In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, around half of the 1200 brick kilns have shuttered due to the mounting prices of essential materials like coal, clay, gravel, and crushed stone, which are integral to brick production.
Haji Hamid Fawad, President of the ‘All Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Bhatta Khasht (Brick Kiln) Association’, explained that the brick kilns in the region formerly relied on quality coal imported from Afghanistan and Indonesia, chosen for their affordability. However, a ban imposed by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf government on coal imports from these sources has forced kiln owners to resort to pricier Sindh coal.
Sindh’s coal being more expensive has resulted in reduced orders, thereby lowering brick production rates in the kilns. A typical brick kiln employs 500 to 550 workers. The reduced production has forced kiln owners to lay off more than half of their workforce, rendering hundreds unemployed.
While electricity and gas remain expensive alternatives for these kilns, coal is still the primary option. Many kiln owners have experimented with solar systems, although it’s challenging to run a kiln solely on solar power. They believe that subsidized electricity or gas rates from the government would be a welcomed solution.
Haji Ayeen Khan, Chairman of the ‘All Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Brick Klin Association’, stated that all kilns are registered and contribute an annual tax of 25 thousand rupees to the Income Tax Department. He expressed concern over government and environmental department raids, citing claims of pollution due to constant smoke emissions from the brick kilns. He emphasized the willingness to cooperate with the government but urged against unnecessary harassment.
Khan highlighted the compounding factors forcing kiln owners to exit the business – including rising labor wages, escalating machinery costs, and increased prices of clay, gravel, and petroleum products. Rather than passing on the expenses to consumers by raising brick prices, owners are choosing to cease operations. He fears that any further price hikes will deter potential buyers, potentially harming the industry.
Mir Rehman, the Association’s provincial information secretary, and a kiln owner, divulged that today’s brick kilns require investments of up to two crore rupees. However, given the monthly losses, it’s more pragmatic to exit the business than sustain heavy losses. The profit margin, once at three lakh rupees per month or more, has dwindled. Consequently, around 500 to 550 kilns have closed in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in the past five to ten years, impacting over 30 thousand workers and other sectors.
Rehman expressed how brick sales have shifted from international buyers to local consumers due to inflation. Despite the longevity of brick-built structures, the preference for blocks over bricks within the province is on the rise, reflecting changing trends.
Presently, kiln manufacturers are striving to salvage the industry, yet without government intervention, a gradual closure of brick kilns appears likely. This not only endangers jobs but also jeopardizes the multimillion-dollar investments made by kiln owners.