The programme was organized by eight civil society organizations led by the Bangladesh Environment Lawyers Association (Bela). Dr Md Enamur Rahman, MP of Dhaka-19 constituency, was present as the chief guest and Association for Land Reform and Development (ALRD) Executive Director Shamsul Huda chaired. Environmental activists, civil society personnel and local representatives were also present.
Hoping to avoid polluting the environment and rivers in the city, the government has decided to reallocate more than 200 tanneries to the Dhaleshwari riverbank in Savar, some 6km further upstream from the previously designated area.
However, the generally held view at the programme was that shifting the tanneries upstream will only increase river pollution since the proposed Central Effluent Treatment Plant (CETP) has not been completed, irrespective of the government’s claims that it was ready for operations. Tannery owners concurred that the CETP was not working at capacity.
Asma Akhter, a resident of the Jhauchar area which is adjacent to the tannery industry site, said: “The waste being dumped in the river isn’t being purified first. The toxic water is killing the fish and causing severe health issues for people. Our livelihoods are being hampered and the stench from the tanneries is unbearable.”
Muhammad Shamsul Haque, the general secretary of Nodi O Poribesh Unnayan Parishad, Savar said in his keynote speech that the pollution in Savar is a concoction of waste from the DEPZ, Nayarhat and Ulail areas, as well as the tanneries.
MP Enamur said: “In order to eliminate the problem, a monitoring system should be launched and locals need to be included in the process.”
The programme attendees also demanded that tannery activities should be postponed until the CETP was fully operational.
Engineer Abu Bakr Siddique, the acting project director, claimed that the CETP was functional and some 43 tanneries had already started activities.
“We are dumping purified waste into the river, but it is already polluted by the untreated toxic liquid and solid wastes from the RMG sector,” he added.