Farmers at Dandapal union in Debiganj upazila of Panchagarh are worried as their Paddy crop and variety of fruits including banana, mango, jackfruit, litchi and betel nut have been severely damaged due to toxic smoke from nearby brick kilns.

The farmers have already informed the officials of the agriculture department several times about the issue but no steps were taken.

Eventually, the aggrieved farmers were forced to carry out a human chain program in the brickfield area demanding to remove brick kilns from the middle of a vast tract of cropland. They complained that it was damaging crops every year.

The paddy planted on 300 bighas of land near Dhanmondol area of the union have dried out and turned sterile under the impact of smoke emitted from Shaheen Bricks Fields, said local growers.

The leaves of banana, mango, jackfruit, litchi and betel nut trees had turned brownish due to toxic smoke from the brick kilns, said farmers of the area.

Not only that, the health of the common people in the area, including the students of the school and college in the vicinity of the brickfield is at risk.

According to the farmers, 20 brick kilns have been set up in Dandapal Union on agricultural land. Of these, 3 have been approved but the rest were all illegally built, without proper permits.

Despite the destruction of agriculture, environment and biodiversity, some connected people built these brick kilns exercising political influence and paying bribes.

Farmers of the area alleged that a vast tract of cropland gets damaged by toxic smoke every year but nobody dared to protest against the brick kiln owners as they are very powerful.

Even the local representatives and the Agriculture Department officials are all in their pocket.

Last year, the brick kiln owners promised compensation, but only some of the farmers received a paltry amount.

The poor and marginal farmers of the area have cultivated boro paddy by borrowing Tk 10,000 per bigha of land. Now, they are in a huge crisis as their crops have been damaged by toxic smoke.

One bigha of land normally produces 30 to 40 maunds of paddy (1 maund = just under 40 kg). The farmers don't even expect a good yield anymore this year, and the same thing happened last year.

"Now we are worried that how we will repay our loans with these damaged crops," said Rafiqul Islam, a farmer of Dhonmondol area.

Another farmer in the area, Omar Ali, said "I planted paddy investing my last coin. If that paddy is spoiled then I will be completely ruined."

Despite repeated calls, the local Agriculture Department has completely abandoned them, they alleged. Not only did they neglect to visit the affected areas, they did not even impart any advice to the farmers in the area, alleged Omar.

To make matters worse, the affected farmers said that the owner of the brick kilns were threatening to frame them in a false case.

Visiting the spot, it was seen that the paddy fields have turned almost red due to smoke and gas. The vegetation in the area is all parched and lifeless.

Thick smoke makes it difficult to breathe in the area, our local correspondent observed. No local representatives or the Agriculture Department officials were seen in the affected areas.

Contacted, Deputy Assistant Agriculture Officer Humayun said that he told the owner of the brickfield to spray pesticides in the paddy field. He brushed it all aside as nothing too complicated.

His insincerity is apparent from the fact that he suggests spraying pesticides for a problem caused by poisonous gases.

Azgar Ali, chairman of Dandapal Union said, "I heard about it from the farmers. I have told the owner of the brick kiln to compensate the farmers," added the chairman.

The owner of Shaheen Brickfield, Md Shaheen Hossain, refused to talk to our correspondent.

However, his manager, Anwar Hossain said pesticides were being sprayed on paddy fields following complaints from farmers. The problem will be solved soon, or else compensation will be paid if necessary, he added.

However, the farmers in their latest stance have declared they want nothing to do with compensation - they just want illegally-built brick kilns on agricultural land to be removed.

Touhidul Bari Babu, head of the Department of Geography and Environmental Studies at Panchagarh Government Women's College, said a large amount of toxic sulphur dioxide was being emitted through the low chimney of the brick kilns. Once the gas mixes with the air and interacts with the stems and leaves of fruits and crops, they get destroyed.

Acting Deputy Director of the district Agriculture Extension Department for Panchagarh, Shamim Hossain, said he had no knowledge of the situation.

"As I know about it now, I will ask the Debiganj Upazila Agriculture Officer to take action in this regard," he told UNB.

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