Prices of bricks have shot up by about Rs. 2,000 following a ban of quarrying of brick earth. While there is no new production, kiln owners are cashing in by sell their old stock at higher rates.
Some brick kiln owners have huge stock lying with them, but are creating an artificial scarcity to make money. A few builders too are stocking material for future projects. In the last few days, brick prices have soared from Rs. 4,000 to Rs. 6,000 per thousand; kiln owners, however, claim that it hovers around Rs. 5,000.
Already hit by paucity of sand and gravel, people are now finding it even more difficult to take up construction activities.
Brick kiln owners, on their part, are also worried. "We are facing a big financial crisis," Sarabjit Singh Dhillon, press secretary of Punjab Brick Kiln Owners' Association (PBKOA), said. "We cannot resume work until we get a go ahead from the courts or the ministry of environment and forests. Declaring brick earth as minor mineral and putting the rider of getting environment clearance for digging of earth has dealt a severe blow to our industry."
Dhillon alleged that some kiln operators in Hoshiarpur district were planning to resume work, which was against the interests of the fraternity. "We have asked the authorities concerned to stop these operators," he added.
Brick kiln operators are putting pressure on the government to exempt them from obtaining prior permission for earth excavation. In February, the Supreme Court had made the environment impact assessment (EMI) clearance mandatory for quarrying on more than five hectares. In April it banned quarrying without clearance even on less than five hectares. When complaints of backdoor operations reached the Punjab and Haryana high court, it put a blanket ban on mining irrespective of the size of the quarries. Now the EMI has become necessary for smaller quarrying operations too, even if it is for making bricks.
District general manager (industries) Balwinder Singh, however, clarified that the ban was on mining, not on running brick kilns. "If an operator has sufficient old stock to run the kiln, we cannot stop him," he said. "We have to only ensure that he does not dig earth without seeking the requisite clearance from the competent authority."
Krishan Kumar Wassal, district president of PBKOA, insisted no one was violating court orders. "If someone has the stock, he can manufacture bricks, but no one is indulging in mining," he said." We are abiding by the law." He, however, agreed that prices could rise if fresh production did not start before the existing stock ran out.