Despite the court order and several attempts by the government, most tanneries have yet to relocate to Savar Industrial Leather Park, thereby being unable to tan hides collected during the upcoming Eid.
Instead, they would have to sustain processing rawhide in Hazaribagh area, paying a daily fine.
According to Bangladesh Tanners Association (BTA) and government officials, only 40 tannery owners out of 155 is likely to start wet blue – a process of converting rawhide and skin to tanned leather using chromium salts.
On June 16, the High Court slapped a daily fine of Tk50,000 on each of the 154 tanneries that would fail to relocate to Savar from Hazaribagh. Later, the fine was reduced to Tk10,000 a day in review of the petitions.
While the Industry Ministry asked the tanners to process sacrificial raw hides in Savar Industrial Park especially built for the country’s over $1 billion export-earner leather industry.
According to the court order, about 160 tannery owners have to pay Tk10,000 each totaling Tk1.6 crore a day until they are able to relocate factories to the saver industrial estate.
“As of yesterday, a total of 10 tanneries are ready to process raw hides in the Savar industrial estate. Based on work progress, it is expected that 30-35 tannery units would be able to start operation before the upcoming Eid ul-Azha,” Abdul Quayum, project director of the Savar Leather Industrial Park, told the Dhaka Tribune.
“But we are ready to treat waste of 48 tanneries as two modules of Central Effluent Treatment Plants (CETP) are fully prepared to go in operation any time.”
However, leaders of the tannery owners’ platform and finished leader goods blamed the government for slow progress. They argued that the CETP is not yet ready while the water connection and sewerage line are yet to be okayed.
“A total of 113 of 145 tannery owners got plot allocation in the industrial park. Of them, 20 will be able to start processing before Eid,” Md Shakawat Ullah, general secretary, Bangladesh Tanners Association (BTA) told the Dhaka Tribune.
He also said another 20 tanneries from the finished leather good section are ready to go in operation before the Eid.
According to Bangladesh Finished Leather, Leather Goods and Footwear Exporters Association (BFLLFEA), a total of 20 members out of 55 would be able to start processing rawhide before Eid in the Savar Industrial Park.
“We are shifting to Savar to make our industry more environmentally compliant. But the CETP is still under construction,” M Abu Taher, former chairman of BFLLFEA told the Dhaka Tribune.
“If we cannot treat tannery waste, it would not bring benefits to the environment,” Taher said, alleging that sewerage and CETP are yet to get ready to provide service.
He emphasised loan facility to the tannery owners and landownership.
If the government offers landownership, it will help factory owners especially the small and medium ones to get loan by mortgaging their property, he added arguing that it is a costly investment and needs a huge amount of money.
Brushing aside the allegation, Quayum said the CETP, sewerage line and water passage are fully ready to process waste from the factory.
He also said water connection system is ready and water will be supplied to the units three to four days after demand is placed.
According to the sector people, the project would be completed by June next year and all tannery owners would be able to start processing in the industrial zone as about 80 companies have erected one to five floors and would be able to relocate very soon.
Those who are unable to relocate will process their rawhide in Hazaribagh, paying fine as per the court directive while others will do the task in the industrial zone, said BTA leader Shakawat.
“We will urge the government to relax its position so that the tanners can do their business, or else it would hurt their rawhide collection as well its processing.”
The Industry Ministry allocated plots to 155 tannery owners through the Bangladesh Small and Cottage Industries Corporation (BSCIC) in the Leather Industrial Park, which has been established on 200 acres of land in Savar.
As per the agreement, the government was supposed to establish a Central Effluent Treatment plant (CETP) at the industrial park to ensure that the liquid wastes discharged by the tanners are treated before flowing into the nearby river.
The government decided to transfer the tanneries from Hazaribagh amid pressure from local and international rights groups, environmental activists and buyers because of their hazardous effects on public health and environment, especially the Buriganga River.