M A I N   N E W S

Bricks, gravel, sand prices skyrocket as SC deadline on mining comes closer
Prabhjot Singh/TNS

Chandigarh, June 16
Those building their houses are in deep trouble: the construction cost has suddenly escalated. The prices of sand, gravel and bricks have shot up by at least 30% since March. Reason: restriction on mining in Haryana and Rajasthan following a Supreme Court order enforcing new environmental control guidelines issued by the Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF).

A week from now, all brick kilns, numbering several thousands, would be forced to suspend their operations.

Davinder Singh Babla, who runs a building material shop in Samrala, says a tractor-trailer of sand now costs Rs 3,500 against Rs 2,200-Rs 2,500 last year. Similarly, one-square-feet of quality gravel – jeera bajri – is now quoted at Rs 40 or above against Rs 24/sq ft last year.

AR Talwar, Financial Commissioner, Industries, says short supply and rising prices of sand and gravel are mainly because of a growing demand after mining operations in Haryana and Rajasthan came to a halt. Another reason, he says, is some delay in auctioning mining sites bigger than five hectares.

The Punjab Government, he says, is in the process of finalising its stone crusher policy on the lines of Himachal Pradesh where total production of a crusher would be linked to electricity consumed.

The brick kiln owners say they may resume their operations only after “cumbersome procedure for obtaining environmental clearance.” This may take six to nine months. This can lead not only to an unprecedented escalation in the prices but also a countrywide scarcity.

“The SC gave us time till May 24 for environmental clearance for the land where digging is allowed. A four-week grace period was added, which would end on June 24. After that, we cannot dig even an inch of land without a clearance,” says Kuldip Kumar Khanduja, senior vice-president, Punjab Brick Kiln Owners Association. “The brick kiln industry is in a crisis. The government and courts want us to follow a process that would badly affect our operations and hit the consumers,” he said.

While the National Federation of Brick Kiln manufacturers has called an emergency meeting in Delhi on June 20, state governments appear to be helpless onlookers as the directions have come from the apex court. Brick kiln owners have met CMs of various states, including Parkash Singh Badal, but did not get any assurance.

“After farmers stopped signing long-term agreements and opted for five-year contracts, we could dig only two to four feet of earth from their land,” says Khanduja. “Initially, there was no control on digging land measuring up to five hectares. But in February this year, this changed,” says Khanduja.

“We do not understand how we are to blame for damaging environment. After all, bigger projects involving roads, buildings and flyovers need no such clearance,” he argues.

Caught in the demand-supply cycle, individual house builders have already started stocking up the raw material. “I am trying to stock as many bricks as possible for completing my house,” says Satnam Singh, a farmer who is adding a few rooms to his ancestral house in Rampur village in Ludhiana.

“It is not only getting all the building material before the onset of monsoon but also guarding the stacks, which is an onerous task,” says Saudagar Singh, who is building a new house near Dhandari Kalan.

Pushed to the wall

  • The price of bricks (A grade) has gone up from Rs 3.50-Rs 4 a piece to Rs 4.50-Rs 5.50. The B grade variety’s cost is up from Rs 3.25-Rs 3.50 to Rs 3.75-Rs 4.25
  • Brick industry, classified as source of pollution, faces environmental scrutiny
  • Environmentalists say exhaust from the kilns gets mixed with diesel emissions and other fumes to form hazardous thick brown smog





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