The government has served legal notices on 25 tanners for their failure to start their relocation process to Savar from Hazaribagh, officials said.
Abdul Quayum, project director of the tannery estate in Savar, said he had provided a list of the tanneries to lawyers on January 10 for sending legal notices.
Most of the tanneries have already been given the legal notices, and by Thursday, the others will get theirs too, he told The Daily Star yesterday.
The move comes after Industries Minister Amir Hossain Amu on January 10 instructed state-run Bangladesh Small and Cottage Industries Corporation (BSCIC) to serve the legal notices on the tanneries.
He also sounded out a stern warning against tanneries, saying the polluting factories will be shut down if they fail to relocate to the designated industrial park in Savar within 72 hours. The deadline ended yesterday.
The tannery estate project of the BSCIC had initially prepared a list of 28 tanneries that have done very little in setting up the new industrial units in Savar.
Later, three of the tanneries were taken off the list after they started developing their site, Quayum said.
The issue of relocating more than 150 tanneries has been dragging on for years.
The factories release thousands of litres of untreated and toxic liquid waste into the Buriganga river, which poses a serious risk to human and animal health and diminishes the prospects of leather exports.
The sector is the second highest contributor to national exports after apparel. For instance, in fiscal 2014-15, Bangladesh exported leather and leather goods worth $1.13 billion.
In light of the export prospects and the environmental hazard, the government in 2003 decided to take up a project to relocate the factories to Savar at a cost of Tk 175.75 crore. The cost has now ballooned to Tk 1,079 crore.
Some 155 tanneries were allocated plots on the 200-acre leather estate through the BSCIC.
And in 2010, the government even gave Tk 250 crore in compensation to the tanners to help them move to Savar.
Speaking to reporters in Dhaka yesterday, the industries minister reiterated the government's intent to make the Hazaribagh area free of tanneries.
“I will take action. I will cancel their plot allotment and even close down their factories in Hazaribagh,” he said, about the tanneries that will fail to move to Savar within “stipulated” time.
Amu also said he has already consulted with the prime minister about the issue.
Shaheen Ahmed, chairman of the Bangladesh Tanners Association, said most tanneries have been working since January to set up their units at the estate.
Half of the tanneries will be ready to start commercial operation by the end of this year and the others as early as May, he added.
One such firm that is in the relocation process is Crescent Tanneries, which exports products worth Tk 2,500 crore a year.
The company has decided to start operations in its Savar unit from July 1 this year, said its General Manager Md Nurul Islam, adding that it has already sent a letter to the authorities requesting high-voltage power connection.
Crescent will have to spend Tk 100 crore to complete the relocation process, according to Islam.
Over at the Savar industrial park, the central effluent treatment plant (CETP), the main argument for relocation from Hazaribagh, is not fully ready yet.
Officials said more than 50 percent of the work to set up the CETP has been completed, meaning two of the four units are ready to process pollutants.
A number of tanneries called for completing all the units of the CETP so that the estate is fully operational.
Otherwise, the untreated and toxic liquid waste that is polluting the Buriganga river now will pollute the Dhaleshwari after they move there.
Unions have called for completing the CETP so the tanneries can operate in an environment-friendly way and workers can work in a healthy workplace.
Abul Kalam Azad, president of the Tannery Workers Union, criticised the government and the tanneries alike for not keeping the accommodation of the workers in mind while designing the tannery estate in Savar.
He said 30,000 workers and their families will have to move to Savar. “Where will they live? Where will their children go to study?”
“It is not that tanneries will move there, hire workers, train them for a few days and then start operations. These workers are specialised ones. If they cannot move there immediately with the tanneries, the tanners will face a crisis.”
Residents of the areas surrounding the tanneries in Hazaribagh said they would be happy to see the tanneries shift as it is long overdue.
“The air is very toxic. The smell is very bad. This is very bad for the health,” said Minhajul Islam, a student who lives in the area with his parents.
Brand new steel products become rusty quickly, according to a number of residents.