All the water lilies in KendriBeel, a part of renowned Laal Shaplar Beel in Jaintiapurupazila of Sylhet, have been destroyed for catching fish from the waterbody.
The president and the secretary of the Kendri Beel Shongrokkhon Committee (the beel protection committee) recently dried up the KendriBeel for collecting and selling fish worth Tk30 lakh, alleged the local people.
They also expressed fears that water lilies will not bloom in this beel again in the future as the fishers uprooted the water lily plants.
Dibir Haor comprising Dibi Beel, Iyam Beel, Horofkat Beel and Kendri Beel is known as the Laal Shaplar Beel (red water lily beel), which is declared a tourist spot by the district administration.
Jaintiapur Upazila Parishad has started building a protection embankment around the Dibir Haor, encompassing around 364 hectares of area. Building the embankment started from Kendri Beel and its water was reduced for the work.
Then, from 22 February to 26 February, Kendri Beel Shongrokkhon Committee President Shahinur Rahman, and Secretary Masuk Ahmed dried up the waterbody by pumping out all the remaining water from it and collected fish from there to sell.
Kamal Ahmed, chairman of Jaintiapur Upazila Parishad, said, "They (Shahinur and Masuk) informed us that they had taken the beel from the upazila administration on a short-term lease."
Consequently, tourists visiting the area to see the beauty of the red water lilies in the beel are going back being frustrated.
Shayek Ahmed, who recently went there from Cumilla to see the renowned Laal Shaplar Beel, said, "I have come here with my family after a difficult journey just to see the beauty of the red water lilies in the beel. But after reaching here, I found no flowers. The beel is dry. We have spent our time and money in vain."
Beel Shongrokkhon Committee President Shahinur told The Business Standard, "We took the beel on a short-term lease from the Upazila Project Implementation Officer Salahuddin Ahmed by giving him Tk1 lakh. We collected the fish legally and did not destroy any water lilies. The water lilies died naturally as the water of the beel was reduced."
However, Salahuddin Ahmed denied taking any money from Shahinur and said, "I am not the owner of the beel. So, why would they give me money? I did not take any money from anybody."
Assistant Commissioner (land) Ripamoni Devi, the upazila nirbahi officer, said whoever had caught the fish had done it illegally. Legal actions would be taken against them for this act, she added.
The upazila administration used to give Dibi Beel, Iyam Beel, Horofkat Beel, and Kendri Beel of the Dibir Haor on lease till 2016. But from 2017, the administration stopped leasing it for preserving the red water lilies of the beels. Besides, the number of tourists increased there for the flowers.
Fakhrul Islam, Jaintapur Union Parishad chairman, said the district administration had declared LaalShaplarBeel a tourist spot, but a local influential group had destroyed the red water lily beel for fish trading.
Abdul Karim Kim, general secretary of Bangladesh PoribeshAndolon, Sylhet, said earlier the district administration had tried to set up a stone crushing zone in the beel area, but they had to withdraw the decision in the face of the protests of local people and environmentalists.
"Those who were involved in destroying the water lilies for catching fish should be brought to justice," he added.