EARLY TIMES IMPACT
Govt brings Bill to regulate brick kilns but wants amnesty for listed defaulters
Ahmed Ali Fayyaz
JAMMU, Apr 9: Government of Jammu & Kashmir has finally introduced a comprehensive law seeking to regulate and control brick kilns but the draft Bill seems to be remarkably soft towards hundreds of unauthorized kilns which have been established by influential industrialists in brazen violation of environmental laws in the last two decades. As regards the new entrepreneurs, the Bill has proposed stringent penal punishment for violation of its provisions and, much like the draconian Forest Act, bar to judicial scrutiny in the matters of challenging the executive orders.
On the concluding day of the 50-day-long Budget session in Legislative Assembly, Minister incharge Consumer Affairs and Public Distribution (CAPD), Qamar Ali Akhoon, introduced a Bill to regulate and control the establishment of brick kilns in the state. This Bill, when passed in due course of discussion possibly in the next session in Srinagar later this year, would be called “Jammu & Kashmir Brick Kilns (Regulation) Act, 2010”. During Governor’s rule in 1990, Government had enacted a law but it had expired as none of the successive government’s had replaced it by a formal law in the state legislature.
“In absence of any law on the subject, a mushroom growth of brick kilns has emerged in the state, which needs to be checked and controlled” reads the statement of objectives and reasons attached to the Bill. It adds: “The proposed J&K Brick Kilns (Regulation) Bill, 2010, seeks to achieve the aforesaid objectives. In the Bill, provisions for protection of environment, conversion of agricultural land into brick kilns etc, have been incorporated”.
In October, 2009, Early Times had published a series of reports to highlight ecological vandalisation being carried out by a well-connected mafia of brick kiln owners and government officials. It had been reported in detail how hundreds of unauthorized brick kilns, laid in brazen violation of Environment Act, Air Act and Water Act, besides nearly a dozen related laws, had been operating in Kashmir valley, particularly in Budgam and Pulwama districts, in an anarchical state.
Taking suo moto cognizance of the environmental series in EARLY TIMES issues of 8th, 9th and 13th October 2009, Speaker of Legislative Assembly, Mohammad Akbar Lone, had written DO NO: LA/J/Spk/06/09 dated 10-11-2009 to Chief Secretary, asking him to get all illegal and unauthorized brick kilns closed down in Budgam district. He had recorded serious concern over the ecological degradation and breakdown of administrative machinery in the letter and told head of the state bureaucracy that several delegations had made similar complaints to him during a recent visit to Budgam. He had written to Mr Kapur that a large number of brick kilns had been set up in Budgam up “in utter violation of the prescribed rules and regulations in connivance with the concerned departments, thereby causing a lot of inconvenience to the people there”.
Quoting an inventory prepared by J&K State Pollution Control Board (PCB) and submitted to Chief Minister in July 2009, Early Times had put the number of brick kilns established and operating in Budgam district alone in brazen violation of over a dozen laws and without PCB’s Consent to Establish (CTE) and Consent to Operate (CTO) as 155 out of the total of 202.
Reluctant to take recourse to Environment Act and Water Act, which are in force in entire country, including the state of Jammu & Kashmir, and have superseding effect on all existing laws, Chief Secretary S S Kapoor had expressed government’s helplessness and sought to make it clear that necessary powers under law were not with any authority. In his DO No: CAPD/Food/19/Brick/09 Dated 26th November 2009, Chief Secretary has informed the Speaker that “presently we do not have any legal framework for regulating the activities of the brick kilns as the “J&K Brick Kilns (Regulation) Act, 1990” enacted during the Governor’s rule in 1990 has not been replaced by an Act passed by the State Legislature”.
“However, the Consumer Affairs and Public Distribution Department has now drafted an Ordinance viz “J&K Brick Kiln (Regulation) Ordinance, 2009” which is shortly being submitted to the State Cabinet for its consideration”, Chief Secretary had written to the Speaker and added: “The issue of illegal use of agricultural/forest land has also been taken care of in the proposed Ordinance, which also seeks to adequately empower the State Government to control the illegal growth of brick kilns”.
Notwithstanding Chief Secretary’s averment, legal and environmental experts had insisted to this newspaper that the state government was already competent to close down and dismantle brick kilns not conforming to the ecological standards and citing criteria fixed by J&K State Pollution Control Board. They had cited examples where a number of such defaulter units had been closed down or dismantled. Well-placed sources had insisted that lack of political will alone was the lifeline of unauthorised brick kilns.
The Bill introduced in the Assembly today has addressed many of the problems identified by Early Times but it has adopted a remarkably soft approach, bordering general amnesty, towards the listed defaulters who have been operating such industrial units in clear violation of over a dozen laws. It has proposed stringent punishment for the prospective defaulters and even sought to bar judiciary from challenging the government’s executive orders carried out under the new law.
The Bill has also proposed unlimited powers to government officials without identifying necessary safeguards to check their misuse like the already maligned Forest Act of 1998. Section 24 of the Bill reads: “Power to Exempt: The Government may, by general or special order, exempt any class of persons from operation of any or all provisions of this Act and may modify or rescind any such order”.