• Wednesday, Nov 13, 2019
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Experts: ‘Changes to Brick Production Act contribute to more air pollution’

  • Published at 01:03 am December 18th, 2018
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The new ordinance allows brick field owners to set up brick kilns in front of Local Government and Engineering Department (LGED) roads Mahmud Hossain Opu/Dhaka Tribune

New amendments to the existing law make it easier to obtain brick kiln production licenses

Significant changes to the Brick Production and Brick Kiln Building (Control) Act of 2013 will pave the way to more pollution from mushrooming brick kilns, experts and environmentalists said.

Under Bangladesh’s current five-year plan, when the government is committed to reducing air pollution to zero by 2020, the presidential ordinance published on November 18, 2018, made at least 40 changes to the Act via a gazette signed by Mohammad Shahidul Haque, law ministry senior secretary (legislative and parliament affairs division).

The changes have made it easier to obtain brick kiln production licenses.

The act, passed in parliament in November 2013, prohibits brick kilns within the boundaries of several areas such as: residential, preserved or commercial areas; city corporation, municipality, or upazila headquarters; public or privately owned forests, sanctuaries, gardens or wetlands; agricultural land, Ecologically Critical Areas (ECA) and areas adjacent to these areas – making it a punishable offense,taking into account the air pollution, damage to agricultural land and other environmental threats caused by brick production. 

However the new ordinance demolished section 8(3)(cha) and 5(4) of the laws, potentially allowing brick field owners to set up brick kilns in front of Local Government and Engineering Department (LGED) roads, and could also enable kiln owners to use local roads for brick transportation. The earlier law puts a bar and makes it a punishable offence to use such roads that are damaged by heavy transportation.

While there are efforts and demands to minimize air pollution in Dhaka, which is listed as the second highest air polluted city in the world, the newly made changes are a serious blow to the environment.

Amendments made

The ordinance gave a prerequisite in Article 8(e) of the law, saying that brick kilns can enjoy waivers to get licenses in local, agricultural and wetlands, if they can keep pollution within acceptable levels.

However, officials of the environment department said they do not have sufficient manpower and technology to monitor the kilns properly.

The new ordinance also amended section 5(2) of the law, allowing brick field owners to take soil from “wetlands” by order of the deputy commissioner, whereas the earlier law made it mandatory for the permission to change any class of the wetland to come from the appropriate authority and department of environment.

The new ordinance also replaced a provision that the government can set a certain time of the year and a certain fixed number for making hollow bricks in the brick field, which would be set by government notifications, whereas the original law makes mandatory the production of at least 50% hollow brick from each brick kiln.

Asadur Rahman Khan, vice president of the Bangladesh Brick Field Owners Association, earlier said they had been facing problems in obtaining licenses as the law required environmental clearance. However, he hoped that the process would be much easier now.

“With the changes made in the ordinance, 40% to 50% brick fields will be able to get license and environmental clearances as well,” he said.

Asadur however admitted the fact that measuring air quality standard level is not possible in Bangladesh due to the lack of available technology.

“Hollow bricks do not differ in the amount of soil, but may need more soil than normal bricks due to their compressed nature,” he said.

Affects of brick kilns

According to the environment department, 58% of air pollution in Dhaka is caused by brick fields. 

Research conducted by Bangladesh’s Department of Environment, in association with the Norwegian Institute for Air Research, states brick kilns in and around Dhaka are responsible for nearly 60% of the densely populated capital’s air pollution – with the rest coming from dust and vehicles, along with other sources. The air pollution related death rate is highest in Bangladesh within the region, and the mortality rate is double the world’s average, World Bank findings said.

The new ordinance will enhance the risk of air pollution and the death causes by air pollution.

Environmentalists said

Professor Dr Ahmad Kamruzzaman Majumder, chairman department of environmental science at Stamford University Bangladesh said the ordinance cannot be accepted as it will contribute more to air pollution.

“Dhaka is already the second highest air polluted city of the world and brick fields are mostly responsible for the air pollution. In 2015, 46,000 people died due to air pollution and this latest move will act as a boomerang,” said the professor.

Officials of the Department Of Environment (DoE) blamed brick field owners for taking the advantage of the ordinance, as parliament is currently not in session. The DoE will face a great challenge to keep the air quality at tolerable levels because of the new ordinance.

Initiatives by experts

Additional Director General of Environment Department said to amend the law, they had been in consultation for the last two years with stakeholders, including brick field owners and non-government organizations working for clean environment.

“The amended draft was sent to cabinet to place at parliament as a bill. Cabinet discussed on the draft but did not approve it, rather returned it to make some amendments. In the meantime the new ordinance came into action by government notification,” he said.

The new ordinance will, in some cases, create a problem of duel authority between the DG of the DoE and the deputy commissioner, he said, also claiming the amendment would not affect air quality.

Currently there is no parliament, but the president is empowered by article 93(1) of the constitution to issue ordinances.

Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon (Bapa) General Secretary Dr Abdul Matin said the President could have considered the issues more carefully, and the amendment could have been passed in next parliament.

“A section of businessman, bureaucrats and politicians are waiting for the chance to grab the opportunity to turn things to their favor,” he said.

The government usually does nothing willingly to protect the environment, he said.

“The government, which had enacted the Brick Production and Kiln Building (Control) Act after long discussion and movements over 10 years, is now bowing to pressures from anti-environmentalist and self-interested groups,” he said, demanding immediate changes to be made in the ordinance.