulnerable to landslide.
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