Tanners face problems as chemicals are held up in port

The lack of environmental clearance led the tanneries in Savar, on the outskirts of the capital Dhaka, into a crisis during the peak production season as they were unable to obtain a huge amount of chemicals discharged from the port of Chattogram.

The tanners blamed the Bangladesh Small and Cottage Industries Corporation for the situation, as the latter forced them to relocate from Hazaribagh to Savar without installing a properly functioning central effluent treatment plant.

The Ministry of the Environment has not yet issued a permit for the CETP, although the project authorities submitted their application in February 2022.

So far, 140 tanneries have moved to Savar from Hazaribagh, 81 of which have received environmental clearance. DoE officials said those who received the clearance also had their terms expired and must renew them now.

The tanners said that due to the environmental problem, a huge amount of chemicals imported by at least 27 factories were left unattended in Chattogram port as customs authorities refused to release them, hampering their operation.

They said some rawhides, collected during Eid-ul-Azha in July, were already rotting while the quality of some others had dropped as they could not start tanning them in time.

The tanneries collected about a crore of pieces of skins during Eid-ul-Azha, celebrated on July 10, or 80% of their annual collection.

Bangladesh Tanners Association Secretary General Shakawat Ullah said they were not getting environmental clearance for the failed BSCIC.

BSCIC took on the relocation project for two years in 2003 to build an eco tannery estate in Savar. The park included a CETP to treat the effluents generated by the leather factories.

Project officials said CETP lacked capacity and was inefficient in treating effluent while there was no solid waste management.

Deputy chairman of the Bangladesh Leather, Leather Goods and Footwear Exporters Association, Abdul Awal, said the production of tanneries was severely hampered due to the unavailability of chemicals.

“Hide is breaking down rapidly due to high temperatures this year as we are forced to halt operations due to lack of chemicals,” Awal said.

DoE officials said most tanneries also failed to ensure environmental compliance.

Tanneries use too much water to process the same amount of rawhide, resulting in CETP overflow.

Tanners said they needed more than 200 types of chemicals to tan hides. Most of them are imported from European countries and China.

Among these, sulfuric acid, chromium sulphate, syntans, fillers, biocides, surfactants, degreasers, lime, sodium sulphide, sodium hydrosulphide, caustic soda, sulphate ammonium, ammonium chloride and formic acid are important.

The Association of Tanners said that Amin Tannery Ltd, Anower Tannery Pvt Ltd, Apex Tannery Ltd, Ayub Brothers Tannery Ltd, Bay Tannery Unit-2 Ltd, Bengal Leather Complex Ltd, Dhaka Hide and Skin Ltd, Pragati Leather Complex, Reliance Tannery Ltd, and Vulua Tannery Ltd were among the tanneries whose chemicals got stuck in the port.

Association secretary Shakawat Ullah said the 27 tanneries were importing chemicals on bail.

DoE Director Ziaul Haque said they had no choice but to deny the environmental clearance as directed by the parliamentary standing committee on the environment.

“According to the guidelines, tanners must renew their licenses in accordance with environmental compliance,” he said.

He said the tanneries continued to pollute the Dhaleshwari River as the CETP at the tannery estate had failed to control the pollution.

Tannery owners have accused the BSCIC of obtaining not only environmental clearance but also Leather Task Force certification due to a malfunction in CETP.

The Leather Working Group is a community-based nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting excellence in sustainable leather production.

LWG certification is essential for tanneries to import their products to the best brands.

Mustak Ahmed, director general of the domain and deputy secretary of the Ministry of Industry, said LWG certification mainly depends on industry compliance.

He said environmental management of solid waste and effluent was only part of that.

Mustak blamed tanners for not following up on compliance issues.

He said tanneries are not operating accordingly and as a result pollution is not decreasing which prevents them from getting clearance from the DoE and LWG.

As pollution from the BSCIC tannery estate continued, some tanneries, including Bay and Apex, began to build their own effluent treatment plants to obtain LWG.

Bangladesh’s Secretary General Paribesh Andolan, Sharif Jamil, said the responsibility for the pollution lay mainly with the government agency that had failed to set up an eco-friendly industrial hub and with the tanners who benefited the detriment to the environment.

He said the DoE should only renew or issue a license for tanneries after they are satisfied that the tanneries are not polluting the environment.

“We must not compromise with the environment,” said Sharif Jamil.

In 2001, the High Court ordered the relocation of tanneries from Hazaribagh to the city to save the Buriganga River from pollution following a written petition filed by the Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association.

BSCIC took on the project at a cost of Tk 175.75 crore for two years in 2003 but completed it in June 2021 after extending the cost to Tk 1078.71 crore and delays time and time again. The government had allocated Tk 477.46 crore for CETP and solid waste management.

Authorities closed the project in June 2021 after 18 years of start-up but failed to stop the pollution.

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