Residents near Ekhtiyarpur canal in Madhabpur upazila of Habiganj can now finally breathe a sigh of relief after a factory in the vicinity was shut down for polluting the environment with industrial waste.
There have been several incidents of people falling ill due to the stench from the pollution of Maar Limited's factory, which used to dump industrial waste in the canal that connects with Balbhadra, Kanai, Khasti and Meghna rivers, said Abdul Qayyum, a resident of the area.
"During monsoon, fish from the rivers used to enter the canal but later died due to the pollution from the dumped wastes. At present there is no fish in the canal. Nobody would even come to visit the village by the side of the canal due to the stench from the polluted water," he said.
The residents said they had protested against the environmentally degrading activities of the factory without much effect as the factory owners are influential. Recently, the factory was shut down following a High Court order and since then, there has not been any stench from the water and the situation is now much better, they said.
Shelly Rani Shil, a resident of the village, said her family were humiliated as their guests fell ill from the stench during wedding of her niece recently.
"We felt so humiliated. They did not want to return. But after the closure of the factory there is no smell for the last few days. The groom's family also said they would come to visit," she said.
More than 500 families of the village are now happy as the environment is gradually improving after the factory closure, Abdul Qayyum said.
The factory belongs to MAAR (Maize Advance Argo Refineries) Limited, a dry starch manufacturing company in Habiganj. It was recently sealed off by the local administration as per the court's directive, said Ishrat Jahan, deputy commissioner of Habiganj.
Shah Shaheda Akther, coordinator (Sylhet Chapter) of Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (BELA), told this correspondent that BELA filed a writ petition in the High Court last year challenging the legitimacy of the company's activities. Following a preliminary hearing, the HC ruled on March 15 this year that the defendants should refrain from conducting any activities of the company.
The company filed a leave-to-appeal petition with the Appellate Division against the HC order. Later, on April 29, a six-member bench of the Appellate Division led by Chief Justice Syed Mahmud Hossain dismissed the company's appeal and upheld the HC order during a virtual hearing, said BELA's legal coordinator Sayed Ahmed Kabir.
The Daily Star published several reports regarding this issue.
Lawyer Sayed Ahmed Kabir told this correspondent that MAAR Limited has long been operating without Effluent Treatment Plant (ETP) and environmental clearance. The water of the canal became polluted due to the discharge of the factory's waste into the Ekhtiyarpur canal.
The Department of Environment (DoE) also fined the company twice for persistent environmental pollution and damage to the environment in the area.
BELA later filed the writ petition as the factory continued its environmentally degrading activities.
"We have been agitating with the villagers since November 2015 demanding that the factory set up ETP. We have been assaulted as company people attacked several times. The villagers have suffered a lot. The factory closed down once in the face of our agitation, but they reopened later and continued the pollution. In the end, we have succeeded in our endeavours. But it would have been better if the other nearby canals were also looked at," Tofazzal Sohel, general secretary of Bangladesh Paribesh Andolon (Habiganj unit), told this correspondent.
"Several other companies are also engaged in activities destroying rivers and canals in the area. However, the example of MAAR Company is a warning to others. Care must be taken to ensure that these companies cannot breach the law," he added.