Vanishing topsoil is the greatest hidden cost of making bricks. There is the land on which a kiln has to be set up. This land kiln-owners buy. But there is also the land from which is dug out the clay that forms the raw material of the business. "The cost of land is one of the major investments in installing a brick-making unit, so purchasing land for topsoil is not a viable option. That's why we prefer taking such land on lease for three years,' says Hari Om. And so kiln-owners make a beeline for the countryside. "The rent (for prime agricultural land) in rural areas is very low, between Rs 15,000 per bigha to Rs 25,000 per bigha for three years,' informs Singh. The rate also depends upon the distance of the field-turned-raw-material patch from a town. "It reaches Rs 35,000 per bigha if the land is near the town,' Singh adds. Moreover, "Among the lease conditions is the depth up to which the land will be dug, between four feet to five feet.'
Exactly how much topsoil gets swallowed into the maw of the furnace? "We need to dig one bigha (approximately 620 square metres) of land up to a depth of one feet to meet the soil demand for making a lakh of bricks,' Singh says. In terms of his calculation, the manufacture of a million bricks would lead to a direct loss of 1,892 cubic metres of topsoil.
But soil, particularly topsoil at a depth of one to one-and-a-half metres, is not simply the physical material on Earth's surface: probably its most important component is the living organisms within it. Healthy soil contains extremely large numbers: a typical arable soil
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