The move to relocate tanneries from the capital to Savar has remained suspended for a decade, due to disagreements between the authorities and tannery owners over who should bear the cost of the move.
Tannery owners are unwilling to pay for relocation and the setting up of a central effluent treatment plant (CETP) at the proposed site in Savar, some 15 kilometers away from the existing site.
They reasoned that the estimated cost for the project has risen five fold in the last decade, and the government was originally responsible for the costs associated with relocation.
The government, which initiated the tannery relocation move in 2003, deviated from its original plan and imposed the relocation expense on the owners under a loan agreement over 15 years, after the CETP is installed. The cost of the proposed CETP installation has risen to Tk9.64bn, as opposed to the initial Tk1.75bn estimate.
The association of tanners is yet to sign the loan agreement with the government despite several reminders from the industries ministry and this has resulted in a delay in the project’s implementation, said Abu Taher Khan, director of the Leather Park Project.
The association claimed the government is avoiding their demands and misinterpreting the contract for the project.
“We are not going to sign any loan agreement as the provision was not included in the agreement signed in 2003”, said Abdul Hai, general secretary of Bangladesh Finished Leather and Leather Goods Association.
Later, the tannery association demanded that the government pay Tk2.5bn as compensation for the shift, which the government had earlier agreed to.
More than 200 factories in Hazaribagh tannery release several thousand liters of untreated and highly toxic liquid waste into the Buriganga River, posing a serious threat to public health.
In the absence of a CETP for factories, workers suffer from different skin diseases.
The Department of Environment reported that some 22,000 cubic meters of raw and liquid waste from tannery units in Hazaribagh flow into the Buriganga, where the oxygen level is zero instead of the minimum six required for aquatic species.
More than 100 tonnes of solid waste, including dregs of finished leather, skins and chemical dust are disposed into the city. The factories in Hazaribagh have been supplying raw materials for 58 years to Bangladeshi leather factories, which presently earn an estimated Tk55bn per year.
Against the backdrop of health and environmental hazards, the High Court on the basis of a Public Interest Litigation, asked the government to relocate the tannery units from Dhaka to a proposed leather estate at Harindhara in Savar by February 28, 2010.
The government has sought an extension on the deadline on multiple occasions.