KATHMANDU, DEC 29 - Waxing nostalgic is a newfound hobby for 71-year-old Gyan Bahadur Kasula. Fixing his glassy eyes on the chimneys of brick lines spread over the farmland, Kasula, a farmer born and bred in Bhaktapur’s Nangkhel, daydreams of the days when green vegetables and lush crops filled the fields. Absently, he counts the distant chimney-heads—one, two, three, four.
Ever since the brick kilns first came to Nangkhel 15 years ago, Kasula, and many others like him, has stopped growing winter vegetables and crops. “In the beginning, the owners of the kilns would ask for our lands on lease during winters,” said Kasula. “While some of us refused, many were driven by an urgency to make money without working on the fields.”
From the rented lands, brick kiln operators would extract the mud required to make bricks. When the season ended, the land would be refilled with mud from elsewhere and handed back to the farmers, who would then proceed to grow crops during the monsoon. Every November, this cycle replayed. “As the number of chimneys began to increase, so did the number of farmers selling off their lands on a seasonal basis,” said Kasula. Nangkhel, where vegetables and crops were grown during all seasons in the old days, now remains barren during the winters.
The few saw diminishing harvests and substandard produce as carbon emitted by the kilns began to affect production. As agricultural land started to dwindle, irrigation facilities began to fall apart and degrade. Given the circumstances, these few were also forced to rent out their lands.
Kasula has five ropanis of land on lease at the current rate of Rs 10,000 per ropani for one season. According to him, farmers could’ve made the same amount doing tilling their fields.
It is not just agriculture that is suffering. Households nearby complain often of fever and bronchitis during the winter, the season when the chimneys operate. “Nothing is healthy here—neither us nor the vegetables we eat,” said 35-year-old local Shreeram Suwat.
According to estimates from Bhaktapur’s District Agricultural Office, some 20 to 22 hectares of land are currently occupied by brick kilns. “Given rough estimates, we can say that the land occupied by the kilns are practically barren throughout the winter. This could impact the entire region’s agricultural productivity,” said agriculture officer Naresh Ghimire. “We are pretty certain one of the reasons behind Bhaktapur’s shrinking agricultural productivity is the brick kilns.”
According to Ghimire, extracting natural mud from the fields for brick production heavily degrades the land’s fertility. The productivity of rice in Bhaktapur has gone down significantly in recent years. While rice productivity was near seven metric tonnes per hectare five years ago, the number has diminished to just 5.5 metric tonnes in the last few years.
However, brick kilns owners tell a different side of the story. “Why are fingers being pointed at us?” asked Rajaram Kasula, owner of the Ganga Jamuna Brick Kiln. “We don’t force the farmers to give us their land. We pay them handsomely and they are happy with the arrangement. We provide a service by supplying bricks. If something is to be gained, something has to be lost.”
According to data compiled by the Department of Cottage and Small Industries, there are 110 brick kilns in the Capital. Of them, Bhaktapur has the highest number of kilns at 64 while Kathmandu and Lalitpur have 28 and 18 respectively.
Posted on: 2012-12-30 08:58