Abdul Mottaleb tried a lot to stop the extraction of topsoil from arable land in his village, but could not do so. The brick kiln owners, who are destroying cultivable land, are very influential. The villagers fear attacks and being framed in false cases by these influential people if they protest against their illegal work. Mottaleb, a resident of Kadamtali village under Gabtali upazila in Bogura, could not conceal his resentment while saying this.
Like Mottaleb, many other villagers in the locality alleged that soil was extracted from cultivable land around many villages in Shahjahanpur upazila to make bricks. For the last several years, brick kiln owners have been taking the topsoil from agricultural land of the villages in different upazilas, including Gabtali, Kahalu, Sherpur and Dhunot, in Bogura. Local people alleged that soil is being extracted now throughout the day and the night for 19 brick kilns in Shahjahanpur, though the Brick Manufacturing and Brick Kilns Establishment (Control) Act makes the extraction of top soil for brick kilns illegal.
The Rajshahi divisional office of the Department of the Environment (DoE) says that most of the extracted topsoil is being used in different brick kilns in the district. Local public representatives admit their failure in stopping this practice. But, they say, they have tried a lot to stop it.
Mohammad Royet, son of Gabtali's Noshipur Union Parishad Member Ali Mondol, has seen how brick kilns' owners have damaged arable land in many areas by digging up the topsoil there.
"There will be no cultivable land left after few years if this indiscriminate extraction of soil continues. Before they used to extracted soil only in the daytime, but now they do it at night too," said Royet.
Sohrab Hossain Sannu, chairman of Shahjahanpur Upazila Parishad, said a proposal had been made at the district and upazila level coordination meeting a few months ago to stop soil extraction. The upazila chairmen were asked to do something about it, and they tried. But, they could not put an end to it, said Sannu.
"The Shahjahanpur upazila nirbahi officer carried out a raid with a mobile court and fined several brick kiln owners for soil extraction. But even that could not reduce this illegal practice," he added.
Apart from use in brick kilns, the topsoil is also used in different development projects. Agriculturists fear that this practice will reduce production of all types of crops.
Officials of the Soil Resource Development Institute in Bogura said that topsoil contains 13 important substances and minerals including nitrogen, phosphorus, potash and sulphur. Agricultural land is losing these key substances and organic matter because of the extraction of top soil from arable land, they said.
Shah Mohammad Golam Moala, chief scientific officer of the institute, said, "It takes around 100 years to form one inch of fertile top soil. There is evidence that machines were used to extract 10 inches to 10 feet of surface soil in many areas of Bogura. I think suggestions from the Soil Resource Development Institute should be taken into consideration before giving approval to brick kilns."
Mohammad Ashrafuzzaman, director of the Department of the Environment (DoE), Rajshahi divisional office, said, "There are allegations of collecting soil from cultivable land. Letters are being sent to different district and upazila administrations to take legal action against such practice. Most of the allegations are against brick kilns."
"There will be 100 percent use of block bricks in all construction projects of the government by 2025. Block bricks will be used in 20 percent of government projects by the next fiscal year," he added.
According to the Brick Manufacturing and Brick Kilns Establishment (Control) Act 2019, after getting approval for any brick kiln, the brick kiln owner has to inform the authority where he will collect soil for the kiln. The brick kiln can only go into operation after getting permission from the district administration.
However, most brick kilns in the northern region do not follow this law. In fact many brick kilns there have not been approved by the district administration. But, the DoE cannot take action against these kiln owners because of a lack of manpower. There are only 13 employees instead of the required 54 in the Rajshahi divisional office of the DoE.