The government has received revenue worth about Tk5 crore in the current and last fiscal year by leasing various Balu Mahals (sand quarries) in Cumilla.
In 2019-20, out of 13 quarries, eight were leased and Tk1,66,31,700 was collected in revenues. In 2020-21 so far, Tk3,13,31,135 crore revenue has been collected by leasing out 10 quarries, 80.02% higher than the previous year.
Out of 13 quarries in Cumilla, seven are on the River Gomti, of which six in Cumilla Adarsha Sadar upazila and one is in Burichang upazila. There are also four quarries in the Cumilla section of the River Meghna. The sand quarry of the River Pagli is located in Burichang, and the one on the River Kankari is in Chauddagram.
Cumilla Deputy Commissioner Abul Fazal Mir said the revenue collected this year exceeds that collected in any other year and the highest amount of revenue – Tk1,00,21,000 – has been collected from Senarchar and Sapmara sand quarry on the Meghna, compared to Tk30 lakh last year.
Nalchar sand quarry on the Meghna generated revenue worth Tk72 lakh last year and Tk80 lakh this year. The other two Balu Mahals of Meghna, Chalibhanga and the original Meghna Balu Mahal remained unleased in both the financial years.
Out of seven Balu Mahals on the river Gomti, in the Adarsha Sadar upazila, Tk6,268,700 was raised from six Balu Mahals in the previous year and Tk13,058,935 this year. The one in Burichang has not been leased for the last two years.
The Balu Mahal on the river Pagli in Burichang was not leased last year but generated Tk50,200 revenue this year. On the other hand, the only Balu Mahal on the river Kakri brought revenue worth Tk1,95,000 and Tk2,01,000 in the last year and this year respectively.
Abul Fazal Mir said they were working to increase the number of Balu Mahals for more revenue, which, he hoped, would be added to the exchequer in the next financial year.
The length of each of these Balu Mahals in Cumilla is about 1-5 km from the river. The sand extracted here meets the demand of the entire Cumilla district, and the rest is supplied to Munshiganj, Narayanganj, Dhaka, Feni and several other districts.
The Balu Mahals leased this year have accommodated 12,000 manpower, including leaseholders, contractors, and workers. The minimum wage of the workers is Tk800 per day. Efficient workers can earn up to Tk1,200 a day. Most of the workers are from Habiganj, Bhairab in Kishoreganj and Daudkandi and Meghna upazilas in Cumilla.
Mahbubur Rahman Rubel, who leased the first five sections of Gomti Balu Mahal this year, said, "I leased the Balu Mahals for around Tk1.15 crore. I extract sand worth Tk4 lakh every day. Now, more sand is being extracted, but the amount will decrease in the rainy season."
About 8,000 people work in the five Balu Mahals of Mahbubur Rahman and other six Mahals.
After the sand is extracted, the water and soil are removed, and wet sand is piled up in a certain spot. Sand extracted from the ground is dried and prepared for sale. Many trucks are involved in sand transport.
Abul Hasnat Babul, former president of Cumilla Press Club, said, "I have seen sand extracted from the Balu Mahals of Gomti river for 60 years. These Balu Mahals are over a hundred years old. There were more than 50 Balu Mahals at one time, but the numbers are now decreasing.