On December 3, we reported that four workers were killed in a landslide in Jaflong while they were extracting stones from a quarry illegally. But, further developments on the story, reported on December 4, reveal far worse. It is now confirmed that not four, but five workers were killed in the landslide. The traders who appointed the workers tried to cover up the incident, and had managed to recover and send one of the bodies to the village home of the deceased.
Illegal extraction of stone from quarries in Syhet are not new: only in 2017, at least 30 workers have died during these extractions. There are regulations on paper, and in this particular incident, manual extraction was permitted. But the workers had gone beyond the limit of 10 metres while digging.
In October last year, we reported how the use of illegal excavators in Jaflong is endangering the environment of the ecologically critical area. We reported how these stone traders had the backing of influential people and ruling party leaders. That despite the presence of task forces to stop illegal extraction, it has continued unabated should tell us the extent of the problem.
The new developments, however, pose another serious issue: that of complete disregard for workers' safety and attempt to cover up deaths. Of course, this has been possible because of the illicit nature of the business where, much less the environment, even workers' lives are of secondary concern.
The law and regulations exist. It is imperative that this incident acts as a wake-up call to the authorities. Besides ensuring those responsible for the death of the five workers and trying to cover it up are arrested and punished, it is time that the overall situation is tackled—for the safety of the workers and for protecting the ecologically critical Jaflong.
The Daily Star, January 5, 2018