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Why this delay in tannery relocation?
Shahiduzzaman Khan

          Relocation of Hazaribagh tannery is now missing the deadline.
Earth filling and other land development works are scheduled to be completed by 2005. But slow progress in work resulted in only 50 per cent completion by October. The rest of the work will take another year to complete.
The time for project completion had already been extended up to December 2006. By the end of July 2006 the land development work might be completed, and by December 2006 the project will be ready for relocation of tanneries from Hazaribagh to Savar.
The relocation project was undertaken by the Ministry of Industries in 2003 at an estimated cost of Tk 1.75 billion to save the capital city and the Buriganga river from toxic pollution. The government is bearing the entire cost of the project from its own coffer while the Bangladesh Small and Cottage Industries Corporation (BSCIC) has been implementing the industrial site for tannery industry at Kantiboilarpur, Chandra Narayanpur and Char Narayanpur in Savar. BSCIC acquired 200 acres of land for shifting a total about 200 tanneries and started land development work at the beginning of this year.
When there was a paramount need for relocation of the tanning industry at the earliest, slow progress of the authorities raised the issue of the good governance. The Buriganga water has been polluted by the tannery wastes and there is no way that its fishes are safe for eating and its water is safe for drinking either.
The government should have relocated the tanning industry on a war footing-keeping aside all other less important projects in order to ensure clean technology and environment in the city. There is no denying that most of the urban-based industries in Bangladesh pollute environment. Of them, tanneries do the extreme damage. Most of the tanneries are located in urban areas and their relocation outside the metropolitan city has not been done. Annual turnover from leather industries is nearly US$25 billion providing employment for around half a million workers worldwide. It is essentially a by-product industry utilising hides and skin from animals raised primarily for their meat.
Bangladesh earns more than Tk 7.0 billion -- 11 per cent of all the export earnings by exporting leather and leather goods. As a by-product industry, the tanneries considerably reduce the environmental impact industry, which would otherwise have a major waste disposal problem.
Experts say that despite the zero-pollution philosophy, advocated by some developed countries, a developing country like Bangladesh must depend on rapid industrialisation in an endeavour to upgrade the standards of living.
The tannery industry in Bangladesh is expanding, despite the social problem created due to environmental pollution. The quality of liquid waste discharged from these tanneries varies from 10 to 15 gallons per square feet of hides and skins processed. This comprising waste water, organic particulars and toxic chemicals are discharged in open drains that ultimately find their way way onto land surfaces and in natural waters in the vicinity. As a result, water, air, soil, shelter and food are getting continuously polluted.
In Bangladesh, environmental pressure comes from the domestic legislation. In urban areas, there is permission to manufacture products without handling environmental effect. Despite the fact that pollution abatement is a considerable non-productive cost-burden on leather processing, the industry itself has taken the initiative to introduce clean technology and improve pollution control.
The country has about 250 large and small tanneries for processing, most of these are concentrated at Hazaribagh in Dhaka and at Kalurghat in Chittagong. Out of 151 tanneries at Hazaribagh, only 17 belong to the Bangladesh Tannery Association. A large amount of waste produced by these tanneries is discharged in natural water bodies directly or indirectly through two open drains without any treatment. The water in the low-lying areas near Hazaribagh, with a direct link to the Buriganga river, is polluted in such a degree that it has become unsuitable for public uses. In summer when the rate of decomposition of the waste is higher, serious air pollution is caused in the whole of Hazaribagh area, including a part of not too far high-class residential area, by producing intolerable obnoxious odours.
The pollutants of tannery wastes are of non organic, organic and toxic nature and require elaborate treatment before disposal to prevent physical, chemical and biological pollution of the receiving body of water. The tannery waste with high concentration of dissolved solids, suspended solids, chloride, colour, ammonia and very high BOD and COD with no dissolved oxygen are being discharged every day in the receiving water.
A clean technology can overcome environmental pollution caused by the tanneries. Physical, chemical and biological cleaning methods for waste water are used in this sector. Physical treatments of include mainly screening and primary sedimentation, the only treatment which is provided in most of the tanneries in Bangladesh. Screens are required to remove flashing, hairs and other floating substances. A continuous flow sedimentation tank designed on maximum hourly flow with four hours of detention is found to be effective in 90 per cent removal of suspended solids. However, in most of the tanneries, the fill and draw sedimentation tanks are used and found to be more efficient. No appreciable reduction of dislodged solid, biochemical oxygen demand (BOD), chemical oxygen demand (COD), colour and chloride can be achieved in the physical treatment process. But the effluent may be discharged into the sewer chockage.
The key targets which are identified for reducing environmental impact of leather processing are replacement of chromium, more efficient use of chemicals, sulphide-free unhairing, possibly with hair recovery, utilisation of wastes, reuse of water, odour control, solvent free finishing and N-free delimiting.
Today's tanner, experts say, is not only hard-pressed by the high costs of compliance with increasingly restrictive environmental legislation, but is also faced with a confusion of competing claims for alternative clean technologies. A practical database is required that would enable the tanner simply and rapidly to shortlist the most appropriate technologies for his specific needs, with the aim of minimising the costs. It would be essential for the tanner to be able to identify existing users of the technology and independent leather experts, as well as the manufacturers or inventors, whom the tanner could then separately consult. The database should give an indication of the level of development of each technology and its extent of use, since systems inevitably range from those just at R&D stage to well-established technologies in widespread use.
The need for an easily accessible source of information on clean technologies was the driving force behind the decision to set up a a suitable database. Environment is contaminated by tanneries. Among the chemicals, chrome has highly detrimental effect causing health hazards e.g. lung cancers, allergic, skin, gastro-intestinal ulcers and kidney damage. It is also carciongenic inducing bronchial cancer.
As the tannery industries in Bangladesh are well established, they cannot be shifted without enormous losses. So, at every stage of leather processing, clean technology must be applied. When new industries are set up, clean technology will have to be followed for protecting the environment.


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