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Tanners must go, but with less compensation

Have to pay Tk 10,000 a day until relocation to Savar
Star file photo of Hazaribadh tannery waste disposal.

The Supreme Court yesterday ordered the owners of 154 tanneries in the city's Hazaribagh to pay Tk 10,000 in daily compensation for damaging the environment in the area.

The apex court reset the compensation amount after the tanners moved an appeal before it against the June 16 High Court order that had asked each of the factories to pay Tk 50,000 in daily compensation.

The SC order said half of the money would go to Bangladesh Liver Foundation for running charitable activities and the rest would be deposited in government coffers.

The Tannery Owners Association and Bangladesh Finished Leather, Leather Goods and Footwear Exporters Association jointly moved the appeal, seeking stay on the HC order.

The HC order came following a petition filed by Human Rights and Peace for Bangladesh. On June 28, the chamber judge of the Appellate Division stayed the HC order until July 17 and sent the appeal to apex court's full bench for its hearing.

Talking to The Daily Star, petitioner's lawyer Manzill Murshid said the SC's order was a big progress towards relocation of the hazardous tanneries to Savar. The government has set up Savar Tannery Industrial Estate there.

The tannery owners will have to pay Tk 10,000 in daily compensation until their factories are relocated, he added.

The factories release thousands of litres of untreated and toxic liquid waste into the Buriganga every day, posing a serious risk to human and animal health.

During the hearing on the appeal yesterday, tannery owners' lawyer Sheikh Fazle Noor Taposh told the SC that his clients had been working to relocate their units to Savar.

He argued that the tanners cannot relocate factories as the government did not set up a central effluent treatment plant (CETP) at Savar. The tanneries would be shifted to Savar at their own cost within this year, he mentioned.

Tannery owners are businessmen and therefore, they should not be treated as criminals, Taposh said.

The industries secretary earlier informed the HC that the government has already set up a CETP at Savar and some tanneries have been shifted there in line with the HC directives, Manzill Murshid told the SC.

At one stage of the hearing, the apex court said the capital's environment was being polluted and damaged due to operations of hazardous tannery units. The tannery owners have to comply with the HC directives, the court added. 

Last month, the industries secretary submitted to the HC a list of 154 tanneries which were operating in Hazaribagh in violation of HC orders.

The secretary submitted the list after the HC directed him twice to provide it with the names and addresses of the businessmen who were running tanneries in Hazaribagh.

In 2001 and 2009, the HC had directed the government to take steps to relocate the tanneries to Savar by 2010. The court later extended the deadline until 2013.

Md Shakawat Ullah, general secretary of Bangladesh Tanners Association (BTA), said they would now talk to lawyers to find out whether there was any scope for seeking a review of the SC order.

A significant progress has been made in relocating about 70 tanneries to Savar, he mentioned. He hoped that they would be able to relocate all the factories by Eid-ul-Azha. The Eid falls in mid-September.

The BTA called for speedy completion of the CETP. “If the CETP remains incomplete, our tanneries would pollute the environment in Savar,” said Shakawat.

Out of the four modules of the CETP, two have already been set up, said Abdul Quayum, project director of the industrial estate. These two modules can treat pollutants from about 50 tanneries, he noted.

The official hoped the rest of the modules would be set up by next two months.

Quayum also said two tanneries have already started production at the estate while 34 more have deposited money for electricity connections.