SIRAHA, March 9: There is a small village to the south-east of Siraha Municipality known as Sukhchaina. To the west of this village lies Muslim settlements called Nawatoli and Madar while Dhanuk Tole is to the north of the village. The southern part of it is attached with the Indian border. In the middle of these settlements runs the Rishi Brick Factory.
The dense cloud of black smog released from the chimney of this factory suffocates the locals of Sukhchaina. "The clothes that we leave for drying up after washing often turn black till the evening," said Saharun Khatun of Nawatoli, adding, "Even the roofs of our houses have turned black."
According to her, the black smog spreads across the village compelling the villagers to inhale the toxic air from the time they wake up till they sleep.
On top of that, the often blowing wind adds to their woes. "Sometimes we have to eat our meal by removing the dark particles stuck above it," laments Saharun. These people can neither live here nor can they go anywhere else.
There is a mosque 100 meters away from the factory. One can find small particles of coal from the front yard to the roof of the mosque. "Our settlement often gets blanketed with dense black emissions of coal when the wind blows," said Mohammad Motiul Rahman, adding, "It's hard for us to breathe."
Locals have been time and again complaining that the fumes released from the brick kiln are not just harming their health bust also affecting the cultivable land. It's not that the locals had not objected to the establishment of the factory but they were not heard. They have knocked the doors of municipality, police, ministers, journalists and every possible person they could but still their pleas fell into deaf ears.
Despite their request to the political party leaders, many refused to raise their voice against the project. In fact some were found defending the operation of the factory. According to Mohamamd Shariff, locals had submitted a written statement signed by all to the municipality as well as the Small and Cottage Industry (SCI) on April 17, 2016. They have even sent a copy of that to the District Administration Office and other government bodies.
"We had requested Rajendra Kumar Lal Karna, then chief of the SCI, to stop the operation of the factory by putting the life of so many people at risk. But still, he did not listen to us," laments Shariff.
A recommendation letter written by the municipality to the SCI falsely states that there are no schools, settlements, temples among others within 1km area of the factory. The letter signed by Chief Administrative Officer of Siraha, Ramashish Bhindawar, states that the factory was given a go ahead as no one filed a complaint against the factory during the 15-day notice published by the municipality before its operation.
Mohammad Abdul Rahman, ward member of Nawatoli, said that the government should scrap the registration of the factory which has been built by breaching the law.
Likewise, the students of Siswani-based Panchunath Basic School in Lahan-22 often suffer from fever, common cold, itchy eyes among others, thanks to the row of four brick factories attached to the western side of the school. The school Principal Harihar Chaudhary informed that the smog released from the school has especially affected small children.
As per the details provided by SCI, a total of 80 brick factories are currently operating in the district. As there is a saying that every cloud has a silver lining, the announcement of the newly elected Minister for Population and Environment Lal Babu Pandit to punish those involved in polluting the environment has offered a respite to the locals here.