Shahpur’s brick kilns choke workers, make soil infertile

Health Rural Karnataka Safety

No unit has certification on pollution

Soppamma D, a brick kiln worker in Shahpur, coughed continuously as she added water to mud clay and poured it into a stencil to make rectangular clay bricks. Her husband picked up the dried ones stacked them, and fired them using coal.
This is the daily routine for the couple and a few others working at brick kilns.  Shahpur, in Yadgir district, has more than 40 kilns where red bricks and hollow block bricks are made.

Soppamma, 58, informed The Observer: “We are not provided any safety equipment like masks. I have not seen anyone wearing masks here. When these bricks are heated with coal, there is a lot of heat and smoke, making it difficult for us to work.”
Kotayappa, another worker at the unit, said: “We make bricks with clay soil and fire them with coal or wood by keeping it under the bricks. Burning causes pollution. Because of burning, almost everyone working here has cough. We do not know any other work. I have been doing this for the past 20 years in various places. If they ban brick-making, I do not know how I will survive.”  

None of the brick kilns in Shahpur taluk has a no-objection certificate from the Pollution Control Board as mandated by the Centre.

Radhakrishna, who owns a bricks and hollow blocks factory, said: “We did not apply for a certificate.” About the facilities provided for workers, he said: “They come from various places and are given a place to stay here or in nearby villages. They are contract-based workers because we cannot produce bricks during the rainy season.”
The red brick industry is the fourth largest consumer of coal in India. It is one of the largest emitters of carbon dioxide and black carbon. These kilns create a large amount of air pollution. Workers, who lack pollution masks, suffer from respiratory problems including asthma.  The units are largely unregulated and unmonitored. 

Taluk health officer Dr Ramesh said the workers do not know the impact of burning bricks on their health. “Asthma is very common among people who work in brick kilns. They come here for treatment. Very few come for cancer treatment, and we send to Yadgir hospitals.  Most of them come only after their condition becomes worse. They do not cover themselves while working because they do not know that they should do.”

Other owners of brick units The Observer spoke with said they do not have any certificate.
Firing bricks makes soil infertile because earth is dug up and turned into clay for making bricks. The kilns are mostly located in agricultural fields.

The Observer did not find agricultural activity near the brick units. Farmers said that crops do not grow because of the deteriorated soil.

Muthaiah L, a farmer for the past ten years, shared: “Though they are small kilns, they export to other places. Nothing can be grown in that area because the soil becomes infertile.”

Sandeep Anirudhan, an environmentalist, said: “Bricks used for construction are unsustainable for the environment. The bricks, when burnt, create a large carbon footprint, causing pollution, destruction of soil and waterbeds. This, in a few decades, will destroy the whole ecosystem.”

According to news reports, in October 2018, the Supreme Court-appointed Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority pushed the National Capital Region governments to ensure that all brick kilns implement the “zigzag” technology, which can reduce emissions by 80%.
On February 13, 2020, The Financial Express reported that illegal bricks kilns continue to sprout in Ghazipur, a district near New Delhi even after the High Court’s order to shut down all to reduce pollution in the capital.

A report in The Times of India dated June 27, 2019, said 226 brick kilns in UP that were found using traditional methods were closed down. They had ignored the order to shift to the zigzag technology.


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