Save rivers from pollution

Green activists urge govt to take action now as tanneries dump waste into Dhaleswari
Chemical waste from tanneries in the capital's Hazaribagh area flows down a drain that falls into a canal connected to the Buriganga river. Photo: Anisur Rahman

Expressing concern over the ongoing pollution in Dhaleswari River because of dumping of tannery waste, green activists yesterday said the imperfect design of the Savar Tannery Industrial Estate and utter mismanagement are putting the river and the neighbouring areas under threat.

They said the authorities need to address the flaws of the relocated tanneries and enhance their technical capabilities.

Speakers at a roundtable discussion titled 'How to protect Buriganga and Dhaleshwari from Tannery Pollution', organised by Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon (BAPA) at the Jatiya Press Club, called upon the concerned ministries to jointly work to save the river from pollution.

They said the authorities need to address the flaws of the relocated tanneries and enhance their technical capabilities.

From 2016, owners began to shift their tanneries to Savar from Hazaribagh but the relocation is yet to be complete.

They pointed out that a huge quantity of dissolved salt is being discharged into the Dhaleshwari River from the tanneries as the central effluent treatment plant (CETP) does not have the components needed for desalinising wastewater.

Saying that around 40,000 tonnes of salt is used in the tannery industry annually, green activists said even if all the other toxic materials are treated, the salt will kill biodiversity of the river.

Joint secretary of BAPA Sharif Jamil said the CEPT in Savar is a biological plant, so its effectiveness depends on the amount of waste and its timely release.

He added that to prevent the river and adjacent canals from salinity, an additional Tk 500 crore needs to be spent.

The current project took off in 2003. The plan was to complete it by 2005 at an approximate cost of Tk 175.75 crore. As it was rescheduled thrice, the cost went up to Tk 827.99 crore.

Jamil also said the plant suffered from operational problems. “But it seems, the plant is not operated properly,” he said.

About 30,000 workers are needed to operate the plant but there are no residential facilities for them which is causing a manpower shortage, he said.

He also alleged that many tanners are still clandestinely carrying out operations in Hazaribagh and as a result pollution of Buriganga River hasn't stopped.

Shipping Minister Shajahan Khan said tanneries' contributed well to the economic development of the country.

The overall export earnings from the leather industry were US$1.23 billion, including finished leather, leather goods, and footwear in the fiscal year 2016-17.

However, he added “But it is not acceptable if the industry pollutes environment and harms hundreds of people of the country.”

He asked green activists to form a working group to find out the problems with the relocated plant and prepare recommendations for ministries to save both Dhaleswari and Buriganga from pollution.

Vice President of BAPA Syed Abul Maksud said river pollution is a life threatening problem which directly impacts a nation's future.

“About 10-15 ministries are involved in the prevention of river pollution but it is yet to be solved,” he said.

To save the river Buriganga from being polluted, from 2016 the tannery industry is being set up on 200 acres of land, acquired from locals, along the Dhaleswari River.

Pointing out the shortcomings of the CETP, Bangladesh Tanners Association Chairman Shaheen Ahmed said locals are being affected due to the stench created from the tanneries. “They're getting furious. They may stand against us anytime,” he warned.