Last update:
2018-11-16

Stone Crushing Machines in Sylhet district, Bangladesh

Half a million people are affected by the havoc of stone crushing machines and heavy pollution in North-East Bangladesh for the production of building materials


Description:

Stone crushing mills use machinery to crush large stones into stone chips, which are then used as building or road construction materials.

According to an article in Dhaka Tribune [1], most of these factories in the north and north-eastern regions of Bangladesh usually import stones from neighbouring countries such as India and Bhutan. The stones are also locally mined from north-eastern rivers, such as Piyain River in Sylhet, Karatoya River in Panchagarh, and Dharala River in Lalmonirhat. The illegal, unregulated and unauthorized setting up and operation of stone crusher units in Sylhet Sadar, Companygonj, Jaintapur, Goainghat and Kanaighat Upazillas (administrative tier lower to Districts) of Sylhet district was causing serious threats to local environment and was jeopardizing health, safety, comfort and well being of the local people. According to the Dhaka Tribune, this activity is the main cause for widespread cases of silicosis disease [1]. The same also affected negatively the tourism of the area that once was picturesque. The unauthorized and unregulated operation of the stone crusher units were creating unbearable noise pollution, emitting fumes with volumes of ashes that were spreading around into the houses, fields and water bodies of the villages of Dhopagul, Shahebazar, Shalutikor under the said Upazillas. The fumes containing ashes were causing serious eye irritation, breathing difficulties and skin problems to the local people. The severe noise from the machines rendered it impossible for the children to attend schools while patients of nearby hospitals were severely disturbed. The operation of the stone crushing machines was disturbing the normal and peaceful life of the people of the said Upazillas against which appeal to local administration yielded no effective relief. A report prepared by the Upazilla Education Officer of Goainghat Upaziila on the state of Ballapunji Government Primary School depicted a horrendous picture of pollution being caused by the surrounding stone crushing units in the village of Ballapunji. According to the report dated 12 December, 2011 (Annexure “D”; PDF), the dusts from the crushing machines were entering into the eyes of the children while the same was causing persistent skin problems all over their bodies. The high noises were affecting hearing ability of the pupil and the teachers were forced to talk aloud. The trucks employed for loading and unloading of stones were diverting the attention of the children. The surrounding environment of the Ballapunji Government Primary School reached such state that in 2010, at least 15 children became mentally sick. 

The High Court passed the judgment on 24 January, 2017 directing the government to prevent the functioning of all unauthorized stone crushing units operating in five Upazillas of Sylhet district. The government was also directed to relocate all authorized stone crushing units to a specific zone to be identified for that purpose. While the judgment is yet to be signed, directions against the unauthorized stone crushing units are yet to be carried out and the area identified as stone crushing zone is faced with local resistance. 

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Stone Crushing Machines in Sylhet district, Bangladesh
Country:Bangladesh
State or province:N/A
Location of conflict:Sylhet Sadar, Companyganj,Jaintapur, Goainghat, Kanaighat Upazilla, District of Sylhet
Accuracy of locationMEDIUM (Regional level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Industrial and Utilities conflicts
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Urban development conflicts
Specific commodities:Sand, gravel
Stone, building material
Project Details and Actors
Project details

Around 574 (of which 512 had no authorizations) stone crushing units were set up on public roads, forests and near playgrounds, residential areas, schools, hospitals and other institutions without needed authorizations and licenses although the same is prohibited under the Policies for Setting Up of Stone Crushing Zones, 2006 (as amended in 2013). In Sylhet Sadar Upazilla alone, 100 stone crushing units had no license from the DC and no environmental clearance from the Department of Environment, the number of which were 174 in Companygonj Upazilla, 146 in Goainghat Upazilla, 91 in Jaintapur Upazilla and 1 in Kanaighat. The unauthorized stone crushing units were posing deadly threats to the nearby population including school students by creating unbearable noise, dust and water pollution.

