Illegal sand stockpiles on Dhaka-Benapole Highway cause air pollution, commuters suffer

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The locals alleged that the authorities were unable to stop these influential businessmen or  take any legal action against them, in spite of several attempts

Commuters of Kashiani upazila in Gopalganj have been suffering due to the excessive air pollution in and around three and a half kilometer stretch of the Dhaka-Benapole Highway, caused by the existing sand stockpiles on both sides of the road.

Thousands of people from ten districts have to commute through the Bhatiapara-Kalna road with much difficulty, often covering their faces. They have also been suffering from skin problems. 

The excess sand particles in the air hampers visibility, compelling drivers to keep their headlights on during daytime.

According to sources in the Roads and Highways Department, Afzal Sheikh, Ranju Sheikh, Emran Mridha, Esquen Shikdar, Swapan Sardar, Ruhul Sardar, Shabu Munshi and 28 other sand extractors have been leaving sand piled up on both sides of the road, and running illegal businesses for the last five years.

Locals alleged that these people are members of an unofficial syndicate which runs the sand business in the area.

Previously in October, residents of Kashiani told Dhaka Tribune that constant sand shipments on countless ten-wheeler have greatly eroded the road.

Rainwater, from frequent rains, mixes with the sand and forms thick mud water, weakening the road structure and  leaving it dilapidated and inconvenient for daily commuting.

On a recent visit to the spot, this correspondent found around one kilometre stretch of the road is in the worst condition, while a two and half a kilometre stretch is filled with innumerable potholes.

Asma Begum of Ratoil village in Kashiani upazila said: “Most of the vehicles on the road are excavators and sand laden trucks. We have to move through the road with our face covered. The sand particles in the air is really suffocating for people.”

65-year-old Ramzan Miya from Narail district said: “We have to endure suffer a lot while using this road. Riding rickshaw-vans on this dilapidated road greatly hurts my back, and the excessive amount of sand in the air is also quite unhygienic for skin and lungs. We want a solution for such  pollution.”

Saddam Hossain Khan, driver of Diganta Paribahan, said: “The air on this road, thick with sand, greatly obscures our sight. Even though we keep headlights on, it is risky to drive.”

Ajmeri Begum, Rafiqul Islam, and Kashiani Sadar Union Parishad Chairman Md Mashiur Rahman have expressed a similar sentiment. They all accused sand traders of illegally running their business and misusing public property, while making the lives of the people difficult.

Ranju Shiekh, owner of such sand stockpiles, denied allegations of being involved in any illegal business, saying: “We legally extract sand from the sand sanctuary of the Madhumati river. The sand has been sold to contractors hired for the development work of the government. Our sand is being used to construct the approach of the Padma bridge and Dhaka-Gopalganj railway track.”

KM Shariful Alam, executive engineer of Gopalganj Road and Highways Department, said: “We have repeatedly urged the sand traders to move their illegal stockpiles from the roadside. We will sue the 35 sand traders who are causing such inconvenience for thousands of commuters.”

The executive engineer had made a similar comment earlier  as well – a couple of months ago – although no legal action has been taken in this regard.