Most of the leather factories are in Hazaribagh in Dhaka and they have been one of the key reasons for pollution in the Buriganga river. All the factories were supposed to be moved to Savar by February 2010 following a Supreme Court order. They were supposed to have a central effluent treatment plant there to treat their waste.

But the government sought two years’ extra time from the court in July last year and delays seem to be piling up. Now officials project the end of 2014 for the move.

On March 11 this year, the environment ministry signed a contract with a Chinese joint venture called JLEPCL and DCL to construct the effluent treatment plant within 15 months for Tk 477.46 crore. Officials said the construction work should have started immediately but the authorities were still busy with soil testing at the site.

The Chinese joint venture was only supposed to install the waste-treatment equipment and provide with technical support. The government was supposed to build the structures housing the plant there.

Environment officials said this could mean that relocation of the industry would be in 2014 instead of previously forecasted June, 2013.

Mohammad Abu Sadeque, the treatment plant project director, said, ‘Hopefully we will finish the construction of the ETP [effluent treatment plant] in the next 18 months.’ He said the contractor would be given the go ahead once they finish analysing the soil.

Meanwhile, tannery industry leaders said they would not move from Hazaribagh until the government settled some issues like giving them cash incentives. The leaders, of around 20,000 tannery workers, demanded job facilities as per the standard set by the European Union, or else they would not move.

For over five decades, the leather processing industries had been discharging toxic chemicals into the Buriganga river. To save the river, the government had taken the initiative to relocate the tannery sector to Savar in the late 90’s. However, due to lack of political will progress has been slow.

The treatment plant, when fully functional, would be able to turn 20 million litres of wastewater into drinking water a day. With four units, it would treat 5 million cubic metres of liquid wastes a day, said Sadeque, the project director and also the director of Bangladesh Small and Cottage Industries Corporation (BSCIC).

Officials concerned said the treatment plant was necessary not only to control pollution and meet the demands of the export-oriented leather industry but also to comply with the rules of European Union countries, which import a sizeable volume of leather and leather goods from Bangladesh every year.

Bangladeshi leather goods would not have access to developed countries, including those in the European Union, if the government failed to set up the plant by 2014.

Around 195 tanneries in Hazaribagh in the capital had been discharging their untreated toxic waste into the Buriganga but presently only 60 tanneries are operational there. The 60 have agreed to move to Savar, says Hazi Belal Uddin, the president of Bangladesh Tanners Association.

Savar estate would be able to house 155 tanneries.

Owner of Helal Tanneries, Belal, said they had negotiated with the government in 2006 so that it provides them with Tk 250 crore as compensation for the relocation. But, due to delay in the construction of the treatment plant, more damages would be required, Belal noted.

Abul Kalam Azad, president of the Tannery Workers Association, said they had already put their demands before the industry owners to increase their minimum wage, provide them with medical facilities, compensations for workers in case of accidents and workers’ residential facilities with proper training.

‘We want to be sure that all our demands are met before the relocation. If they do not meet our demands we would not allow them to move from here,’ he said.

Source: Daily Star