The High Court yesterday directed the director general of the Department of Environment to immediately close the tanneries that are running at the capital's Hazaribagh and have failed to relocate to the Tannery Industrial Estate in Savar.
The court also ordered the DG to disconnect the utility services, including gas, power and water, to the tanneries as they were damaging the environment violating the court's earlier directives.
Ministries of home, environment, industries, the inspector general of police (IGP) and the commissioner of Dhaka Metropolitan Police have been asked to assist the DG in complying with the order.
The HC asked the DG to submit a report after complying with its directives by April 6 and fixed April 10 for further hearing on the issue.
The bench of Justice Syed Refaat Ahmed and Justice Md Salim came up with the order following a petition filed by Bangladesh Environment Lawyers Association (Bela).
DG Raisul Alam Mondal could not be reached for comments as he was abroad.
Last year, the tannery factories at Hazaribagh produced every day about 21,600 cubic metres of environmentally hazardous liquid containing chemicals such as chromium, sulphur, ammonium, salt and other chemicals.
Even though the High Court directed to shut the tannery industries operating in Hazaribagh immediately, neither the government nor the tanners have finished their work at the estate in Savar.
In a recent visit to the tannery estate, it was seen that the authorities have been running the effluent treatment plant (ETP) on a trial basis, treating the liquid waste from the 47 units now operating in Savar. Another 107 units are supposed to be relocated to Savar from Hazaribagh.
Waste, generated in the test run that began after the Eid-ul-Azha in October last, is discharged into the river.
The Department of Environment tested the water of the river and found the waste was not treated properly. Conducted on January 5, the test found more than 80 microgram of salt along with other pollutants in one litre of the river water.
Following a meeting with Bangladesh Tanners Association and Bangladesh Finished Leather, Leather Goods and Footwear Exporters Association, the secretary of the Ministry of Industries on March 1 announced that all the factories would have to be moved to the estate by March 31, 2017, as the tanners missed several deadlines.
Meanwhile, industries ministry lawyer Rais Uddin Ahmad told this correspondent that 43 of 155 tanneries have moved to the Savar estate.
The project of the Savar Tannery Industrial Estate including its ETP is almost ready, he added.
Following a writ petition, filed by Bela, the HC on June 23, 2009, directed the tannery owners to relocate to the estate by February 28, 2010.
The HC on October 30, 2010, extended the deadline until April 30, 2011, Bela's Chief Executive Syeda Rizwana Hasan told The Daily Star.
During the hearing yesterday, the HC observed that setting up of the central ETP at the estate was at the final stage. So the time has come for passing a firm decision to this effect, she said.
Rizwana said Mosharraf Hossain Bhuiyan, senior secretary to the industries ministry, on January 1 told the press that no raw hides would be allowed to enter Hazaribagh after January 31, 2017, and no tannery would be allowed to operate there after March 31, 2017.
Bela, on January 3, submitted the writ petition saying that the industries secretary had no authority to extend the time for relocating the tanneries from Hazaribagh without permission from the HC.
After holding hearing on the petition, the HC yesterday directed the DG of DoE to immediately close the tanneries at Hazaribagh and sever their utility connections.
On March 2, another HC bench directed 154 Hazaribagh tannery owners to pay the government Tk 30.85 crore as fine within two weeks for polluting the environment and failing to relocate their factories to the estate.
In July last year, the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court ordered that every tannery owner must pay Tk 10,000 a day for damaging and polluting the environment in the area and also ordered the owners to move their businesses to Savar.
During the hearing of a contempt petition on March 2, the HC bench of Justice Md Ashfaqul Islam and Justice Ashish Ranjan Das said the tannery owners would face serious consequences if they did not deposit the due compensation into the state funds.
The Daily Star failed to reach Bangladesh Tanners Association President Shaheen Ahmed for comments last night.