The government efforts to free tanneries from environmental pollution came under question as pollution still remains a major concern in Savar
Despite huge investment and government efforts to make tannery industry free from environmental pollution, danger lurks in Savar Leather Industrial Estate as solid waste is being dumped in open space and the Central Effluent Treatment Plant (CETP) is yet to start full-fledged operation.
In face of strong pressures from environmentalists and global retailers, the government forced tanners to relocate factories from Dhaka’s Hazaribagh to Savar in a bid to prevent environmental pollution.
In April last year, in compliance with a High Court order, the government cut off electricity and gas connections to the tanneries at Hazaribagh to compel the owners to relocate to Savar Leather Industrial Estate.
However, the government efforts to free tanneries from environmental pollution came under question as pollution still remains a major concern in Savar.
As per an agreement with tannery owners, the government was supposed to establish a CETP at the industrial zone to ensure that the liquid wastes discharged by the tanners are treated before flowing into the nearby river, but is yet to complete.
During a visit to Savar Leather Industrial Estate last week, the Dhaka Tribune found that the solid waste was dumped in open space, polluting the environment in surrounding areas, while the CETP is not fully functioning.
“As of today, most of tanners are ready with the infrastructure to process the rawhides but due to lack of proper functioning of the CETP, they cannot start full-fledged tanning,” a tannery official, seeking anonymity, told the Dhaka Tribune.
“As a result, we cannot receive work orders from foreign buyers as they want to see the compliance and environmental issues are followed,” he said.
On the other hand, the solid waste management is a mess, which is another threat for the sector in ensuring environmental compliance, the official added.
“The CETP is working better than the previous year in terms of discharging water. But we are very concerned about the solid waste management, as it is being dumped in open space and polluting the local environment,” Md Shakawat Ullah, general secretary of Bangladesh Tanners Association, told the Dhaka Tribune.
“For a better waste management, we urged the government to hand it over to Dhaka North City Corporation, but they paid no heed,” he said.
Pollution to mount after Eid
The magnitude of pollution will increase after Eid-ul-Azha as about 50% rawhides are collected during this period and processed later.
More tanneries will start collecting rawhides and tanning this year and it will intensify pollution as the capacity of CETP is not fully ready to handle new load of liquid waste.
According to Livestock Department, last year, a total of 10.4 million animals were slaughtered, which is expected to be 11.5 million this year.
“The solid waste is being discharged to the nearby river and sometimes the dam at the river bank gets damaged due to pressure inside the yard, where solid waste is dumped,” Mohammad Alim, a local resident, said.
The waste discharge increases during Eid, he said.
“There is a pipe under the dam and the waste is drained into river through the pipe, which pollute the water – endangering the biodiversity of the river,” Alim added.
He claimed that the CETP does not remain operational all the time, letting toxic waste run into the river.
Despite repeated attempts, the Dhaka Tribune could not reach Savar Leather Industry Estate’s Project Director Shabbir Ahmed for a comment.
As of today, as many as 111 out of 200 tanneries relocated to the designated area have started tanning rawhides. Eight new tanneries will start operations during Eid.
The industries ministry allocated plots to 155 tannery owners through the Bangladesh Small and Cottage Industries Corporation in Savar Leather Industry Estate, constructed on 200 acres of land.
Fear of further decline in export earnings
Since the tanning process of rawhides is being hurt due to the relocation and lack of proper infrastructure, industry insiders fear further fall in export earnings. They called for a quick action to end the crisis.
“The sector is going through tough times due to relocation of tanneries to Savar and low prices in the global market. We still have last years stock unsold,” said Bangladesh Tanners Association President Shaheen Ahmed.
“If the government does not take measures to fix the problems regarding the compliance and infrastructure at Savar Leather Industrial Estate, the sector may face a further fall in export earnings,” he said.
In the last fiscal year, Bangladesh’s export earnings from leather and leather goods suffered a drop of over 12% to $1.08 billion, which was $1.23 billion in the FY 2016-17.
“Due to lack of compliance, the global buyers have left Bangladesh. We are trying to restore buyers’ confidence but we need government support,” Shaheen added.
Meanwhile, the government has provided incentive to the sector by lowering the prices of rawhides to be collected during Eid-ul-Azha.
“The leather industry is in trouble due to the relocation of tanneries to Savar from Hazaribagh. The prices of processed leather in the global markets went down resulting in unsold stock from last year. This is why we are supporting the industry by reducing the prices of rawhides to recover from the losses,” Commerce Minister Tofail Ahmed said.
Prices of salted raw hides of sacrificed cows have been set at Tk45-50 per square foot for Dhaka and Tk35-40 for other parts of the country. Last year, the price per square foot of salted raw hide of sacrificed cows was set at Tk50-55 for the Dhaka region and Tk40-45 for outside of Dhaka.