THREAT TO ENVIRONMENT: Coal prices rise, brick-kilns using carbon powder as fuel in Punjab : The Tribune India

Tribune News Service

Ruchika M Khanna

Chandigarh, August 6

As prices of coal, the basic fuel used in brick-kilns, soar high, most of the brick-kilns in the state are switching over to the inexpensive, but highly polluting carbon powder made from rubber.

Not only is this powder detrimental to the environment, but it can even lead to major health hazards for kiln workers and those residing in the vicinity of the kilns. Although the new government, ever since they have taken over, have launched an offensive against the kilns using the carbon powder, the sheer economic factor is the biggest incentive for kiln owners to switch to this fuel, having a higher calorific value.

“The coal imported from the US is used in the kilns, but it is in short supply now. Its price has shot up to Rs 25,000 per tonne at the port, and extra freight charges have to be paid over this price. Carbon powder, made from used rubber, is being sold to kilns at Rs 15,000 per tonne,” said a Moga-based brick-kiln owner, adding many in his district were shifting to this fuel, mostly by mixing carbon powder with agricultural waste.

There are around 2,600 brick-kilns in the state. Because of the monsoon, a majority of these kilns are closed these days. Officials in the Punjab Pollution Control Board (PPCB) have told The Tribune that they have just checked 1,027 brick-kilns to see if any non-consented (allowed, but for which regulatory permission is not granted) and unauthorized fuel (like carbon powder, which is illegal) is being used.

The raiding teams reportedly found that while 533 kilns were using consented fuel, 181 were using non-consented fuel such as agricultural waste or biomass, and nine were found to be using carbon powder and action against these nine has been initiated.

“We have taken action against those using the highly polluting substance as fuel. The checking in kilns will continue and all steps will be taken to stop its usage,” Environment Minister Gurmeet Singh Meet Hayer said.

Brick-kiln owners, however, say that many of the kilns, under the garb of using non-consented fuels like agro waste and biomass, were actually using carbon powder or even rubber.

The PPCB is seeking advice of the Punjab State Council of Science and Technology to allow the usage of environmentally safe fuels other than coal, like agricultural waste and biomass, in the kilns without changing the present structure of kilns, said Krunesh Garg, member secretary of the board.

Cost shoots up to Rs 25,000 per tonne

The price of coal has shot up to Rs 25,000 per tonne at the port, and extra freight charges have to be paid over this price. Carbon powder, made from used rubber, is being sold to kilns at Rs 15,000 per tonne. — Moga-based brick-kiln owner

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