BUDGAM: The numerous brick kilns in Budgam are posing a serious danger to life and health of people and the environment. Experts say that the large number of brick kilns is devastating the agriculture and wrecking the health of people living in the vicinity of these establishments.
According to figures provided by the Pollution Control Board (PCB), nearly 66 percent of the brick kilns in the state are in Budgam. Of the total 350 brick kilns in the state, 230 are located in this densely-populated district where 86 percent of the population is dependent on agriculture.
The state’s brick kiln industry directly employs about one lakh people, mostly outsiders, and has an annual turnover of Rs 600 crore. Nearly 20 lakh bricks are produced from each kiln annually, depending upon weather conditions and the quality of raw material. It all comes at a heavy cost to the health and environment.
Ghulam Nabi Ganai, an environment expert, says, “The burning of coal in the brick kilns releases several air pollutants in large quantity. Carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and particulate matter are among the air pollutants. The people and living organisms around these brick kilns are prone to serious diseases.”
Ganai said that because the brick kilns emit black smoke, the pollinating species of birds and insects move away from the areas near brick kilns, which adversely affects agriculture and fruit production. The carbon dust emitted in the black smoke destroys the fertility of flowers, preventing them from turning into fruits.
“Nature controls the environment through its pest control mechanism. The carbon dust destroys the biodiversity and the quality (fertility) of the soil declines, which leads to a collapse in agriculture,” he said.
Such is the level of pollution in the area that the agricultural university SKUAST has asked farmers to plant only potato crops in areas like Saibug, Ragar and many other adjoining areas.
Health experts say that the black smoke emitted from the burning of coal leads to reparatory ailments like bronchitis and asthma.
“Thousands of tonnes of charcoal, firewood, biomass, rice husk and lignite are burnt in a brick kiln, emitting thousands of tonnes of black smoke. Long-term exposure to this smoke may result in liver and renal diseases and even cancer,” said Dr Majid Shah, a physician who hails from Budgam district.
He suggested that all brick kilns be shifted away from populated areas or they use environment-friendly technology.
According to locals, court orders banning the operation of illegal kilns have had no effect. Mohammad Ashraf Rather, a resident of Wadwan, Shoolipora, said, “The discharge of dust and the continuous noise produced by these units has made our life hell.” Farmers claim that their crops have suffered. “I planted brinjal and chilly in my field but the fertility of my soil has been damaged by the smoke released by the nearby brick kiln,” said Ghulam Ahamd Yatoo, a farmer from Nasrullah Pora area.
Yatoo said he also cultivated mustard crop on a piece of land nearby a brick kiln, but the crop did not grow properly. “Experts from SKUAST had suggested that we plant potato crop, but I did not think it would fulfil my requirements,” said Yatoo.
He said that a few years ago his field had fertile land where mustard crop and vegetables grew. But when some brick kilns were set up near the field, the production of crops declined each year. In February, during the assembly session, former minister and senior National Conference leader Aga Syed Ruhullah Mehdi had urged the government to save Budgam from turning into an ecological disaster because of the mushrooming brick kilns. Mehdi, who is the MLA from Budgam, had called for rationalisation of brick kilns in his home district.
While replying to him, Minister for Food, Civil Supplies and Consumer Affairs Chowdhary Zulfkar Ali had said that the government was coming up with a comprehensive policy to avoid mushrooming of illegal brick kilns in Budgam district.