Over 50 lime factories at Chhatak in Sunamganj have been shut down as limestone imports from India have remained halted for three years following a ban on extraction of limestone in the neighbouring country.
Production in the factories still in operation has also declined. As a result, both traders and workers involved in the industry are going through hardship.
According to the Chhatak Lime Producers Owners Association, an average of around 56 lakh kg of lime used to be produced in different factories of Chhatak every month. But, at present, the production has come down to around 10 lakh kg.
The lime produced in Chhatak is used in sugar and paper mills, cement factories, chemical companies, pharmaceutical companies, fisheries, water purification industry and tannery industries.
According to the Sylhet office of the Customs Excise and VAT Commissionerate, limestone – the main raw material of the lime industry – was mainly imported through Bholaganj, Chela and Ichhamati customs stations in Sylhet.
Three years ago, the High Court of the Indian state of Meghalaya imposed a ban on limestone extraction in several districts following an application by the state's environment department.
Since then, the import of limestone through these three customs stations stopped and their activities have almost come to a standstill.
Abdul Jalil, an importer of limestone, said it is also not certain whether or not the import will resume. The importers are in uncertainty too as they opened advanced LC's (Letter of Credit).
Abdul Wahid Majnu, vice-president of Chhatak Lime Producers Owners Association and proprietor of Bablu Lime Manufacturer, said despite the demand, the production at the lime factory cannot be continued because of the raw material crisis.
"The price of local limestone is much higher and we have to face huge losses if we produce lime with it," he said.
Rakib Mia Chowdhury, president of the association, said there are around 17 lime factories at Chhatak at present. Besides the limestone crisis, the traders are also suffering due to the minimum charge introduced by Jalalabad Gas Field authorities.
"I made a security deposit of around Tk50 lakh for gas connection. At present, I have to pay around Tk5 lakh per month as the minimum charge. Many are not using gas. However, they have to pay the minimum charge," he added.
Rafiq Lime Manufacturing factory owner Rafiq Mia closed his factory last year.
He said, "The factory was completely closed in the midst of Covid-19 pandemic. Now, there is a raw material crisis. I have been continuously counting losses for almost three years. So, I shut down the business."
Because of proximity to the Indian border, the first lime factory was set up in Chhatak, and many lime-based industries, including cement factories and a paper mill, were established