As many as 224 illegal brickyards out of 241 in Bogura district are burning on the environment and ecology.
Because of the smoke-emitting chimneys, tree leaves get burned, half the mangoes rot in the orchards before reaping, paddy sheaves dry out immature, tin-shed roofs develop holes and even the cattle fall sick as the locals suffer from breathing issues.
But the kiln owners said development requires bulk supply of bricks, and shuttering the brickyards will put a squeeze on the people. They also claimed they cannot authorise their units since the environmental clearance is very lengthy and complicated.
The Brick Manufacturing and Brick Kilns Establishment (Control) Act 2013 mandates the certificate from the local administration and the Department of Environment for setting up a brickfield that will be at least one kilometre away from farmland and residential area.
But take the example of Bogura's Dhunat upazila where eight brick kilns stand tall on just half a kilometre of agri-lands – a brazen defiance of the law.
Locals claimed the toxic fumes damaged paddy on at least 1,500 bighas (3 bighas equal to 1 acre) of land alone in May this year. Faridul Islam, owner of a brickfield of the eight kilns, also agreed upon the claim of crop-loss.
Abul Kalam Azad, president of Bogura Brick Kiln Owners Association, said they have applied for the DoE clearance, but the process is lengthy.
"If the authorities do not allow us, they can bulldoze the entities. We will not resist. But shutting down the brickyards will make people suffer, obstruct the development," commented Azad, who also has an unauthorised kiln in Bogura's Gabtoli area.
"If you want development, you will need a bulk supply of bricks. The Bogura highway widening to four-lane will require crores of pieces of brick. Where will the government get those from if we close the production?" he questioned.
According to DoE sources, all the 15 kilns in Bogura Sadar – the entry-point of northern Bangladesh – are running without any environmental clearance.
Ziaur Rahman, general secretary of Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon (Bapa) Bogura chapter, wondered how so many illegal bricks run in the district.
"Immediate legal action must be taken against the unauthorised brick kilns. Otherwise, the public officials will have to answer for the environmental and ecological catastrophes," he said, adding development cannot cost the environment that hefty sum.
Rajshahi division brick kiln owners' association leader Sadrul Islam said the environmental clearance costs Tk25,000 and they are completely ready to pay the money.
"But the issue is the lengthy and complicated process for clearance. Basically, no brickyard owner wants to go through harassment. We also want the government to promptly decide whether an owner can build his unit or not," he added.
Contacted, Sufia Najim, director of the DoE Rajshahi Divisional Office, said, "I have joined recently and just started to skim through the files. Legal actions will be taken if there is any illegal establishment."