How long will it take?
Although the government has set March 1 as the new deadline for moving the tanneries from the capital's Hazaribagh to Savar, not a single factory building at the new site is ready for relocation by the time.
The central effluent treatment plant (CETP), the most essential component of the project, is not ready either. A little over 50 percent work of the plant has been completed.
Out of around 150 factories, highest 25-30 might be able to start operations at the tannery industrial estate in the next two months, according to project officials.
The move to relocate tanneries to Savar was made 13 years back to save the old Dhaka area from serious pollution.
But the “leather town” in Savar could not be completed in time as the tanners never showed any real interest in relocating their factories there. Legal tangles for years are also partly to blame.
Only in April 2013, the design for the tannery site in Savar was approved. Since then, Bangladesh Small and Cottage Industries Corporation (BSCIC) wrote to owners at least 30 times, asking them to complete construction of their factories and move there. But all went in vain.
On January 9, Industries Minister Amir Hossain Amu asked the tanners to move to Savar within 72 hours. However, following negotiations with the owners, the ministry gave them until March 1.
“I've told them if they don't relocate by March 1, electricity connections at Hazaribagh factories will be snapped. And it's going to happen,” he told The Daily Star on Wednesday.
NOTHING IS READY
With only a month to go before the deadline, no factory building is ready there. Some owners started piling work for the construction only last week.
Visiting the site on Tuesday, it was seen that most tanners have started the construction work. Construction of only a few factories is nearing completion. Some owners just finished setting up the boundary walls and are yet to start construction of the main factory buildings. Out of some 150 plot owners, only about 30 have made some notable progress in setting up their establishments.
“To be frank, hardly 25 to 30 factory owners might complete their work and move their factories in the next two months. Other factories will take more time, maybe a few months, as they have just started the piling work,” said Abdul Qaiyum, director of the tannery relocation project.
Also, the government is yet to provide utility services, including gas and electricity connections, there.
Asked about this, Qaiyum said, “We are going to hold a meeting with the tanners and the gas and electricity authorities on Saturday [today] so we can give the connections as soon as possible.”
There are 205 plots at the tannery estate, of which 154 were allocated. Later, allocation of three was cancelled, said Moin Uddin of the BSCIC who is in charge of the leather town.
“At least 100 owners have completed foundation work of their factory buildings. Moulding of roofs of around 50 buildings has been done.”
Last week, he visited the site to monitor the work progress. After the survey, he made a list of 16 factories that made poor progress and warned them about it, he told this correspondent at his office in Savar on Tuesday.
CETP WORK HALFWAY
Though the industries minister has apparently made it his mission to relocate tanneries since he took office two years ago, the reality is the government itself has failed to meet its own deadlines to complete the work of the CETP. The latest deadline for this was December last year.
So far, two out of the plant's four units have been completed. In addition, installation of the pipelines to carry wastewaters for treatment at the CETP remains unfinished.
Asked about this, the minister rather blamed the factory owners for not building their factories despite repeated notices.
“Now we are slowing down the installation of the CETP because we need waste to check whether the plant works properly or not. If the tanners start moving, we will be able to complete the rest of the work within 15 days,” he added.
“We have constructed the tub where all the sludge will gather. After that the wastewaters will have to be treated biologically for three days to decontaminate it. We have completed two units out of the four.”
Once in full operation, the CETP would be able to treat 25,000 cubic metres of waste a day. As of now, it is ready to treat around 13,000 cubic metres, said Prof Delowar Hossain of Buet who has been working with the BSCIC as a consultant of the CETP construction.
Also, the unit that will treat chrome-mixed water is yet to be completed. “We have made a temporary arrangement for storing chrome-mixed water in a pit. Later, we will discharge it after treatment.”
Asked about the delay in constructing the treatment plant, the professor said Chinese company JLEPCL provided some 18 containers with sub-standard machinery without government approval.
“We did not receive those sub-standard materials ... We are importing new machinery and it is supposed to come in two to three weeks,” he told this newspaper last week.
“Even if we want to run the CETP on a test basis, we need at least 25 to 30 factories in operation at the Savar tannery estate. Without this, we cannot check whether the CETP works or not,” he pointed out.
Engineer Md Ali said they had been laying around a 1,500km-long network of pipelines to connect all the factories with the CETP.
“We are done with installing half of the network. Installation of the rest is underway,” he said.
'MORE TIME NEEDED'
The issue came to the spotlight again when Amir Hossain Amu instructed the BSCIC authorities on January 9 to send legal notice to tannery owners to relocate within 72 hours.
Since then, the BSCIC sent legal notices to at least 116 tanners to this effect knowing it full well that none of them can meet such a short deadline.
Abu Taher, the immediate past president of Bangladesh Finished Leather Goods Manufacturers Association, said given the realities, they needed more time.
“I think all tanners will be able to move to Savar by June this year.
“We need around Tk 3,500 crore to complete the relocation work. But the government promised to give us only Tk 250 crore, and we are yet to get 80 percent of the money. Still, the tanners are working hard to relocate from Hazaribagh,” said Abu Taher.