A Brick Wall in Change

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Click to read the story on Star magazine

Watching the chimneys at the brickfields on the outskirts of the capital that exhaust mainly black smoke gives a common impression — “it doesn’t matter”.

These furnaces have been set up almost every corner of Dhaka – along the highways and the rivers surrounding the mega city of around 20 million people, and are operating around seven months a year. Surprisingly, the number of such brickfields is increasing gradually at a time when air pollution is severely hampering the lives of people as well as the environment – the lands, crops, water. The presence of the brickfields is higher around the newly-built urban areas as well as rural areas where the authorities can’t reach so easily to stop them.

The present government and those in the past have been speaking against polluters and pledging stern actions against them. Even the higher court has intervened recently to force the government agencies concerned to ensure that rules are followed while establishing and running the brickfields.

But still, we can see that either due to reluctance, inefficiency or inabilities of the authorities, and muscle power of those owners of the illegal and unauthorised brick kilns the scenario is yet to adopt a drastic change.

Doesn’t it mean that those entrepreneurs have sacks of money to manage the authorities concerned in issuing licences for the new brickfields at odd places beyond the legal framework allows or they have acquaintances in the ruling party as well as are assisted by local goons to easily go for setting up one or even more brick kilns anywhere without securing a license at all?

The present scenario also shows that they can use whatever they want to burn the bricks in the furnaces since the government’s monitoring hands are inadequate.

With the help of such instruments, the influential owners of kilns ensure that they can install brickfields anywhere they want, can use wood or abandoned rubber tyres, instead of coal, to burn bricks, and can collect earth from anywhere and use those for making bricks.

It seems that they are just showing their “thumbs” towards the country’s existing laws – not that stern to be afraid of – and threatening those who are supposed to protest their whimsical operations. They have been continuously hammering the environment because they want to utilise the scope of poor execution of laws and make larger profits during this time of rapid “urbanisation” when bricks are must for any civil construction.

Even though the demand for bricks and scope of bagging higher profits are increasing, the kiln owners have not ensured conversion of their age-old method of burning bricks let alone shifting those away from localities to damage lives of people and the dumb environment a little less. They even do not care using relatively less harmful coal than burring wood and rubber that contribute to the emission of huge black smoke and are putting more hazards to health.

Air pollution recently became a much-talked-about issue these days when most people in the cities are facing breathing problems and are often falling sick, and as long-term effects, are losing stamina. In case of Dhaka, the mega brickfields around the city are contributing highly, almost half of what the other sources are doing.

In several global studies carried out in the recent years, Dhaka city secured position among the least liveable cities across the globe in terms of pollution, mainly contamination in the air, water and lack of civic issues.

The sorry state of Dhaka is amplified by the brickfields around the city – mainly Aminbazar, Ashulia and Basila – where hundreds of kilns beside localities and rivers have been operating “unabated” for years, whereas the law says those can’t be set up within three kilometres of municipal areas or forests.

These places that have already turned into deserts are being extended gradually and someone might find it like a revolution ongoing in the brick-making industry.

It clearly exposes the “business-friendly” manner of the whole government mechanism and well-established aggression of the socially influential individuals and their cadres.

The scenario also reflects that the people, except for some green groups, are remaining silent against the culprits, fearing possible threats to come towards them.

It can also be learned that there is hardly any coordination among the authorities concerned to contain undisciplined growth in establishing brickfields or bringing those under regulation. At the same time, taking legal measures against the killers of the Earth is mostly absent due to the strong ring of the polluters and lack of manpower in the executing agencies.

Thus, it seems we – the people and their saviours, the government – have no concern about what’s going to happen after several years to the lands currently used by the brick kilns, the air and the extent of health-related complications we are going to face. What will happen if we fail to take any “significant and revolutionary” initiative against the “killers” right away?

Isn’t it merely the after-effects of “unplanned industrial revolution” followed by “sudden urbanisation” and the lack of enthusiasm in our minds for the environment which we depend on to live?

“Development” from any aspect is needed, cherished and indeed praiseworthy. But it should be checked in a planned manner so that the people, who are craving for it, do not fall victim to its side-effects. Then it may work as a boomerang.



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