Impact on environment
Over 4,000 illegal brick kilns
Despite various efforts by the government, the number of illegal brick kilns in the country is increasing, resulting in air pollution and environmental disaster.
Although the environment department conducts drives to shut down the illegal brick kilns, after a few days the kilns are back in operation.
Half of the brick kilns don't even have environment clearance certificates and are operating in violation of the law.
According to a report sent from the environment department to the ministry of environment, forest and climate this week, a total of 1,500 brick kilns have increased in the last four years.
Although the environment department conducted drivees and shut down about 1,000 brick kilns, 75 per cent of those have started again.
However, a non-government studies indicate most of the brick kilns are operating in defiance of the rules and thus causing air pollution. Dhaka ranked among the top four in the air quality index between morning and 7:00pm on Monday.
According to the Environment Conservation Act, 2010 and the Brick Manufacturing and Brick Kiln Establishment (control) Act, 2013, brick kilns cannot be established within one kilometer of any settlement, hills, forests or water bodies. Establishing brick kilns in such areas is illegal. However, almost none the brick kilns in the country are complying with these laws.
According to the environment department, a total of 7,086 brick kilns are operating in the country. Of these, 4,505 brick kilns have no clearance certificates. In these brick kilns, about 35 million bricks are made annually. 130 million metric tonnes of soil are required for these bricks. Bricks are being made with fertile soil of cultivable land.
According to the Prothom Alo, brick kilns are not only destroying the fertile soil, but also causing permanent damage to the air, soil and nature. These brick kilns are operating under the ownership of local politicians and influential persons.
According to the Environment Conservation Act, 2010 and the Brick Manufacturing and Brick Kiln Establishment (control) Act, 2013, brick kilns cannot be established within one kilometer of any settlement, hills, forests and water bodies. Establishing brick kiln in this manner is illegal. However, almost none of the brick kilns are complying with these laws
These brick kilns are the main source of LR (Local Resource) funds for various government and non-government programmes. So the administration reportedly is not taking any action against these illegal brick kilns.
Most of the brick kilns are causing damage to the crops on the agricultural land and residents in the adjacent areas are suffering from various diseases.
Environment department director Ziaul Haque, speaking to Prothom Alo, said, "Alongside drives against the illegal brick kilns, we are trying to make them aware. We are also assisting to establish block factories as an alternative to brick kilns. However, the illegal brick kilns cannot be shut without the cooperation and regular monitoring of the local administration."
Influence used to break rules
While travelling on the Dhaka-Aricha highway via Gabtali in the capital towards Manikganj, over one hundred brick kilns can be seen on both sides of the highway. These brick kilns have been established on crop land, settlement areas and on the banks of rivers.
According to the environment department, there are 284 brick kilns in Savar and Dhamrai. Of those, 67 are illegal.
Alongside drives against the illegal brick kilns, we are trying to make them aware. We are also assisting to establish block factories as an alternative to brick kilns. However, the illegal brick kilns cannot be shut without the cooperation and regular monitoring of the local administration.
While visiting 23 brick kilns in different areas of South Keraniganj on Monday morning, it was found that soil is being piled bringing through the river route from various areas. Black smoke is emitting from the brick kilns. This smoke is polluting the air and the environment.
There are nine brick-kilns including ARB, RBM, IBM at Rajhalt and Rajendrapur area of Teghoria in South Keraniganj.
Teghoria union former chairman late Judge Mia's family owns four brick kilns including RBM and ARB. Current chairman and Keraniganj upazila Awami League committee member Md Lat Mia is owner of three brick kilns of IBM Company.
The environment department shut down Lat Mia's two brick kilns after conducting operations in the last three years. After remaining shut for a few days, those are back in operation again.
Speaking to Prothom Alo, Teghoria chairman Lat Mia claimed three of his brick kilns have clearance certificates. When asked about the area on which the brick kilns are established, he said, "I am unable to say anything about this. I have to see the documents."
500 brick kilns to be demolished in 100 days
Under such a circumstance, the environment, forest and climate affairs minister of the new government, Saber Hossain Chowdhury, announced the programmes for 100 days. He said 500 brick kilns will be demolished during the period.
According to the environment department, brick kilns are not allowed to use a traditional chimney of 120 feet.
After taking this decision in 2012, the government in 2015 made an announcement that the brick kilns without new technology will be shut. In the following year, an operation was launched against the illegal brick kilns.
Only shutting brick kilns will not work to reduce air pollution. Dust from the construction and smoke from the transport is a big source of pollution. Pollution will increase from the coal-based power plants and energy oil in the future
In 2020, the government made a list of illegal brick kilns. It was said there are about 8000 brick kilns and 3,000 of them are illegal. There are 1,246 illegal brick kilns in 12 towns surrounding Dhaka. There are 559 illegal brick kilns in Dhaka and its adjacent five districts. In the last one and a half years, 737 brick kilns have been shut.
The environment department mainly breaks a portion of the chimney of a brick kiln and ends its operation. But a few days later the brick kiln started its operation.
Speaking to Prothom Alo, environment, forest and climate minister Saber Hossain Chowdhury said, "Brick kilns are the main reason for air pollution in the country. Simultaneously these are causing damage to agriculture, biodiversity and nature. We will shut down brick kilns in phases. In accordance with the law, we will take punitive action including imposition of fines. Brick kilns will be shut in such a way so that they cannot be started again."
Higher number of brick kilns in five districts
To improve air quality in Dhaka, the High Court on 26 November 2020 issued an order to take steps against illegal brick kilns in five districts. The districts are Dhaka, Narayanganj, Narsingdi, Gazipur and Mymensingh. Afterwards, the environment department strengthened operations against illegal brick kilns in five districts.
According to the World Bank survey on the Bangladesh environment-2023, brick kilns are one of the main sources of air pollution in greater Dhaka.
The survey report says household biomass burning from cooking purpose contributes 28 per cent air pollution, power plants 24 per cent, brick kilns 13 per cent, road dust and soil dust 13 per cent, open municipal waste burning 11 per cent and emission from vehicles 4-5 per cent. Other sources contribute 6 per cent.
Little response to block bricks
The government is encouraging alternatives to burned bricks. An urge has been made to make block bricks in the public and private factories instead of burned bricks in the chimney. In 2015, the government issued a circular instructing compulsory use of block bricks in all construction except roads.
A target was set to implement the decision by 2025. But the progress is very little.
According to the environment department, a total of 151 block brick factories have been established till January 2024. 88 factories have been built in Dhaka and Chattogram.
Speaking to Prothom Alo, professor of Dhaka University's chemistry department and air expert Abdus Salam said only shutting down brick kilns will not work to reduce air pollution. Dust from the construction and smoke from the transport is a big source of pollution. Pollution will increase from the coal-based power plants and energy oil in the future.
He said the government has to increase control and monitoring in these sectors.
Environment friendly brick factories including block bricks have to be increased, Abdus Salam.
*This report, originally published in Prothom Alo print editions, has been rewritten in English by Rabiul Islam.