Following the Supreme Court's directive on March 30, all tanneries at Hazaribagh have to relocate to Savar Leather Industrial Park by April 6, but some of the tannery owners on Tuesday said they will not leave unless they are forced out of there.
Even though FM Rafiqul Islam, director for technical operation of Dhaka Hide and Skins, moved their cow hides to the leather park, the leather processing is still taking place at Hazaribagh which he refused to move, saying: “We will move when we are forced out of this place.”
Consistently called one of the most polluted places on Earth, Hazaribagh came fifth on the list of top 10 polluted places with at least 160,000 people being victims of pollution due to the presence of toxic chemicals, mainly chromium, in a study published by Green Cross Switzerland and New York-based Blacksmith Institute in 2013.
Repeated efforts by environmental groups and the government has failed to move one of the largest industrial polluters in Bangladesh with resistance from both owners and workers.
The Supreme Court verdict also asked the authorities concerned to disconnect all gas, electricity and water services at Hazaribagh tanneries by April 6.
“Working in the new Industrial Park Savar, would be like jail to me as there is no housing and other residential facilities there,” said Md Badsha, 15-year veteran of the tannery industry.
The government, tannery owners and workers had agreed there would be a residential area for the workers along with schools and hospitals in the area which have not been built so far.
“Although, as per the tripartite agreement among workers, owners and the government, they were supposed be provided with facilities such as housing, healthcare, schools, parks for but none of that has transpired in the area,” said Abdul Malek, general secretary, Tannery Workers Union.
When asked about this lack of implementation, Md Shakawat Ullah, general secretary of Bangladesh Tanners Association said: “We are sincerely thinking about building a residential area near the tannery park and a decision will be taken once everything has been fully relocated.”
From June 2011 to July 2012, Bangladesh’s tanneries exported close to $663 million in leather and leather goods—such as shoes, handbags, suitcases, and belts—to some 70 countries worldwide, including China, South Korea, Japan, Italy, Germany, Spain, and the United States. Over the past decade, leather exports have grown by an average of $41 million each year, reports Human Rights Watch.
According to stakeholders, there are about 30,000 people working in the tanneries.
In 2001, Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (BELA) filed public interest litigation (PIL) with the High Court, seeking an order for relocation of tanneries from Hazaribagh. Following the PIL, the High Court directed tannery owners to relocate their business.
In 2003 the government then allocated over 200 acres of land in Savar to build the Leather Industrial Park for the tanneries to relocated to, at the cost of Tk175 crore which in 2016 stood at Tk1078 crore.
In 2009 the High Court once again directed the tanneries to relocate by 2010 which was later extended to 2011. On July 2016, the High Court ordered each factory to pay Tk10,000 daily as compensation for not relocating.