The farming community in Brahmanbaria's Bancharampur upazila is at its wit's end.
The reason -- nearly 300 hectares of agricultural land in the upazila have been rendered uncultivable by a group of "illegal" fish farmers who have erected unauthorised dams to divert water from the Bariadah beel, thus causing financial distress for the 4,000-odd local paddy cultivators and threatening their livelihoods.
Despite repeated complaints, the farmers alleged, authorities have turned a blind eye to their problems. What's more annoying is that these illegal elements have recently imposed restrictions on the movement of boats on the local beel.
UNB has learnt that the Fardabad-Rupsdi Dhibor Cooperative Association had taken the Bariadah beel on lease for three years from the local administration. But one of its members has subleased the beel to illegal fish farmers, violating the lease agreement.
Those who illegally took the land on lease have erected bamboo fences with nets for farming fish on the four kilometre area of the beel. As a result, water hyacinths and weeds have got stuck on the arable lands, making a vast tract of arable land uncultivable, say the paddy farmers.
Abdul Jalil, who owns a small parcel of agricultural land along the beel, said he would need at least Tk 5k-7k for getting the hyacinths removed from water. "But we can't afford to spend that amount also. Moreover, using the beel is next to impossible these days," he said.
Mamun Mia, another affected farmer in Fardabad village, had the same story to share. “I used to harvest 300 mounds of paddy on my 15 kani land but it has now been rendered unfit for cultivation. Now, we (farmers) are staring at starvation."
All the affected farmers have demanded immediate action. "Steps to remove the dam over the beel are needed at the earliest," said Mohiuddin Ahmed Selim, the chairman of Fardabad union.
When contacted, Ismail Hossain Sujon, deputy-assistant agriculture officer of the District Agriculture Department (DAE), said some 2000 metric tonnes of paddy used to be produced from the farm lands every year. But he admitted that now the production has come to a halt.
Authorities say action is inevitable. "We have given a deadline to the association to remove the dam and clear the hyacinths. If they fail to comply with the order, necessary steps will be taken," said Mohammad Nasir Uddin Sarwar, Upazila Nirbahi Officer of Bancharampur.
Pison Das, a member of the Fardabad-Rupsdi Dhibor Cooperative Association, assured: “We will clear the weeds and hyacinths."