In September 1999, the Union ministry of environment and forests (moef), seeking to conserve topsoil and promote flyash utilisation by the brick industry, issued a notification: "No person within a radius of 50 kilometre from a coal- or lignite-based thermal power plant shall manufacture clay bricks/tiles/blocks for use in construction activities without mixing at least 25 per cent of ash with soil on weight to weight basis'.
Kiln owners have been playing truant with this notification. "As per the notification, thermal power plants were supposed to give flyash free for at least ten years from the date of notification. But they are not making it available,' complains Verma of the All India Bricks and Tiles Manufacturing Federation (aibtmf). His complaint is justified. "Transporting flyash is also a big problem for us,' he adds. "Since flyash has very thin particles while transporting it flies in the air. And the major problem is to handle labour to use fly ash.'
The notification was amended on August 27, 2003 and the 50-km limit was extended to 100 km. The limit on the percentage of flyash to be mixed was increased to 75 per cent by August 2006 and 100 per cent by August 2007.
But according to aibtmf , out of the 60,000 kilns spread over India, not even a thousand of them are using flyash. "As per the flyash notification, by year 2007 we are supposed to make bricks using 100 per cent flyash. This is a major problem for us. The one who produces flyash should use it. Why should brick-kiln owners use it?' rues Surendra Pratap of aibtmf.
In October 2004, aibtmf called for a nation-wide strike against the notifications. Kiln owners courted arrest nation-wide and brick production almost stopped for at least three and half months. The strike was effective. Apparently, a few brick making units of Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Punjab have got a stay order from courts against the notifications. One of these petitioners is Satish Kumar, owner of Arya Brick Field, a brick-making unit in district Muzaffar Nagar, Uttar Pradesh. Satish had filed a writ petition in Allahabad High Court. On March 13, 2004 he got a stay order against the notification. "The modality of distribution of 50 per cent flyash among the brick kiln manufacturers situated within 100 km is not mentioned in the notification at all,' the High Court said.
It is clear the government has merely imposed a law. The stipulation to use flyash is a noble one, but the government has to go beyond lawmaking to create a system that will literally ease the flyash into brickmaking. It has to provide incentives, so that kiln-owners get around to using this waste product. Also, it must widen the ambit of flyash use. An ideal use for it is in making Portland Pozzolana Cement (ppc), but government has nothing to promote its use in the cement industry. As of now, the responsibility to use flyash is largely with brickmakers. As of now, the attempt to block the gargantuan abuse of precious topsoil remains stymied. The kilns are blithely churning out bricks. They have a cast-iron excuse: everybody needs them.
With inputs from T V Jayan and Atanu Sarkar
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