Imtiaz Ahmed Sajal: In 2013 the Brick Manufacturing and Brick Kilns Establishment (Control) Act has been passed to establish control over brick manufacturing and brick kiln establishment for the interest of conservation and development of environment and biodiversity.
This Act came into force from 1st July 2014, and permits two years’ time limit to convert the brick kilns into modern technology and relocate thereof.
The Act imposes prohibition on establishment of brick kilns within the boundaries of several areas, like residential, preserved or commercial area; City Corporation, Municipality or Upazila headquarters; public or privately owned forests, sanctuary, gardens or wetlands; agricultural land; Ecologically Critical Area (ECA); and areas adjacent to these areas.
By analyzing this provision it is assumed that, after two years of enforcement (30 June, 2016) no suitable place can be found to establish brick kiln in Bangladesh. For instance: as per law no brick kiln can be kept or established in an ECA and within one kilometer distance from the boundaries of ECA.
In 2009 Department of Environment (DoE) declared the four rivers around Dhaka city as ECA. On the other hand almost all the brick kilns of Dhaka city are situated in the banks of these rivers, where they can be relocated? Again the law prohibits to keep or to establish brick kiln in the agricultural land and within one kilometer distance from the boundaries thereof.
By the pressure of increased population and use of agricultural land in non-agricultural purposes country’s cultivable land is decreasing. To meet the demands of food for this increasing population, agricultural lands are used to produce agricultural products more than once in a year.
The Act further provides that, no brick kiln can be kept or established within minimum half kilometer distance from upazila, union or rural roads made by the LGED. Ordinarily in the both sides of LGED made roads there is strip plantation (one type of social forestry).
Social forestry is a part of privately owned forest where brick kiln cannot be kept or established in and within one kilometer distance. The law prohibits to keep or to establish brick kiln within one kilometer distance, from any special structure, railways, educational institutions, hospitals, clinics and research institutions.
With all these prohibitions in mind, it suggests to establish brick kiln in such a place where there is no human mobility. But in the reality of this small sized and densely populated country it is quite impossible to find out such place.
The law provides mandatory provision to manufacture minimum 50 percent hollow brick in the brick kilns of modern technology which is less pollutant, energy efficient and with advanced technology. If all the brick kilns are converted into modern technology such hardship in site selection is not considered as reasonable to the experts.
The law speaks about different areas or zones. In reality there is no complete land zoning in Bangladesh as a result some areas are expanding indiscriminately (residential area, commercial area) and some are shrinking alarmingly (agricultural land). Without a comprehensive land zoning implementation of this provision is almost impossible.
The law provides that, no person can use the soil as raw material in brick manufacturing, after cutting or collecting it from agricultural land, hill or hillock. Brick manufacturers can only cut or collect soil from dead pond, canal, swampland, creek, deep tank, rivers, haor-baor, char land and fallow land with the approval of appropriate authorities.
But the law has not defined appropriate authorities and not prescribed the procedure. As a result most of around 7,000 brick kilns across the country use topsoil of agricultural land to make bricks, it takes around 127 crore cubic feet of fertile soil to manufacture 1,500 crore bricks per year.
The law strictly prohibits the use of wood as fuel in brick kilns. Brick manufacturers can only use coal as fuel containing prescribed standard of sulfur, ash, mercury or similar material. Till now the government has not determined any standard or quality for coal.
As a result Brick kilns across the country are illegally using firewood instead of coal. About 2 million tons of firewood are burned in the brick kilns per year, which facilitates deforestation and extinction of biodiversity and pollutes the atmosphere.
Environment Courts are empowered to take cognizance of any offence punishable under this Act. Only three Environment Courts in Dhaka, Chittagong and Sylhet have been so far established and functioning. Providing environmental clearance for brick kilns and monitoring the compliance of this Act with the primary responsibility of filing case and investigation thereof is vested to the DoE.
Establishment and smooth functioning of Environment Courts depend on DoE. Though it is aimed to establish one or more Environment Court/s in 64 districts but in reality DoE has office only in 22 districts. It is practically impossible to establish Environment Court and effective implementation of this Act without office and manpower of DoE.
This Act should be amended in light with the field level study considering the issues mentioned with the participation of people. At the same time for the effective implementation of this Act concerned institutional frameworks should be strengthened and necessary by-laws should be framed.