The High Court shut down thirty-three illegal brick kilns in Khagrachhari.
In the last four days, the district administration carried out raids in nine upazilas of Khagrachhari, declaring the brick kilns closed and raising red flags there.
Khagrachhari Deputy Commissioner Pratap Chandra Biswas said, "In response to a writ petition, the High Court has declared all brick kilns in Khagrachhari, Rangamati, and Bandarban illegal, giving directives to shut down the brickfields within seven days."
"As soon as we received the court order, we started operations to close down the brick kilns and 33 brick kilns in nine upazilas of the district have been shut down," he said.
Earlier, in mid-January, environmental organisation Human Rights and Peace for Bangladesh filed a writ petition with the High Court against illegal brick kilns in the Chattogram Hill Tracts (CHT).
Hearing the petition on 25 January, a virtual High Court bench gave directives to shut down all illegal brick kilns in Khagrachhari, Bandarban, and Rangamati within seven days.
Environment and forest officials are taking the initiative positively. However, brick kiln owners and workers have opposed the initiative.
Ferdous Anwar, deputy director of the Department of Environment, Chattogram, said, "The environment in the CHT was constantly facing disasters and the High Court's directive is a timely decision. Now the hills will get back their own environment, and nature will get its own balance."
Humayun Kabir, divisional forest officer of Khagrachhari, said, "Forest wood was burned indiscriminately in the brickfields and the protected forests of the CHT were becoming treeless day by day. Due to a manpower crisis and various other constraints, it was not possible for the forest department to take any effective action."
Closing down the brick kilns will play a vital role in preserving the protected forests of the Chattogram Hill Tracts, he hoped.
However, Md Mostafawho works for RPS Bricks in Kamalchhari of Khagrachhari district headquarters, said, "Around 400 to 600 workers are employed at this brick kiln. Every brick kiln in the district has a similarly large number of workers. Working in the brick kiln, I manage my household expenses on a small income. The sudden closure of the brick kilns has left thousands of working families in great uncertainty."
ATM Rashed Uddin, proprietor of Imran Enterprise, a brick kiln in Maischhari of Mahalchhari upazila, said, "If the court order was served before the start of the season, businessmen would not have made new investments. Most brick kiln owners will go bankrupt due to this closure in the middle of the season."
Local contractor KM Ismail Hossain said there is no alternative yet to bricks in Khagrachhari to carry out development work. There is no factory or entrepreneur making concrete blocks in this district.
Reprip Chakma, another contractor in the district, said closing the brick kilns without alternative arrangements is not a viable solution. As a result of the closure of the brick kilns, all development work in these three hill districts will be hampered.
Advocate Manzil Morshed, president of the Human Rights and Peace for Bangladesh, says "Brickfields are the main cause of environmental degradation in the mountains. Hopefully, the brick kiln owners will also realise this fact and set up concrete block factories leaving the brick business behind."
Akhter Hossain, a brick kiln trader and vice-chairman of Khagrachhari Sadar Upazila Parishad, said, "We are also considering investing in concrete block factories. However, closing the brick fields in a hurry is not an effective solution. Brick kiln owners need some time to restructure their businesses. Otherwise, brick kiln owners will never be able to recover from their losses."