The country's leather export encounters environmental concerns. Quite sometime ago, the signals were very much there. The major importing bloc, the European Union had made it known a few years ago that unless processing of leather and leather products conform to compliance norms, especially in respect of environment, shipments would be refused at all EU ports. Newspaper reports confirm that the sharp slump in export of leather and leather goods in this fiscal is largely due to environmental concerns. Exports declined by more than11 per cent in the past seven months of this fiscal compared to that of the corresponding period of the last fiscal, according to Export Promotion Bureau data. The figure is also 3.0 per cent lower than the strategic export target set by the government for the 2019 fiscal. The decline is not sudden as the country experienced a drastic fall of over 12 per cent in exports in the last fiscal compared to the preceding year.
It may be recalled that the government had hard time relocating the tanneries from the capital's Hazaribagh to the Savar leather park more than two years ago. While pollution control was one of the reasons, the main purpose was to provide better work atmosphere for the sector as well as convince overseas buyers about leather processing in an atmosphere of better facilities, free from environmental pollution. As of now, 155 tanneries have moved to the new location of which 115 are now reportedly in operation. But the nagging problem with the central effluent treatment plant (CETP) still persists, and the inordinate delay in its full operational is viewed as the main hindrance to fulfilling compliance needs.
It indeed appears intriguing that CETP, so integral to the leather park, has not received the priority it deserved. Its nonfunctioning has turned out to be potentially threatening to destroy all efforts in relocating the industry. While earlier it was the Buriganga river that bore the brunt of reckless waste disposal and pollution of all conceivable sorts, now it is the Dhaleswari to take on the woes. It has been gathered that there are still a lot of works to do as regards solid waste management. Besides, the reported friction between the foreign contractor and the park authorities over the much talked-about CETP design in respect of treatment, recycling and disposal of solid waste has taken too long a toll. There are also allegations and counter-allegations between the two key stakeholders - the tannery owners and the park authority, the Bangladesh Small and Cottage Industries Corporation (BSCIC) -- over cost sharing of the CETP set-up and its maintenance.
If this is the state of things, what was the use of the relocation? The situation, no doubt, is pathetic and particularly demoralising for the industry people. What worries them most is the looming fear of losing overseas markets where Bangladesh leather and leather products were doing fairly well with the prospect of becoming a market leader in not very distant future. It is not clearly known what the authorities are up to at the moment. A lot of time has been wasted in the relocation process, and if the standstill over CETP lingers on, it is none but the authorities who are to blame. But blaming is not going to help. Will the authorities see to the reason and act accordingly?
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