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Type of populationSemi-urban
Affected Population:407,000
Start of the conflict:27/11/2011
End of the conflict:24/01/2017
Relevant government actors:Secretaries, Ministry of Environment and Forest; Ministry of Land; Ministry of Water Resources; Ministry of Road, Transport and Bridges; Director General and Director, Department of Environment (DoE); Chief Conservator of Forests and Sylhet Divisional Forest Officer; Chief Engineer, Roads and Highway Department; Deputy Commissioner, Sylhet; Additional Chief Engineer, Sylhet Zone, Roads and Highway Department; Upazilla Nirbahi Officers and Assistant Commissioners (Land), Sylhet Sadar Upazilla, Companygonj Upazilla, Jaintapur Upazilla, Goainghat Upazilla, Kanaighat Upazilla.
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (BELA)
www.belabangla.org
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:Local ejos
Neighbours/citizens/communities
Forms of mobilization:Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Public campaigns
Appeals/recourse to economic valuation of the environment
Impacts
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Air pollution, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Food insecurity (crop damage), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Soil contamination, Noise pollution
Health ImpactsVisible: Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide, Other Health impacts, Occupational disease and accidents
Potential: Deaths
Other Health impactsDue to the shrill and unbearable noise pollution, mental health of the inhabitants of the areas concerned have been greatly impacted. People are suffering from breathing difficulties, skin diseases, loss of appetite, eye irritation and poor vision.
A debilitating lung disease caused by silica dust is taking a huge toll on the health of labourers working in the stone crushing industry in Bangladesh’s north and north-eastern regions [1].
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Loss of livelihood, Specific impacts on women, Violations of human rights, Loss of landscape/sense of place, Displacement
Other socio-economic impactsPeople who can afford are leaving the areas affected but those who cant afford are being forced to lead undignified lives. The thick layer of dust deposited on household items made it difficult to maintain basic cleanliness. Affected people complained of being eventually deserted by their relatives as they could not be visited any more due to the extremely unhygienic conditions of their neighbourhood.
Outcome
Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Court decision (victory for environmental justice)
Negotiated alternative solution
Under negotiation
Development of alternatives:Mentioning the havoc of pollution and health problems caused by the stone crushing units, local people first complained to the local and national administrative agencies vide series of letters dated 3 June, 2014, 25 June, 2014, 17 November 2014, 12 November, 2014 and 9 November 2014. Having failed to receive any relief, the villagers from Dhopagul, Ballapunji and Rakhalchora villages, vide letters dated 10 May 2014, 29 June 2014, 2 July 2014, 23 July 2014, and 21 October 2014, approached a national level NGO called Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (BELA) for legal assistance. An application under the Right to Information Act was served to get a complete list of all stone crushing units of the area and their legal status. Relying on that and people’s complaints, a Public Interest Litigation (PIL; WRIT PETITION NO. 7552 OF 2015) was field by BELA seeking directions upon the respondents to immediately declare Stone Crushing Zone as per Policies for Setting Up of Stone Crushing Zones, 2006 (as amended in 2013); arrange for relocation of all authorized stone crushing units to the stone crushing zone with appropriate pollution fighting devices, and prohibit any authorization of stone crushing units in any area other than the specified zone.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Not Sure
Briefly explain:Defying directions from the High Court Division, the stone crushing units, in connivance with the local administration, are still in operation. One reason behind the same remains non-availability of the Judgment from the Court. Again, the alternate area selected by the administration has also not been found suitable and is being resisted by locals.
Sources & Materials
Related laws and legislations - Juridical texts related to the conflict

Constitution of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh; the Bangladesh Environment Conservation Act, 1995 and the Environment Conservation Rules, 1997 made thereunder; the Highways Act, 1925; the Forest Act, 1927; the Bangladesh Water Act, 2013; the Land Management Manual, 1990; Noise Pollution (Control) Rules, 2006; Policies for Setting Up of Stone Crushing Machines, 2006 as amended in 2013.
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Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

Illegal Stone Crushers on Government land at Jaflong
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[1] Dhaka Tribune. October 7th, 2017. Stone crushing industry exposes workers to deadly silicosis disease

By Moazzem Hossain, Moazzem Hossain, Abu Siddique
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Other documents

Pictures
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Pictures
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Letter of Dilipmoy Das Chowdhury, Goainhat, Sylhet (Annexure D)
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Meta information
Contributor:Syeda Rizwana Hasan, BELA, [email protected]
Last update16/11/2018
Comments
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