An Echelon Media Company
Monday October 18th, 2021

Regulatory trap thwarts Sri Lanka clay tile makers from clearing silted tanks

ECONOMYNEXT – A web of regulations and processes are blocking Sri Lanka’s claytile makers from clearing silt from tanks which can expand water storage for farmers and the government can save money spent on excavations, an industry association said.

Industries can use silt (ron mada) that accumulate in irrigation tanks to produce red clay tiles.

"It takes months to get permission to excavate a tank," Wipul Kularathne from Sri Lanka’s Ceramics and Glass Council said.

"By the time we get permission, the rains had started."

Industry officials say approvals have to be gained from over a dozen state agencies to get permission to clear silt from a tank.

Kularatne said the Central Environmental Authority has spoke in favour of clearing silt and the Department of Irrigation is also supportive as it expands capacity of tanks.

But the actual process of getting permits involves going through a committee under the District Secretary at local government levels.

Since the committee meets once a month, approval gets pushed back when queries are raised, sometimes for minor matters like errors in numbers.

Kularathe worked for a tile company in Anuradhapura and they had a window of time around July and August after cultivation and before the monsoon rains started to get clear permission the silt. Rains started from around September.

By the time answers are given at the following month’s committee meeting, rains have come, he said.

Tile makers buy clay for 600 rupees a cube, he said.

Sri Lanka’s clay roof tile produces are also seeing decline in demand with more people moving to products like asbestos. 

Susith Pathiraja, a clay industrialist said asbestos were carcinogenic and President Maithripala Sirisena had banned its production, but it had been reversed.

He claimed that they may be getting election funding from asbestos makers.

President Sirisena imposed the asbestos ban without giving sufficient time for housebuilders or the manufacturers, and Russia, a major exporter of asbestos, suddenly found weevils in tea exports from Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka’s Ceramics Council had earlier admitted that it lobbied President Sirisena to bring in an asbestos ban. The ban would bring higher profits for its members.

Pathiraja said non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in the North had insisted on clay tiles for roofing when an attempt was once made to build metal houses in the area which was hot.

"They know the value of clay tiles," Pathiraja said.

He said in schemes promoted by the government, tile should be made mandatory. He said shortly that a proposal would be made to build concrete houses.

Reporters at the press conference pointed out that cost was a consideration since they were low-cost houses for disadvantaged people.

Kularatne said tile prices were competitive and if clay was made more accessible, prices would be even more competitive. One of the costs of tile roofing is timber.

Sri Lanka’s housing costs are already high due to Hamilton-List taxes (import duties which push up prices artificially and allow local manufacturers to charge high prices from consumers) on tiles, sanitary ware, aluminium and steel.  (Colombo/Feb15/2019 – SB)

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