Chanchal Ghosh, a brickfield owner in Faridpur, usually starts burning bricks in the first week of November every year at his kiln, but this year he could not do that due to the high price of coal.
For the same reason, almost all the brickfields in the district are in a similar situation. People involved in the business said the coal price was Tk8,500-9,000 per ton last season, but currently, it is Tk19,000-22,000 per ton as there is a crisis in imports due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Consequently, the kiln owners have not been able to start manufacturing bricks on time this year and about 20,000 workers have been spending their days without work even though they took money in advance from the kiln owners to work at the brickfields.
According to the Faridpur Brickfield Owners' Association, there are 128 brick kilns in the district. Eight of these have been closed for a long time while 120 were operational. Most of these kilns use coal to burn bricks.
Various brick kilns located in Machchar, Dikrirchar, North Channel and Charmadhabdia unions of Sadar upazila are at the final stage of selling the last year's bricks, but they could not get into producing new bricks.
Due to this, there has been a crisis of brick in the whole district. Starting from the individual level, contractors for government development work are struggling to buy bricks. The businesspersons fear that the new bricks that will come to market at the end of this season will cost twice as much as the current market price.
The kiln owners usually start brick production at the end of September. The process of buying soil and making raw bricks from clay begins in mid-September. Raw bricks are dried in the sun and the first instalment of bricks are burnt in October. But this year, the brick kilns could not start production even in November.
Md Abdus Salam, the owner of MAB Bricks in Dhalar Intersection area of Sadar upazila, said 50 to 60 lakh bricks are made in seven to eight phases in one season. It takes 20-25 days to burn the bricks in one phase. Due to the uncontrolled increase in coal price this year, brick production could not be started even after the passage of 45 days of the season.
He further said about 130 tons of coal is required to burn seven to eight lakh bricks in one phase. As such, it takes more than 1,000 thousand tons of coal to burn bricks in eight rounds.
"Earlier, I bought 1,000 tons of coal for Tk80-90 lakh, but it will cost around Tk2.25 crore this year," said Abdus Salam.
Another brick kiln owner Abdur Razzak Mollah said, "Last season, the production cost of one brick was around Tk5.5 to Tk7.5. But it will cost Tk10-11 to produce a brick this season. The price of one thousand new bricks will be Tk13,000-14,000. I am worried whether people will buy bricks at such a high price."
Mizanur Rahman, supervisor of Rauf Bricks in the C&B Ghat area, said brick-making workers in different districts have to be paid Tk25-30 lakh in advance at least six months before the start of the season. This year the workers hired in advance cannot start working due to a lack of coal. Many of the local workers are spending their days doing some other work, while some pass their days idly.
Khalifa Kamal Uddin, president of the Faridpur Brickfield Owners' Association, said, "The brick kiln owners consider it a business risk to buy coal worth Tk8,000 for Tk22,000. As a result, most of the brickfields could not go into production this season."
"If the Ministry of Commerce does not take action now, the new bricks arriving in the market at the beginning of 2022 will go beyond the reach of ordinary buyers due to high production costs," he said.
According to the businesspersons concerned, five to seven traders in Faridpur supply coal to the brickfields. They bring coal from Mongla port to Faridpur C&B ghat by the naval route. When the river water recedes, they bring coal from Nawapara, an industrial area of Abhaynagar upazila in Jashore, by road.
Mujibur Matubbar, a coal trader from Faridpur, said, "Coal is imported from Indonesia, Australia and South Africa. The cost of imports has risen due to the increase in coal prices in the international market and the rising shipping costs. As a result, coal has to be sold at twice the price compared to the previous year."
"I mainly buy coal from Mongla and Nawapara importers and sell it in Faridpur. This year no one is buying coal in Faridpur as the price is too high," he added.