Tanneries Savar: pollution enigma
Shihab Sarkar |
Mar 14, 2022 10:19:32 p.m.
That the hesitant start of the Savar Tannery 200-acre industrial estate was a bad omen was evident from the start. First, it took a disproportionately longer time for the large complex to declare itself fully ready to become operational. He could not start the activities in their entirety. The downsides kept cropping up one after another. On the other hand, tanneries located in Hazaribagh, in a central part of Dhaka, have been reluctant to relocate to the vast estate of Savar Tannery. In fact, they weren’t entirely convinced that by moving to a remote area, a half-finished tannery to be precise, they could reap the industrial benefits promised by the government.
All of this took a carrot-and-stick policy, including threats of punishment for disobeying government orders, to eventually persuade almost all tanners to move to Savar. A few, however, stayed behind and reportedly had their licenses revoked. Despite their permanent move, the Savar Tannery Estate remained a non-runner. The shoddy state of the country’s largest tannery complex still exists today. In the absence of the Effluent Treatment Center (CETP) for a few years after the start of the tannery, a system was finally put in place. To the dismay of the domain management authorities — Bangladesh Small and Cottage Industries Corporation (BSCIC) in particular, the CETP did not function properly. According to Ministry of Environment sources, the current Savar Estate Effluent Treatment Plant has the capacity to treat approximately 25,000 cubic meters of liquid waste per day. But the estate’s tanners generate 40,000 cubic meters of waste. The message is very depressing: it says that 15,000 cubic meters of untreated waste is now dumped into the nearby Dhaleshwari River. Another shortcoming adds to the general state of dysfunction of the succession. The exclusive tannery area does not have the facilities to deal with solid wastes, such as heavy metals and chrome, which are also dumped into the river. All of this contributes to turning the Hemayetpur stretch of the river into an acrobatic pollution spot.
The most alarming aspect of this type of pollution is that river water from points like Savar flows downstream and pollutes newer areas. The situation worsens during the annual local monsoon floods. Farmers cultivating land on the banks of the river, professional fishermen and dozens of other people dependent on Dhaleshwari water are therefore forced to prepare for a terrible turn of events.
Over the past three years, a considerable amount of solid waste has reportedly been dumped in Dhaleshwari. In this dismal context, the decision to close the highly polluting tanneries may have finally been taken. Earlier, in 2021, the Department of the Environment accepted a recommendation made by experts to close the Savar Tannery Estate, which had been haphazardly in operation for almost a decade. The main reason given was that the estate had been operating without environmental clearance from the start.
A standing parliamentary committee recently said the estate would only be allowed to operate again after obtaining environmental clearance. Authorization is subject to compliance with all other essential requirements. According to the media, the Department of Environment (DoE) had served a show cause on the BSCIC. He asked the BSCIC to respond to why the Estate should not be declared closed as recommended by the JS Committee. After receiving a response, the JS committee said they were not happy with it.
This could lead to extreme steps. The reason for the possible closure of 23 tanneries in the Savar estate is their identification as high-level polluters. They are set to face closure as ordered by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change during a recent meeting at Jatiya Sangsad Bhaban. Environmental pollution in the estate area has deteriorated to such a level that utilities at seven tanneries have been suspended, the JS standing committee said. All of these tanneries operate under the Savar Tannery Estate. A total of 120 tanneries operate there.
The nonchalant performance of the tannery complex and subsequent punitive actions have industry insiders feeling bewildered. For them, these developments portend worse times for currently disheveled tanneries. With the rapid disappearance of the local and global fallout from the corona pandemic, the processing of hides and skins and related activities are expected to accelerate. Without fully operational tanneries, the finished leather sector could also find itself in dire straits. The Savar Tannery Estate is the largest of these formal complexes in the country. Moreover, it depends on a ministry and is supervised by a public body. Some of the people close to the tannery industry had expressed their doubts about the expected results of the botched move of the Hazaribagh tanneries to the Savar Tannery Estate. But they had also kept in mind the evils produced by the dilapidated and almost dysfunctional tanneries of Hazaribagh. Neighborhoods plagued by pollution have welcomed the change. They had already been subjected to different types of pollution for 50 long years.
During their decades-long operation in Hazaribagh, central Dhaka, the tanners have proven themselves to be compulsive polluters. During their long stay in the region, they had wreaked havoc on the environment of the vast region. It was caused by the relentless discharge and dumping of tannery effluent and solid waste into the Buriganga and its branches. The move of tanneries to an area away from a densely populated urban pocket was long overdue. But that didn’t mean relocating pollution wholesale to an idyllic rural sprawl.