In April this year, all tannery-related work in the capital’s Hazaribagh area came to a halt in compliance with a High Court verdict. Since then, tanners have moved to the Savar Leather Industrial Park, leaving behind empty industrial sheds at Hazaribagh.The tanners say they are yet to decide how to utilise the places and empty sheds at Hazaribagh that were once their work place.When asked about their previous location, chairman of the Bangladesh Tanners’ Association (BTA) and managing director of Kohinoor Tanneries Ltd Shaheen Ahamed told The Independent that the industrial sheds at Hazaribagh lay completely empty without any kind of productive or factory work being done there.So far, all the machines inside 155 tanneries had been shifted to the Savar Leather Industrial Park, he added. “At this moment, we don’t have any plan nor have we decided on doing anything about our previous location at Hazaribagh,” he said. When asked about operational activities, he said, 155 tanneries had received their allotted plots in Savar and, among them, 20 to 25 factories had started their operation in full swing. They are producing leather goods such as footwear.Seventy factories had started their operation but not in full swing yet. These tanneries are processing crust leather, which are tanned but not fully finished, he added. “The construction work of nearly 60 factories is still on for further production,” he informed.
Explaining the problems in the Savar tannery zone, Shaheen Ahamed said exports fell after the factories were moved to Savar because the utility and infrastructure services were not up to the mark. “The waste disposal system is not functioning well. Moreover, roads go under water if there is even a little bit of rain,” he said.Around 65,000 people used to work in the tanneries in Hazaribagh, according to Shaheen Ahamed. Talking about factories causing extreme environmental degradation, Shaheen Ahamed said that ones that do not harm the environment were costly to install. “Therefore, we need more sophisticated equipment and machinery to make the factories eco-friendly,” he added. “The plan of the Savar Leather Industrial Park is to create the country’s first environmentally friendly tannery zone. So, we have been trying our best to build eco-friendly factories with a Common Effluent Treatment Plant (CETP),” said Ahamed. But, he added, the installation of the facility would take some time.
Manager of Arafath Leather Complex Ltd Rawshan Alam told The Independent, “At this moment, we haven’t decided anything about what we will do with our previous factory location at Hazaribagh.”The industrial sheds at Hazaribagh had been kept as they were except that the machines had been shifted to Savar, Alam said.Hazaribagh tannery sites were now completely empty. No processing work was being done and the place looked clean, he added.
About the problems involved in shifting to Savar, he said, “We couldn’t go for full-fledged production as there is still shortage of electricity and gas inside the tannery zone. So, the production cost is rising every day.”Talking about infrastructure problems, he said, the roads inside the zone were not paved and were easily submerged by rainwater.As for production, he said: “At present, we are producing crust leather, which is tanned but not finished leather.”Talking to The Independent, owner of ABS Tannery Ltd Emam Hossain said, “We have shifted our factories to Savar; only the factory sheds have been left behind in Hazaribagh.”When asked about their plans regarding the utilisation of the space, he said, “We haven’t decided anything yet but it totally depends on the factory owners. Some owners want to use the empty spaces as ‘storehouse’. Some have decided to rent them out.”About the situation in the Savar area, Hossain said, “The construction of our factory has been completed and we have started our production in Savar, but not in full swing yet.” Elaborating on some problems in the Savar tannery zone, Emam Hossain said, “Government is not giving me the lease papers and because of that banks are not letting me submit papers for taking loans.”“I have spent my own money to build the factory in Savar without any government support,” said Emam Hossain.In 2001, the High Court had ordered the tannery owners to relocate their factories from Hazaribagh to Savar to prevent environmental pollution. Since then, 16 years have passed but the process not yet fully over.In 2003, the government allocated land for the Savar Leather Industrial Park.The government extended the relocation deadline several times following requests from the Bangladesh Small and Cottage Industries Corporation (BSCIC), the implementing agency of the tannery estate project.On March 6 this year, the High Court directed the government to shut down the Hazaribagh tanneries and stop all utility services, including gas line, power and water, as the factory owners had missed several deadlines to relocate.On April 8, the Department of Environment (DoE) disconnected utility services—electricity, gas and water to some 224 tanneries in city’s Hazaribagh area in compliance with the High Court order.According to the BTA, 155 tannery owners have received plots at Savar from the industries ministry. The leather complex stands on 200 acres of land.The High Court (HC) on October 12 ordered the authorities concerned to complete all infrastructural work, including the setting up of a Common Effluent Treatment Plant (CETP) at Savar within four weeks.The court also asked the authorities to take necessary steps to prevent the mixing of solid and liquid waste.
Describing workers’ condition at Savar, president of the Tannery Workers’ Union Abul Kalam Azad told The Independent that their condition was worse now than what it was in Hazaribagh.He elaborated and said, “At Savar, we don’t have basic facilities such as medical care, accommodation, canteen services for workers.”“Besides, most of the workers are commuting from Dhaka to Savar, bearing their own transport cost. Therefore, 80 per cent of their wages go in meeting transportation and other expenses,” he said.He also said, “The factories in Savar are not yet compliant (with the guidelines). Until all the factories become compliant, it would be impossible to improve the quality of life of the workers.”“We also wanted a monthly allowance of Tk 3,000 from the government to compensate our transportation cost, but we haven’t got any response yet,” Azad complained.
The BTA says it is implementing projects funded by the ‘EU for Environmental Management Systems, Eco-Labeling Schemes in the SMEs of the leather sector in Bangladesh (ECOLEBAN)’ and organizing training programmes.Ecoleban involves the implementation of environmental management systems and eco-labelling schemes in the SMEs of the leather sector in Bangladesh.Ecoleban is a 4-year project (2014–2018) supported by the European Union (EU) under the SWITCH Asia Programme.Talking to The Independent, local project manager of Ecoleban Sanjoy Kumar Thakur told The Independent that Eco-labelling was a new concept in Bangladesh. Not only the factory, but also the product had to be environment-friendly and sustainable as well.The leather industry is a fast growing and vital component of the Bangladesh economy. However, the leather sector is also very polluting, having a harmful impact both on the environment and human health, he said.Talking about polluting consumption, some labels quantify pollution or energy consumption by way of index scores or units of measurement, while others assert compliance with a set of practices or minimum requirements for sustainability or reduction of harm to the environment, he added. Explaining the Ecoleban project, he said, it promoted resource-use efficiency and sustainability of the leather sector in Bangladesh throughout the value chain of leather-related products such as footwear and other leather goods.He said Eco-labels and Green Stickers were labelling systems for food and consumer products. Ecolabels were voluntary, but Green Stickers were mandated by law; for example, in North America major appliances and automobiles used Energy Star.A deep analysis to identify the needs and constraints of the sector shows that the core of the problem is that the leather industry in the country is dominated by SMEs with critical lack of expertise and capacity to respond to environmental problems.