With the start of the brick-making season, dozens of illegal brick kilns have started operation inside the forests and near many schools in Bandarban, polluting environment in the hills.
The owners of the brick kilns are running their business despite a restriction from the authorities concerned and even ignoring the locals' objections.
The most affected villages are Shivatoli Para, Mong Ba Ching Para, U Mra Mong Headman Para and Meaung Para of remote Faitong area under Lama upazila.
Residents of these villages alleged the brick kilns owners have threatened them whenever they protest.
“We are facing severe water crisis as the kiln owners have destroyed the water bodies,” said Aung Hla Ching Marma of Mong Ba Ching Para.
“They are also polluting the environment badly in the area, raising the risk of spread of different diseases,” said U Mra Mong, headman of the area.
“Fertility of farmland around the brickfields where we cultivate crops is also going down,” said the Marma villager.
Moreover, risks of accidents are rising due to increased movement of brick and earth-laden trucks on the only road, which is used by the villagers as well as school-going children, said Akhter Hossain, a three-wheeler driver of the area.
Faitong Union Parishad Chairman Md Jalal Uddin said, “What can I do? I am helpless as the kiln owners have managed the local administration.
“There are 22 illegal brick kilns in my union alone,” he said.
Md Nezamuddin, head teacher of Shivatoli Govt Primary School, which is adjacent to a brick kiln, said, “We have complained several times to the local administration in this regard in vain.”
Contacted, Dilip Kumar Banik, deputy commissioner of the district, said, “We have tried several times to stop the illegal brick kilns but failed as most of the kilns are located in very remote areas.”
Humayun Kabir and Gias Uddin, two brick kiln owners, have admitted brick manufacturing by using firewood in the dense forest areas.
These kilns use firewood collected from the forests, even from the reserve forests, to burn bricks, said Zumlian Amlai, chairperson (Bandarban chapter) of the Parbatya Chattagram Forest and Land Rights Protection. The situation is posing a serious threat to human health and environment, but the local administration has yet to take any noticeable action to check the menace, he alleged.
“No steps can be taken against these kilns as the local authorities are in favour of the owners,” he said.
Local sources said about 55 kilns have started operation in Lama, Alikadom, Ruma, Naikongchhari and Sadar upazilas defying the environmental laws.