The plan of reducing the use of brick to zero by 2025 has suffered setbacks from the outset for lack of publicity and supervision by the government.
Though the government planned to use 75 crore eco-friendly concrete blocks out of the 500 crore clay bricks used in the last two years, only 10 crore blocks have been used so far.
According to the Bangladesh Concrete Block Association, against the target, the achievement till the current fiscal year is just 13%.
The Brick Manufacturing and Brick Kilns Establishment (Control) Act which was amended last year, set a target of using concrete blocks in 10% of its construction projects in the 2019-2020 fiscal year and 20% in the current fiscal year to curb brick kiln-related pollution.
According to the government plan, concrete blocks were supposed to be used in 30% of the government's construction projects from 2021-2022, 60% from 2022-2023, 80% from 2023-2024, and 100% from the 2024-2025 fiscal year.
As part of this, the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change also issued a notification making the use of blocks mandatory at a fixed rate in the construction and renovation work of the government.
However, officials of the Department of Environment said the extent to which the government's directives were implemented could not be monitored.
Md Ziaul Haque, director (Air Quality Management) of the department, said, "Although there were instructions to use environmentally-friendly green bricks, at a fixed rate, in all government buildings and installations, the target was not achieved this year due to a lack of supervision amid the Covid-19 pandemic."
The government had planned to provide low-interest loans to entrepreneurs in this sector by the end of the next year, he continued.
There was also a plan to exempt taxes on machinery imports, he added.
Ahsan Habib, senior research officer at the Bangladesh House Building Research Institute, said the only alternative to the air-polluting bricks is the environment-friendly blocks.
"But the government is not promoting them. So, the production and utility of the blocks and initiatives to set up its manufacturing plants are not increasing alongside demand," he said.
ASM Saleh Ahmed, president of the Bangladesh Concrete Block Association, said it would need at least 10,000 factories across the country to launch the block as a 100% alternative to clay bricks.
However, there were only more than two hundred factories with automatic machines and manuals in the country, he added.
He further said that the price of a single machine was from Tk2 lakh to Tk1 crore. Very few entrepreneurs could afford to buy such a machine, he said. He demanded the easy disbursement of loans, subsidies and a tax exemption on the import of machinery to meet the demand for eco-friendly blocks.
Engineer Bazlur Rahman, secretary general of the association, said the current market size of the eco-friendly block is Tk150 crore.
With the proper support, the size of this market will expand to Tk15,000 crore in the next five years, he said. Apart from that, there is a possibility of generating about five lakh jobs in this sector, he thinks.
Khabir Uddin, professor at the Environmental Sciences department in Jahangirnagar University, said sand from rivers was used instead of soil from agricultural land to make blocks. Its production cost is less than that of burnt bricks. Block production is environmentally-friendly and affordable because wood and coal are not used in manufacturing it, he said.
He further said that training entrepreneurs, workers and masons should be arranged to boost the use of blocks. He also suggested strict enforcement of the law to increase its use.
Syeda Rizwana Hasan, chief executive of the Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (BELA), said that earlier, a target of reducing the pollution to zero by 2020 was set.
Having failed to achieve the target, the deadline was extended to 2025, she said. She fears that the government will again fail to meet the target.
She said it is not possible to achieve this goal simply by issuing a notification that blocks be used for constructing buildings.
She suggested forming strong laws in this regard and implementing the laws properly.
According to the Bangladesh House Building Research Institute, the production of clay bricks contributes to more than half the environmental and air pollution in the country.
Due to the production of clay bricks, the productivity of 80,000 hectares of agricultural land is lost every year. Apart from that, burning 20 lakh tonnes of firewood – and the same amount of coal – per year is causing environmental, health and climate disasters.