A journey of more than 60 years of the tannery industry at Hazaribagh will finally come to an end today with the formal closure of tanning activities in the area, thanks to the government’s efforts to shift the tannery units to a new tannery estate in Savar.
Following the Supreme Court order to stop leather tanning in the city’s Hazaribagh by April 6, tannery owners will have to permanently shut down their tannery units from Thursday and they have recently pledged to act as per the court order.
The tannery units in the midst of the city have been widely responsible for air and river pollution in the capital. Experts said with the shifting of tannery industries from Hazaribagh to Savar, the capital city and its main Buriganga River are set to free from the tannery-induced pollution.
During a visit to Hazaribagh, this reporter found that daily activities have already slowed down in the busy tannery areas and tanners were busy relocating their units to Savar.
Sources at Bangladesh Small and Cottage Industries Corporation (BSCIC) said around 50 out of 154 tannery units have already been shifted to Savar and those units have started their operations in the new facility. The usual hustle and bustle and bad odour have already disappeared from the once busy Hazaribagh tannery and were replaced by a quiet atmosphere before the closure.
Abul Kalam Azad, president of the Tannery Workers Union, told daily sun that a sense of ‘farewell’ vibe was prevailing in Hazaribagh area in the last few days.
However, a little hope has still alive among some tanners that they will continue their job until their utility services are cut off.
FM Rafiqul Islam, director of Dhaka Hide and Skins, said they are bound to comply with the SC order. “If the utility connections are not cut off, we will finish some incomplete work at the earliest possible time,” he said.
Abdul Kader, the owner of Amin Tannery in the area, said they have almost done the relocation work.
Bangladesh Tanners Association Chairman Sahin Ahmed told daily sun that they are putting hectic efforts for shifting their units to Savar. “We will abide by the SC order,” he said.
While talking with this reporter, labour leaders, workers and owners said many workers from affiliated industries like chemical, rawhide industry, leather importers and backwards linkage industries are in fear of losing their jobs.
They said around 30,000 workers are engaged in this industry and 60 percent of them are working on a temporary basis, and they even do not have any identity cards provided by their employers.
History of Hazaribagh Tannery
The country’s first tannery unit was set up in Narayanganj in the 1940s, namely the ‘Dhaka tannery’. It was later shifted to the Capital’s Hazaribagh around 1950 which eventually turned into a place packed with many tanneries. Within a couple of years, around 20 tannery factories mushroomed in Hazaribagh.
Since then, the Hazaribagh tannery business got momentum and the number of tanneries had increased to around 200 before the liberation war.
With the passage of time, the tannery industrial area at Hazaribagh has expanded to more than 270 of small and big tannery factories.
Due to its toxic materials, the government has identified the tannery industry as one of the most environment-polluting sectors in the country in 1986. The environmentalists have long been demanding the relocation of tanneries from Hazaribagh to save Buriganga River and check air pollution.
As part of the efforts, Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (BELA) filed a public interest litigation (PIL) with the High Court in 2001, seeking an order for relocation of the tanneries from Hazaribagh. Following the PIL, the HC directed tannery owners to relocate their industries.
Taking notice of the fact, the government has undertaken the ‘Leather Industrial Estate’ project on 200 acres of land in Savar in 2003 to relocate the tannery units from hazardous Hazaribagh. The initial cost of the project was Tk 175 crore, which finally reached Tk 1,078 crore in 2016. The project was scheduled to be completed by 2005 and the government had extended several deadlines in this regard.
Finding no progress in the relocation process, the High Court once again directed the tanners in 2009 to relocate their tanneries from Hazaribagh by 2010, and the deadline was later extended till 2011. In July 2016, the High Court ordered that each factory which did not relocate shall pay Tk 10,000 in daily compensation.
In its latest order on March 6, the HC ordered the tanners to shut down their activities in Hazaribagh and asked the Department of Environment to cut off utility connections to the tanneries. The tanners filed an appeal with the Appellate Division against the order. Dismissing their appeal, the Appellate Division ordered to shut down all the tanneries in Hazaribagh by April 6.