Anjuraya Begum smells the stench from burning tyres at a factory around 50 feet from her house in Kahalu upazila of Bogura, rather than the food when she eats.
Her life has changed after the setting up of Afroza Burning Oil Industries more than eight years ago, which burns tyres, tubes and condoms to produce unpurified oil used in road construction.
Large swathes of farmland just behind the factory at Deogram in Kahalu upazila has been damaged by burnt oil. And villagers living across the 15-feet-wide road from the factory suffer from breathing problems, cold, nausea and other health complications due to black smoke billowing out of it and its strong odour.
Ashes swirling in the air constantly remind Anjuraya of how one influential man has dodged law as he continues to hamper public life and pollute the environment.
Local people protested against the factory several times but in vain. To silence them, an extortion case was filed in 2014 against six men with the Bogura Senior Judicial Magistrate Court.
In 2012 when Latiful Karim Biplob took the initiative to build the factory beside the road in Malancha-Durgapur union, he promised employment for local people. Then he imported the machinery. As the factory started burning tyres and tubes in June-July, people took to the streets demanding that the factory be removed and erected somewhere else.
An application signed by more than a hundred local residents was also submitted to the divisional office of the Department of Environment (DoE) in August that year.
It said Afroza Burning Oil Industries had been built ignoring strong opposition by the community living around the site, and pointed out its hazardous impacts on the community and the environment.
A job offered to stay silent
Instead of getting any remedy, six men who had been vocal against the pollution, saw an extortion case filed against them in September 2014. They went on the run. There were many unnamed accused as well.
Later, the management of Afroza Burning Oil Industries, recruited one of those, who had been leading the protests, and withdrew the case.
He is the foreman, Raihan Ali, the third accused in the case filed by the authority of the factory. Raihan, who had been hiding fearing the police, returned to his village to join work.
When approached, he became furious first but calmed down when asked about the case and his job.
"How long could I be running away from my home! Smoke is still there. Paddies are being destroyed by oil. Policemen, journalists and officials in the [Department of] Environment have been receiving payments every month [to stay silent]."
Meanwhile, the company changed its production strategy. It now operates the furnace from the evening until dawn, not round the clock. Male workers work through the night while women work during the day.
"Poverty forced me to do this job," said Akbar Ali, who stands guard in front of the entrance from 8:00pm to 8:00am.
He said the company had fired him many times over the last three years for speaking against it, but returned his job anyway because it found no one else to do the job risking his life.
Dubious role of the local administration, Department of Environment
A notice hung on the door to the room of the company's manager says there is no objection to the storage of petroleum-like substances on the premises. It was dated 29th May, 2013, signed by the then assistant commissioner of the district administration, Farzana Ferdous.
On this, Ziaul Haque, deputy commissioner (Bogura), said the matter was quite old, so he would have to search for details to make a comment. "Factories often put up fake documents. We will take action upon an investigation if there is any violation of law."
Furnace oil generated in the factory is sold to construction contractors in Bogra.
It is cheaper than diesel and kerosene, which is why some contractors may use it but it is very harmful to nature, said Executive Engineer of Bogra Roads and Highways Department.
"We discourage use of furnace oil," he said.
A teacher of chemistry at Bogra Government Shah Etebaria College, Faruk Ahmed, said tyres and tubes produce a huge quantity of carbon-di-oxide when burnt. "If the furnace is not high enough, it threatens the environment and humans. The waste generated can also damage soil and destroy crops.
Azizul, a resident, said fruits were rotting in the trees prematurely. Complaints filed with the local police station were not followed by any action.
Black powdery residue from the oil production is sold at nearby markets, which is used in industries, such as laundry and press.
Women are mostly engaged in filtering it out to get rid of large particles.
One of them, Lucky Akhter with the ashes covering her face, neck and hands said, "I toil here to make a living, to earn Tk600-700 at the end of the day."
On whether the ash makes her sick, she said she had been working for the company for the last 10 years. "No major complication arose. But I heard that it goes into the body during breathing and is likely to harm us."
Another woman worker, Laila Begum said she felt forced to do the job because there was no other work in the area.
Durgapur Union Chairman Badruzzaman Khan, said the company had strong backing of the administration. "I have broached the matter to the Upazila Nirbahi Officer but to no avail."
Assistant Manager of the company, Shahin Alam claimed that the factory was operated with Chinese technology to prevent pollution and the night shifts were meant to keep the ambience undisturbed.
However, Sufia Nazim, director of the divisional office of the DoE, said the office had not given any permission for burning tyres and tubes in that area.
"We did not have any information about Afroza Burning Oil Industries. It has not been registered with the department. Immediate action will be taken against it."