The Hazaribagh thana, situated at the south-west part of Dhaka South City Corporation (DSCC), is one of the top ten mostly polluted localities in the world, according to an international study.
At least 160,000 people have become victims of air pollution here due to the use of toxic chemicals, mainly chromium, at the factories, says a report published in November, 2013, jointly by Green Cross Switzerland and Blacksmith Institute.
Residents of Hazaribagh and Jigatola, suffering from the severe environmental hazards created by the tannery factories for several decades, alleged that even after repeated attempts, they had failed to get the attention of the concerned government agencies and ministry – namely DSCC, Dhaka Water Supply and Sewerage Authority (DWASA) and Ministry of Industries – to the miserable environmental condition of the area.
Mohammad Alamgir, a resident of Kalunagar area in Hazaribag, said: “No initiative has been taken by the city corporation (DSCC) to repair the dilapidated roads and upgrade the poor drainage and waste management since years.”
“The roads have decayed almost totally as a consequence of random movements of heavily loaded trucks of the tannery industries. During construction of most of the roads, the issue of regular movements of heavy vehicles was not at all considered,” he assumed.
“For year after year, we are hearing that the government has ordered the shifting of all the tannery factories of Hazaribagh outside Dhaka. But when will it be done and when will we get a fresh environment?” Alamgir asked frustratingly.
Aleya Begum, a resident of Bhagalpur area, also called Companyghat by locals, of the same locality, said: “We hoped that the new mayor and local councilors will take immediate step for development of existing outdated drainage and waste management and reconstruction of the local streets, but since the election, during the last one and a half years, Mayor Sayeed Khokon has nothing in this regard.”
Complaining that during monsoon time, they annually face various agonising skin diseases due to the effect of toxic tannery water, she said, “The drains of the area are always brimming with tannery wastes, at times it overflow to streets and our houses, causing health hazards as well as engulfing the area with an unbearable stench,” she added.
During a recent visit to Hazaribagh and Jigatola, this correspondent found the local streets totally dilapidated while the narrow-mouthed drains were full of overflowing toxic wastes; the expected outcome of an unplanned tannery industry set up at the heart of a densely populated megacity.
Almost all the streets and alleys of Hazaribagh and Jigatola are completely dilapidated. The main road at Kalunagar area stretching from the Hazaribagh culvert to the flood protection dam looks like a muddy earthen village path.
The DSCC’s waste management department has put a waste container just beside the main gate of the Institute of Leather Engineering and Technology (ILET).
ILET students alleged that they perpetually face tremendous health risks due to the tannery industry.
Expressing anger over the inactivity of the DSCC mayor and local councilors, dwellers of the area said although Mayor Sayeed Khokon had visited Hazaribagh and Jigatola after being elected, he took no step to solve our endless problems.
Contacted, a former DSCC official, informing that the drains of the area were constructed about 100 years ago, said, “We once tried to widen the drains of the area, but it created difficulties as the roads became cracked because of the digging.”
Contacted, DSCC Mayor Sayeed Khokon yesterday told the Dhaka Tribune: “The industry minister has already directed the tannery owners to immediately shift all factories to Hemayetpur, the government allocated zone for tannery industry. Once the industry is fully shifted, we will take elaborate project for Hazaribagh.”
Khokon, however, said he will talk to the city corporation’s engineering department to repair, for the time being, the dilapidated roads immediately.