Tannery relocation looks uncertain, costs to environment mount
The relocation of tanneries to Savar from Hazaribagh has run into a dead-end due to friction between the industries ministry and Bangladesh Tannery Association (BTA), putting the environment and human lives in danger.
“The tanners have already ruined Buriganga river, the heart of Dhaka. Now, they will do the same to other rivers like Dhaleswari and Shitalakkhya,” said Abdul Matin, general secretary of Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon, a platform of green activists.
For many years now, the level of oxygen in the waters of Buriganga has been zero, and the ecosystem of Hazaribagh and its adjacent areas is completely damaged, Matin said.
“The relocation of tanneries has become a must. Otherwise, we will not be able to save Dhaka city,” he said, adding that setting up effluent treatment plant (ETP) at Hazaribagh is not viable.
Industries Minister Dilip Barua said the relocation is being held-up by BTA's delay in signing the agreement for bearing the costs of setting up a central ETP (CETP) at the Savar leather estate.
But, according to a memorandum of understanding (MoU) signed in 2007 between the two parties, the CETP was supposed to be constructed by the government, with the tanners paying back in instalments spread across 15 years.
“The entrepreneurs are now showing no interest in signing the loan agreement with the ministry for the construction of CETP.”
Without the signed agreement, the ministry is unable to get the final approval from the Executive Committee of National Economic Council to get the project started, Barua said.
“We have already awarded the tender for the CETP to the Chinese contractor JLEPCL-DCL JV, but without the green light from ECNEC, they cannot start work.”
The delay is not only affecting the natural environment and human lives, but also threatening the country's leather and leather goods industry, the minister said.
The European Union, the leading destination of the country's leather exports, has already threatened to stop buying products from Bangladesh beyond 2014 if the CETP is not established in the industrial zone by then.
“So, we will lose nearly one billion dollar of leather, leather goods and footwear exports a year for this delay,” Barua said.
But, Shamsul Huda, president of BTA, is claiming quite the opposite.
As per a MoU signed in 2003, the government was supposed to bear the costs of CETP and pay Tk 250 crore as compensation to the tanners for relocation, Huda said.
“The amount has compounded manifold by now. Still, it is our demand that the government pays us the compensation, so that we can shift our factories to Savar without further delay.”
He said the tanners demanded the amount for construction of new buildings and moving machinery from Hazaribagh.
Nevertheless, the delay is only mounting the cost of the project. The project took off in 2003, to be completed in 2005 with an approximate cost of Tk 175.75 crore.
Let alone being completed in 2005, the project was rescheduled thrice.
The costs now stand at Tk 827.99 crore, and the leather park is said to be ready by 2014, as per Abu Taher, director of the project.
“Six project directors were transferred since the commencement of the project and I am the seventh one,” said Taher, also a director of Bangladesh Small and Cottage Industries Corporation.
The project cost has been also been increasing because of incorporation of new components, he added.
“The government is now planning to add sludge treatment plant, sludge power generation plant and solid waste management plant with the CETP.”
The industries ministry has already allocated more than 205 plots on 200 acres of land to 156 entrepreneurs through Bangladesh Small and Cottage Industries Corporation, a wing of the ministry.