Despite 11 ultimatums, the Ministry of Industries has not succeeded in shifting tanneries from Hazaribagh. The last deadline has expired but raw hides are entering Hazaribagh as usual. Leather is being processed there. There is no police patrol for preventing entry of hides to the tanneries which are the biggest polluter. Every day poisonous wastes from 200 tanneries are flowing into the Buriganga River. Every minute about 14,000 poisonous chemicals, mixed with water, are polluting the river. Annually hides of six million cows and 7-8 million goats are processed in Hazaribagh.
According to an estimate, about 2,00,000 tons of chemicals are used in processing hides and skins in Hazaribagh. These are mainly salt, chromium and different kinds of acid. In processing a medium-sized leather, 30 kg chemicals-8 kg salt and 22 kg other chemicals-- are used. Water mixed with chemicals directly flows into the Buriganga. The poisonous wastes circulate in wind and water. The poison has disastrous effect on 10-kilometre areas including Hazaribagh, Lalbagh, Rayerbazar,Jigatala, Dhanmondi and neighbouring areas. About 30 thousand workers of Hazaribagh are facing health hazards. They are suffering from various diseases due to hazardous pollution.
Considering the harmful effects of tanneries on environment and public health, courts ordered to shift the tanneries outside Dhaka 23 years ago. The High Court order came in 1994. Although some progress has been made in shifting the tanneries, the process has not been completed. An initiative was taken in 2002 to shift the tanneries to Savar. A three-year project was taken up in 2003. Work was completed to the extent of 70 per cent. But tanneries could not be shifted despite repeated reminders. In a tripartite agreement among the government, the Bangladesh Small and Cottage Industries Corporation and tannery owners towards the end of 1913, time for tannery shifting was fixed up to December 2014. Thereafter, the deadline was extended twice and December 2015 was the cutoff date.
The Minister for Industries had said that tanneries won't operate at Hazaribagh after December 31 2015. But again the Ministry of Industries failed. The minister ordered denial of entry of raw hide to Hazaribagh on April 3, 2016. But it did not work. Time was extended several times. The final date was December 13 2016. This date was also not followed. Time has now been extended up to March, 2017. Tannery owners are saying that tanneries can not be shifted by that date. The Industries Secretary met representatives of two tannery associations on January 1, 2017. It was agreed that wet blue portion would be shifted to Savar by January 31. This is because 70 to 80 per cent pollution takes place at wet blue stage. This time too, the time-limit was not maintained. A field enquiry on February 1 revealed that there were heaps of raw leather in Hazaribagh. Wet blue processing was going on in the tanneries and the wastes were still flowing to the Buriganga through drains.
So far only 43 tanneries have started wet blue processing in Savar but plots were allotted to 154 tanneries. Although instructions were given to police to enforce the January 31 deadline, the police station was not aware of this. There are also problems in management. Work on the Savar leather complex began in 2013. It started operation after 13 years. But it is found that there are problems of electricity, water and gas connections. The central effluent treatment plant (CETP) built at a cost of Tk 6.39 billion was not functioning properly. Water without cleaning salt was released in the Dhaleswari River. No plant was set up for salt cleaning due to fund shortage. The department of environment examined on December 29 water from the Dhaleswari and the waste from the CETP and found the presence of 11 elements beyond limits. Some of these elements are temperature, presence of oxygen, chromium, salt and other chemicals. The department of environment also found that the CETP was operating without observing the rules.
The temperature of water coming out of the CETP plant should be 20 degree Celsius. But it was found to be 23 on an average at three different points. This is harmful for living beings in the water. Pollution is being transferred from the Buriganga to Savar. These problems will multiply when all the tanneries start operating in Savar.
With so much effort, it was not possible to make Hazaribagh free from tanneries. Tannery owners say if they are given the ownership of plots legally in Savar, they can leave Hazaribagh with the help of bank loans. The Ministry of Industries may look into this matter. The disastrous pollution of Hazaribagh has been highlighted in national and international media. This is having negative impact in the international market.
Waters of 14 rivers have become poisonous by the waste of tanneries in different regions of the country Among them are the Buriganga surrounding the Dhaka city, the Turag and the Balu, Savar's Dhaleswari, Bangsi, the Sitalakkha of Gazipur, the Rupsa of Khulna, the Bhairab of Jessore, the Karnaphuli of Chittagong, the Halda and the Sangu rivers. Water of the Meghna river at Kuliarchar of Kishoreganj and the Brahmaputra river of Mymensingh have also become contaminated. Wastes from the leather warehouse at Tongi are mixing with the water of the Turag River. Similarly waste from the warehouse of leather from Sreepur (Gazipur) is falling into the Sitalakhha River. Tannery waste of Chittagong is falling directly into the Halda River. This river is a breeding ground of fish. If water of this river is contaminated, breeding of fish will cease.
It has been observed that fish is not available in many rivers because of water contamination. This is hampering the continuity of ecosystem. Tannery waste is contaminating river water in many places and adversely affecting environment. Side by side, fish and other aquatic animals are dying. Water contamination is causing serious damage to human body. Rivers have to be protected from contamination. Action is needed for preventing contamination by the concerned authorities.
The writer is an economist and columnist.