A five-year survey by the Department of Environment (DoE) on the quality of air in seven major cities has found that 50 percent of the pollution is being caused by brick kilns resulting in all sorts of health hazards for the city residents. Narayanganj was worst affected, followed by Dhaka, Gazipur, Rajshahi, Chattogram, Khulna and Barishal. The omnipresence of polluted air causes various diseases, ranging from respiratory infections (including pneumonia) to heart ailments and lung cancer, amongst other things. While it is mandatory for brick kilns to get prior permission from DoE to set up a kiln, 2015 data shows that 1,957 (out of 6,895) of them did not bother to obtain a clearance. And although the government has been promoting the use of Hybrid Hoffman Kiln (HHK) technology that requires less coal and wood, thereby lessening pollution, change has been slow.
The deadly nature of the black smoke billowed out by traditional brick kilns goes a long way to explain the alarming rise in the number of patients of asthma, bronchiolitis, respiratory tract infections and common cold during the dry season. According to the Brick Manufacturing and Brick Kiln Establishment (Control) Act 2013, no brick kiln can be established in areas declared as a municipality, city corporation, reserve forest, or sanctuary. Yet, as we see from DoE's own survey, the law is there only in name.
Though the DoE claims that it has shut down various kilns and fined others over the years, the sheer size of the industry and the fact that kiln owners rush to get a stay order on the few attempts by DoE to shut down an illegally constructed or operated kiln, effectively bar any serious effort to bring to heel this hugely polluting and largely unregulated industry. It all boils down to the seriousness with which authorities view matters of public health because when it comes to air pollution, seriousness at policy levels to check the menace has been sorely lacking.