By Manuj Jindal:
Recently, many articles and public litigation have emerged on behalf of the brick lobby arguing developmental concerns regarding Supreme Court’s decision to ban environmentally harmful red clay bricks. The organizations site unemployment and slow development as negative implications of an otherwise morally, environmentally and socially damaging product — red clay bricks . Contrary to its beliefs, fully operational technologies that are substituting red clay bricks, and paving the way for environmentally sustainable and responsible development are readily available in India. These technologies include, Aerated Autoclaved Concrete (AAC Blocks), the most superior of all, Fly-ash bricks, and compressed earth bricks, are direct substitutes to red clay bricks. These technologies use fly-ash, which is obtained from waste in Thermal plants. In addition, they follow organized labour practices, including training and education, and save thousands of tons of cement, diesel and steel, directly benefiting the environment through their application. In short, Aerated Autoclaved Concrete, and other technologies mentioned above are the Rockstar building materials of today. They successfully address both environmental and developmental concerns of a rapidly developing India.
But there are problems. Despite solving crucial environmental and economic problems associated with the use of red-clay bricks, Aerated Autoclaved Concrete (and other technologies mentioned above) have not received warm reception in Northern India. Developers are hesitant to use the product due to age-old perception of low availability and lack in knowledge of general application of the product. This has been solved by erection of the largest plant in North India, Kannav Superlite AAC in Noida, and two other producers in Haryana recently. Additionally, the government has been playing a two faced game by banning the red clay bricks, but not actively supporting the production of entrepreneurial firms that are manufacturing this product. The availability of fly-ash, the main raw material for the product, is low due to bureaucratic tussles at Thermal plants. The development authorities have not readily cleared the product for government projects because of strong red brick industry lobbying. These challenges are serious and threats to new entrepreneurs, however, they are moving strong to overcome these through increasing public support.
On the brighter side, let us draw some lessons from our good old, friendly neighbor, China. The Chinese have completely replaced red clay brick technology with Aerated Autoclaved Concrete in the last ten years. Every city, neighborhood, private and public project now uses AAC Blocks, promoting this trade and entrepreneurs associated with it. Their public and private enterprises have worked hand-in-glove to build multiple AAC Block plants near Thermal plants. These plants provide uninterrupted supply of power and fly ash to this industry. This has enabled them to substitute red clay bricks quickly, create employment, feed the massive economic growth, and address the environmental hazards of red bricks. We have started taking baby steps towards it, and with some support from the government and private enterprise, this technology can go a long way.
Clearly, time is ripe to shed old apprehensions about change, and embrace new techniques in development. A supporting hand from the National Thermal Power Corporation, the Development Authorities, Developers, and most important of all, the Indian Consumers — the new home and apartment buyers — can go a long way in creating a sustainable future for our future generations.