Dhaka tanneries: The menace must stop!
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Dhaka tanneries: The menace must stop!

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Though it was all unplanned when only a few tanneries were allowed to operate in Hazaribagh area in the western part of the capital, close to Turag river, now the number has exceeded 200 over the last ...

Though it was all unplanned when only a few tanneries were allowed to operate in Hazaribagh area in the western part of the capital, close to Turag river, now the number has exceeded 200 over the last six decades thanks to the ministries concerned and related government agencies. Tanners wash, dry and process raw hides and skins in factories and also in the open places of Hazaribagh, which is a residential area adjacent to Lalbagh, Rayerbazar, Dhanmondi and Mohammadpur areas. The around 50-acre Hazaribagh, however, has now become a hub of chemically-contaminated area which is highly hazardous for the dwellers regardless of their wealth, let alone the poor workers at the unhygienic factories where reports say many children work and those living in slums.

All the factories at the export-oriented industrial area in Hazaribagh, however, fall under red category but have been enjoying the highest impunity with regard to pollution, workplace safety and health hazards. Not a single factory in the country’s largest leather zone has an ETP to treat the highly-toxic water before release.

Locals in Hazaribagh have also taken for granted that they have no easy option in hand to come out of the sickening situation since the government has ever been reluctant in shifting the tanneries from the city immediately – despite directives from the High Court and relentless outcry of the green groups and activists of home and abroad. We may term it “reluctance,” since the process – undertaken in 2003 pushed by the court – has stumbled several times and even in the mid-way, with the construction of a central effluent treatment plant (CETP) which will ensure that the factories at the new site in Hemayetpur near Savar would not discharge toxic waste water into the canals or rivers untreated. The process of implementing the CETP has so far taken three years to begin, while it would take at least one year to complete the construction.

In the meantime, whatever is lost is a destiny, for the local people, and the environment, mainly the river Buriganga and those in its downstream. Those who are doing the business obviously do not regret, but the dwellers of Hazaribagh and the adjacent areas are simply helpless as they have been forced to use the contaminated water and breathe polluted air.

The water species have nothing to do in this regard as the waters are carrying the poisonous chemicals and waste. The drains, canals and the river Buriganga – all have lost their ability to keep water species alive long ago!

[published on Dhaka Tribune http://www.dhakatribune.com/environment/2013/jun/05/hazardous-hazaribagh]

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Dhaka tanneries: The menace must stop! Dhaka tanneries: The menace must stop! Document Transcript

