Bricks are usually red, but not for long, in future when you will think of bricks, a range of different shapes and sizes will come to mind – AAC blocks, CLC blocks, fly ash bricks, etc. and you will think of the colour grey, the colour of fly ash.
Red clay bricks get their colour from the iron-oxide in the valuable fertile topsoil which is used to make them. A huge amount of agricultural soil gets wasted and locked-into structures as a result of red clay bricks. Surging housing & construction growth in India has majorly highlighted the problem of red clay bricks like never before.
Red clay bricks are completely banned in some areas like Gurgaon but in the entire country there is no blanket ban as such at the moment, only guidelines and directives such as these MoEF notifications – issued in 2008, issued in 2013. Many producers require Environmental Clearances (ECs) and pollution control board clearance but state governments and national authorities (The Supreme Court, The Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEF), The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) and The National Green Tribunal (NGT) among others) are in the process of formulating complete bans. Rules vary across the country but it is clear that everyone wants to reduce and eventually altogether cease the manufacturing of burnt red clay bricks. Using fly-ash for bricks is mandatory in a 100km radius around thermal power plants and for constructing government buildings in some states.
Illegal mining of soil is a huge problem. The unorganised sector doesn’t want to take the hassles of organising and managing the supply of better materials and prefers to “just take the soil from somewhere” and make bricks with it. While the organised sector of AAC and CLC blocks works professionally by managing the raw-materials for production more efficiently. Earlier fly-ash used to be dumped in the forests but now fly-ash brick, AAC block and CLC block makers use the same wasted fly-ash and make better bricks than the burnt red clay bricks which deplete soil and cause massive pollution apart from using a huge amount of energy during production.
Despite the urgent directives, implementation is not done due to ever-increasing demand for construction materials. To be frank, most people don’t care if the environment gets hurt “a little” for their profits. They are wrong, not just ethically but even profits and business wise, as the new improved bricks are cheaper to manufacture as well as build and maintain structures with.
There are already civil court cases such as this related to brick manufacturing. Resistance to change and preference for the “traditional methods” of building are not an excuse for harming the environment. Despite directives and the logic and economics in favour of the alternatives of red clay bricks, it is a pity that the construction sector in fast developing India, which is the 2nd largest manufacturer of bricks in the world after China is, is still clinging onto past traditions despite better new alternatives.