Already 16 stone pit workers have perished in Sylhet's stone extraction areas. This casualty figure of two and a half months of this year surpasses the total deaths of the entire previous year. What is important here is that the deaths are no longer considered accidental casualties but viewed as murders. Charges of murder are pressed against those using what is known as bombing machines.
Notwithstanding such administrative alertness including setting those machines on fire one after another, the illegal operation goes on unabated. That it happens is evident from the frequent death of stone workers. It would be unfair to say that the government agencies are inactive against lifting of stones from quarries. Yet it cannot as well be said that they are fully complying with the order the higher court of the country delivered in 2010 declaring the use of bombing machine for stone extraction unlawful. The court directed the administration to form a task force for launching regular drives against lifting of stones.
More than five hundred drives, according to reports, were conducted against stone extraction over the past seven years. In such drives more than a thousand such bombing machines were destroyed and still the quarries are dug out with the help of such dangerous machines. Clearly, drives launched in such a manner have not proved enough for the purpose. More needs to be done if the court order has to be fully complied with.
Clearly, a strong camp of law enforcement agencies has to be stationed within the vicinity of quarry zone with routine patrol duty. The patrolling team will monitor the location of bombing machines in order to destroy those before their operation. If such teams are deployed with the assignment of eliminating the machines used for lifting stones from a depth of 50-60 feet below earth surface, the illegal extraction can be stopped.
That the introduction of the bombing machine for stone extraction from such a depth was unwise in the first place is quite clear. Now that the stone collectors and crashers have turned the illegal venture into an industry depending on the high demand for stones and stone chips, they are not likely to surrender their hold on the business. Had the operation been harmless with no adverse impact on the environment, there would be no opposition to it. But the way the explosives charged inside the soil itself makes a statement against the operation. Soil structure is badly upset and even on the surface, workers get buried instantly. It is not safe for workers engaged in lifting stones.
So the consideration for both life and the environment should get priority before business. It is a dangerous business, the long-term impact of which is yet to be assessed. In any environment-friendly and caring society, all such issues were thoroughly examined by experts before embarking on any such ventures. Unfortunately, no such expert and systematic analysis are made here.
Well, once the Western world had gone through similar episodes a long time ago. The Gold Rush period was not only one such indiscreet exploitation of natural resources but also one that was responsible for annihilation of an entire indigenous population in pockets of America. The impact of exploding stone quarries may be far greater, particularly when the country is apprehensive of a major threat from quakes.