Srinaga: With most brick kilns in the Kashmir Valley not implementing the measures specified for minimizing pollution levels, the areas where they operate are virtually facing an environmental catastrophe, affected citizens and at least one prominent doctor have said.
Like other areas in the vicinity of these brick kilns, their presence in Budgam, on the outskirts of this Jammu and Kashmir summer capital, too is posing a danger for the biotic environment as the district alone has nearly 230 out of around 300 brick kilns in Kashmir.
"The large amount of dust and smoke coming out from the brick kilns is polluting the environment and badly affecting the health of the people," said Ali Muhammad, a local resident.
As per the norms laid down by the State Pollution Control Board (SPCB), the chimney should be taller than 115 feet.
"This norm ensures that harmful smoke and gases emitted from these kilns are released in the upper atmosphere, so that they do not come in contact with the human population," an SPCB official told IANS, while admitting that these were not followed.
Why is this so? A local politician gave the answer.
"There is mafia behind the brick kiln owners and some authorities are working hand in glove with them and have turned a blind eye towards these blatant violations," senior National Conference leader and Budgam MLA Aga Syed Ruhullah Mehdi told IANS.
"Those brick kilns which violate environmental laws should be fined or be banned. During the recent visit of the chief minister, I brought the issue to his notice, said Ruhullah Mehdi.
"Brick kilns pose a serious threat to the health of the people living close to the kilns. The smoke that comes out of the chimneys (many of which are only 60-70 feet high) is mixed with lethal gases," Mushtaq Ahmad, another local resident, told IANS.
The increasing number of patients with chest related diseases confirms the damage.
Naveed Nazir Shah, assistant professor at the Government Medical College here, told IANS: "Emission of huge quantity of toxins from brick kilns is causing serious health hazards."
"The brick kilns emit toxic fumes containing suspended particulate matters rich in carbon particles and a high concentration of carbon monoxides and oxides of sulphur (SOx) cause common occupational lung diseases like Mesothelioma, Asthma, Silicosis and can even cause Asbestosis which is incurable and can result in death at an early stage" Shah added.
Talking about the various dimensions of concerns caused by these kilns, Mushtaq added: "Tippers transporting bricks from these kilns throughout the day also affect the health of the people. We have literally turned deaf due to their noise in addition to the deterioration of roads, which have turned into deserts of dust and we can't even breathe."
"These toxic fumes also affect crops and plants in the areas adjacent to brick fields," Shah said.
It's a different matter that SPCB guidelines mandate a green belt consisting of three rows of evergreen broad leaved trees around the periphery of each brick kiln.
The guidelines also say that the kilns should be situated at least 500 metres from any government-approved water scheme or any other water body. There also should be no orchids and residential houses within a radius of 50 metres.
"The smoke and dust also adversely affects visibility, reduces growth of vegetation and can cause lung cancer and several other ailments after entering into the human body," the SPCB official added.
It is believed that air pollution affects wild native vegetation and forests more than agricultural crops due to land degradation as a consequence of utilization of best quality top soil in brick making, which leads to erosion. Even the streams nearby get polluted by them.
"Many of our springs like Shah Naag are polluted. The brick kilns are using a large area of land which is most appropriate for Saffron cultivation, thus ruining in the process this priceless gift from nature. The deadly smoke and soot emitted from the kilns have drastically affected the trees and vegetable plantations in the area," Showkat Hussain, a teacher, told IANS.