The High Court yesterday issued a contempt of court rule against 10 tannery owners for obstructing the implementation of its 2001 judgment on relocation of hazardous tannery industries from the capital's Hazaribagh area to Savar.
The court asked them to explain in two weeks why contempt of court proceedings should not be brought against them.
The HC gave the rule after hearing a contempt of court petition by Human Rights and Peace for Bangladesh (HRPB), a non-governmental organisation.
Petitioner's counsel Manzill Murshid told the court that 10 of the polluting tannery industries in Hazaribagh didn't take any step to relocate their factories to Savar though the government had given them notices to do so following HC directives.
The owners of the other tanneries in the area made preparations for shifting their factories after getting the notices, he said.
In 2001, the HC directed the government to ensure relocation of the tanneries within two years to save the Buriganga river from pollution.
As the government didn't implement the HC directives by that time, the HRPB filed a petition with the court in June 2009.
On June 23 that year, the HC asked the government to execute its orders by February 28, 2010. The court later extended the deadline by six months.
On October 30, 2010, the HC gave tannery owners six more months to relocate their factories to Savar.
But the owners didn't shift their factories even now, which was an obstruction to implementing the HC verdict, said Manzill.
Hearing the petition, the HC bench of Justice Ashfaqul Islam and Justice Zafar Ahmed issued the rule.
Talking to The Daily Star, Manzill said Industries Secretary Mosharraf Hossain Bhuiyan recently informed the HC that the government issued notices to all tannery owners in Hazaribagh to relocate the hazardous industries to Savar.
The secretary told the court that 10 of the tannery owners didn't make any preparations to shift their industries to Savar where the government set up a central treatment plant for Tk 600 crore, said the counsel.
Mosharraf also gave the HC the names of the 10 tannery owners.
They are: Arefin Shamsul Al Amin, managing director of Rana Leather Industries Ltd; Sayedul Haque Master, proprietor of M/S Jullet Enterprise; Mahbubur Rahman Panna, proprietor of M/S Pubali Tanneries; Giasuddin Ahmed Pathan, managing director of Rumi Leather Industries Ltd; Abdus Salam, proprietor of M/S Salam Tannery; Rezaul Karim Ansary, proprietor of Karim Leather Ltd; Abdul Wadud Mia, proprietor of M/S Mahin Tannery; Abdul Wahab, proprietor of M/S Nabipur Tannery; Mafiz Mia, proprietor of M/S Asia Tannery and Akbar Hossain, managing director of M/S Paramount Tannery.
Asked about the 10 owners' failure to take steps to relocate factories, Mizanur Rahman, treasurer of Bangladesh Tanners Association, said several of the 10 tanneries were facing problems over ownership. “They are yet to decide on relocation of their factories.”
He said most of the 200 tanneries in Hazaribagh didn't have the ability to bear the relocation cost. “The government's compensation package will at best cover 10 percent of the total cost.”
Following the 2001 HC verdict, the industries ministry took a project to move the tanneries to a new tannery town in Savar in 2003, and allocated 155 industrial plots there.
But there was little progress in relocating the factories, and the delay in implementation increased the project cost to Tk 1,079 crore from Tk 175.75 crore over a decade, said officials of the industries ministry.
The government now intends to complete the project by 2016, they said.
According to the Department of Environment, the tanneries in Hazaribagh discharge around 22,000 cubic litres of toxic waste into the Buriganga every day.
In a 2012 report, the Human Rights Watch said the Hazaribagh tannery area was one of world's most polluted places that affect the health of people living around those.