Kashmir’s rural landscape destroyed by thriving brick kilns

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Srinagar: Some 300 brick kilns, some of them operating illegally in Budgam and Pulwama districts, are posing a serious environmental disaster as hundreds of thousands of hectares of fertile agricultural land has been turned arid right under the nose of district administrations. 

As per official data, in Pulwama district a total of 47 brick kilns are operating. Out of which, 18 are registered, 17 are under construction, 7 are non-functional and 5 have been sealed or demolished.

As per the Deputy Commissioner, Pulwama, Neeraj Kumar, everything has to be within norms and guidelines. “With regards to the brick kilns operating in the green belt zones, where they have badly damaged the vegetation and wildlife, proper regulations have already been put in place,” he said.

“I agree with the fact that these kilns are doing a lot more damage to our environment than the good they are doing. Development and degradation cannot go hand in hand. To preserve our environment, we need a balanced approach from the locals as well as the authorities. So far we have sealed and demolished 5 kilns that were found violating the rules.”

The ongoing slaughter on our environment is very evident thanks to the brick kilns which are emanating harmful gases into the atmosphere. The smoke from these kilns has not only endangered various species but has also destroyed the green belt around the districts of Budgam and Pulwama.

Around 300 brick kilns are operational in Budgam and Pulwama districts with 230 kilns being operated in Central Budgam alone. “We have demolished 22 brick kilns so far in Budgam and since last year, no new brick kilns have been allowed to be set up in the area”, Deputy Commissioner, Budgam, Mir Altaf said. 

“These kilns are heavily damaging our environment so we want to reduce their numbers. These kilns where set up 30-40 years before after acquiring NOC’s from various departments. So, it is not possible to close them down. But there are rules and regulations that they have to follow and if we find anyone not adhering to these rules, we seal it immediately”.

As per the guidelines laid down by the State Pollution Control Board (SPCB), the particulate matter emitted should be between 60-110ppm and the height of the chimney should be higher than 115 feet, ensuring that the harmful gases emitted from these kilns are released in the upper atmosphere and do not come in direct contact with the human population. SPCB guidelines also suggest that there should be at least three rows of broad leaved evergreen trees around the periphery of each brick kiln.” The idea of plantation around the kilns was to reduce the range of dispersal of dust and smoke particles,” Regional Director SPCB, Mohd. Shafi said.

However, implementing these guidelines on ground seems to be a mere joke. 

As per the locals residing around these kilns, the owners of these kilns flout all rules and regulations laid down by the SPCB. There is no plantation, huge layers of dust settles down on crops, houses and everything else around but nobody pays any heed. “The smoke and dust has adversely affected visibility, reduced growth of vegetation and severely damaged the ecological balance. It has affected the human health as well.       

These kilns are a leading causing of lung diseases,” Mr. QayoomYousuf, a private teacher from Kakapora, Pulwama said.“We have approached the concerned authorities several times but all in vain. Nothing has been done on ground to stop this ecological vandalism”, he further added.

 Talking about the harmful effects of these kilns on human health, Dr. Naveed Shah said that the emission of harmful gases by these kilns was causing fatal chest and lung diseases.

“The toxic fumes contain suspended particulate matter which is rich in carbon monoxide and oxides of sulphur, nitrogen etc. causing occupational lung diseases like Mesothelioma, Asthma, Silicosis and can even cause Asbestosis, which is incurable and can result in death at an early stage,” he further added.

 Prof. Romshoo, HOD, Earth Sciences Department, Kashmir University said that the most threatening situation arises when this particulate matter remains suspended for a long time in the air, causing air pollution which affects the wild native vegetation and the forests more than the agricultural crops causing land degradation. Utilization of the best quality top soil for brick making not only erodes the land but also renders it barren. This causes land erosion and land degradation which is a big threat to the biodiversity of the area.

“These brick kilns are occupying a large areas of land suitable for saffron cultivation, thus resulting in declining production of this priceless gift from nature. The stripping of the top fertile soil layer has made our agricultural lands barren. If nothing is done, Kashmir will become severely food deficient in the coming years. These establishments are also affecting the aesthetic value of our area. Evenwater streams like Sheesh Naag have been polluted to a large extent”, he further added.

 

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