  • HAZARIBAGH TANNERY: No more menace please!Though it was all unplanned when only a few tanneries were allowed tooperate in Hazaribagh area in the western part of the capital, close to Turagriver, now the number has exceeded 200 over the last six decades thanks tothe ministries concerned and related government agencies. Tanners wash,dry and process raw hides and skins in factories and also in the open placesof Hazaribagh, which is a residential area adjacent to Lalbagh, Rayerbazar,Dhanmondi and Mohammadpur areas. The around 50-acre Hazaribagh,however, has now become a hub of chemically-contaminated area which ishighly hazardous for the dwellers regardless of their wealth, let alone thepoor workers at the unhygienic factories where reports say many childrenwork and those living in slums.All the factories at the export-oriented industrial area in Hazaribagh,however, fall under red category but have been enjoying the highestimpunity with regard to pollution, workplace safety and health hazards.Not a single factory in the country’s largest leather zone has an ETP to treatthe highly-toxic water before release.Locals in Hazaribagh have also taken for granted that they have no easyoption in hand to come out of the sickening situation since the governmenthas ever been reluctant in shifting the tanneries from the city immediately –despite directives from the High Court and relentless outcry of the greengroups and activists of home and abroad. We may term it “reluctance,”since the process – undertaken in 2003 pushed by the court – has stumbledseveral times and even in the mid-way, with the construction of a centraleffluent treatment plant (CETP) which will ensure that the factories at thenew site in Hemayetpur near Savar would not discharge toxic waste waterinto the canals or rivers untreated. The process of implementing the CETPhas so far taken three years to begin, while it would take at least one yearto complete the construction.
  • In the meantime, whatever is lost is a destiny, for the local people, and theenvironment, mainly the river Buriganga and those in its downstream.Those who are doing the business obviously do not regret, but the dwellersof Hazaribagh and the adjacent areas are simply helpless as they have beenforced to use the contaminated water and breathe polluted air.The water species have nothing to do in this regard as the waters arecarrying the poisonous chemicals and waste. The drains, canals and theriver Buriganga – all have lost their ability to keep water species alive longago!At a glanceOver 200 factories50 acres areaOver 5,000 people involvedNot a single ETP installedGovernment-made drains run to BurigangaUnhygienic workplace, child labourAlmost 90% of the country’s tanneries are located in Hazaribagh;Business typesTrading raw hides and skinsProcessing leather for domestic manufacturersFinished leather and products for exportsBangladesh earned $765mn [Tk6.12bn] from exporting leather goodsand footwear in fiscal year 2011-12 against $650mn [Tk5.2bn] in2010-11;
  • About 100 organisations import chemicals for use in tanneryindustry;Around 30 types of chemicals like acid, chromium salt, sodiumchloride and lead are used in tanning;Over 22,000 cubic meters of raw and liquid waste produced everyday;At least 100 traders making poultry-fish feed from waste meat-bones.ManagementSince the 1940s till 1960, the tanneries of erstwhile East Pakistan usedto process raw hides and skins;After the independence in 1971, the government formed TanneryCorporation to convert some 30 tanneries left by non-Bangalees intofinished leather manufacture units. But it failed;Later, the government handed over the management of most of thesetanneries to state-run Bangladesh Chemical Industries Corporation(BCIC) and three to Bangladesh Freedom Fighters Welfare Trust.These authorities too failed to manage the tanneries;The tanneries came under private management in 1982;In 1991, the issue of relocation of the tanneries began to strike thepolicymakers. Firstly to Kanchpur area then to Sonargaon ofNarayanganj;In 1993, it was decided that the industries would be shifted to Savarand an area of 17.30 acres was acquired there;At an inter-ministerial meeting held on August 20, 1998 for therelocation matter, it was revealed that around 15,000 cubic metre ofuntreated waste were going to river Buriganga, 70% of whosepollution is caused by the toxic waste;Since 1991, dozens of meetings were held between the tanners andthe government, but the owners refused to leave Hazaribagh; lastly, a
  • 14-member committee headed by the joint secretary of the industriesministry held on September 25, 2008 resolved that all the tanneriesshall shift from Hazaribagh within February 2010.Legal issuesThe High Court on June 23, 2009 asked the government to ensurerelocation of the tanneries from Hazaribagh by February 28 the nextyear. The deadline has ever been extended by the court upon requestby the government and the tanners;The court also directed the office of the attorney general to deal withthe demands for compensation by tannery owners for relocation oftheir industries and intervention in transferring bank liabilities of thetanners;According to the environmental laws, the tanneries that fall underred category must have ETPs;As per the law on fish and livestock feed, for adulteration of the feedproducts, one has to face up to one years imprisonment and a fine upto Tk50,000;RelocationThe Tk 5.45bn Savar Tannery Estate project was initiated in January2003 and was set to be complete by December 2005;However, the construction schedule was later extended to June 2010.Infrastructure in the 200-acre land in complete in early 2010 wherearound 150 units could be shifted;The government and the tanners signed an agreement in 2003 forrelocation of the factories outside Dhaka; government pledged toprovide financial assistance;
  • In 2006, a government committee proposed Tk2.5bn as compensationsince the owners would incur loss of Tk11bn;Owners now demand Tk5bn as compensation as the relocationwould cost them around Tk50bn;Current government in 2009 said it would not bear the cost ofrelocation or the central effluent treatment plant (CETP); the ownerswill be able to pay the cost of CETP installation;Tender for Tk5bn, now Tk9.6bn, CETP underway, would need 1 yearfor construction;Tender floated for the second time in February 2010; a Chinesecompany was selected and given the work order in 2012. However,the government is yet to approve the CETP project and allocatemoney;Environmentalists argue that the location sleeted and developed forthe tannery estate is wrong since it has a river flowing nearby. Theyfear that this river and the adjacent crop lands and low-lying landcould be harmed if the tanners would not follow the environmentalrules.Considering the present sorry state of the leather industries operating inHazaribagh, people’s sufferings, degrading environment, and the necessityof advancing this industry forward, the government as the guardian of thecitizens should orchestrate pro-people steps immediately while the peoplemust act against the tannery owners in compelling them shift thehazardous units and keep pushing the government towards carrying outits duties properly. This menace cannot take place over the time.