Treating the tannery
TANNERY is one of those few most important sectors of our economy which contribute a lot to the export earnings. Beside its impact on our economy, we should not forget about the people whose lives are directly dependent on this industry. While we discuss about the environmental impact of tanneries and ways to reduce its pollution, we have to consider the lives of he people working there so that we can adopt a sustainable developmental approach in this field.
The workers and the people living nearby the tanneries can feel bitter experience of pollution created from the tanneries of Hazaribagh area of our Dhaka City. The pollution is caused from the adoption of chrome tanning process by the most tanners and continued discharge of untreated effluents into land and water bodies, especially in the Buriganga. Around 300 tanneries are located on only 25 hectares of land in the Hazaribagh area. Most of the tanneries are old discharging huge liquid effluent and solid waste every day. This causes many diseases like severe respiratory and other skin related diseases. As a consequence of increasing health problem and environmental pollution in the locality, the people demanded several times to transfer the tanneries from Hazaribagh, a densely populated area, to somewhere else. But their appeal went unheeded and the issue of relocation did not receive much attention. Some environmental activists and civil society appealed the government to relocate the same from Hazaribagh. Subsequently, highest court of the country issued a rule to shift the tanneries from Hazaribagh to Savar.
We do not have special law to deal with this specific area of environmental pollution. In fact, tannery pollutes almost all the elements of our environment. It pollutes water, air and soil as well and we have laws to deal with pollution covering all those elements of environment. Like ours, India also developed their environmental laws to cope with the high rate of development and pollution generated from industrialization. Considering that fact, an Act was passed in 1974 to establish Central and State Pollution Boards. Consequently, Tamilnadu Pollution Control Board was constituted following the adoption of an Act in 1981 by the State of Tamilnadu. A committee was constituted with a view to establishing Effluent Treatment Plant for tanning industry in India.
Though we do not have special focus on pollution created from tannery, but we have number of laws and policies regulating environment in the country. The government has adopted Environment Policy in 1992 where almost all the sectors of environmental issues were discussed and the responsibilities were distributed among different bodies of the government. The Policy discussed that measures that should be taken to prevent and reduce the pollution from industrial sector in its clause 3.2. The policy articulated about the adoption of corrective measures in industrial sector. It also has the provision of EIA before setting up of any industry irrespective of its ownership; government or private. Recognizing health-environment relation, the Policy clearly stated that the right to health would not be infringed while taking any development programmes. The provision of the Environment Policy is also applicable to the tannery. Following the Policy, The Bangladesh Environment Conservation Act, 1995 was passed to provide for conservation of environment, improvement of environmental standards and control and mitigation of environmental pollution. Provisions are there regarding environment pollutants and hazardous substances. Provisions were also formulated regarding the application of Environment Clearance Certificate before establishing of any industrial unit or project. A separate authority i.e. the Department of Environment was established to carry out the purpose of his Act. The Environment Conservation Rules was formulated in 1997 to supplement the Act of 1995. To implement the laws on environment, the government thought of having a separate court constituted by the Joint District Judge and thus the Environment Court Act, 2000 was enacted. The Environment Court is established to try the offenders violating environmental laws and to pass remedial orders to attain environment justice in the society. All the above laws can regulate environment pollution and health hazards created from the tannery industries.
Regardless of all those law and policies, social awareness is more important to control environment pollution, be it from tannery or different source. But regrettably, owners of the industries or even the public at large is yet to be that much conscious that is required to control and prevent pollution at a large scale which is prevailing in our county, especially in the capital.
The concept of seeking environmental justice from court through Public Interest Litigation is newer in our country. However, PIL has developed both in Bangladesh and India since 1990s. In India, a writ petition was filed in 1991 against the tanners and others. Later, the SC of India ordered for closure of some industrial units having no Environment Treatment Plant (ETP) at that time. In 1996, The SC of India came up with directives to implement 'precautionary principle' and 'polluter pays principle' in judicial mechanism to create a path for environmental justice. The court also ordered some tanneries to set up ETP.
Considering its impact on health & environment, the Supreme Court of Bangladesh has ordered for relocation of the industries from Hazaribagh to Savar area. The court issued the rule to relocate the tanneries by February this year. The rule was issued back in June last year. Time elapsed, but no significant development in this matter is visible. Preventing pollution from tannery is not all about shifting the industry from one area to another. Relocation of tanneries is the first and primary stage to control and prevent pollution from that industry. Setting up of ETPs by individual industry or connection with the central ETP should be ensured in addition to relocation of industry from one area to another. If it is not felt and meant by the owners of the tanneries, relocation will bring no good effect in the long run. It will have the same impact as it is now. Ensuring a clean and green technology is of no alternative if we want not to meet those terrible experiences once again in Savar. The earlier the court directive is obeyed by the owners of the tanneries, the earlier the lives and environment will be saved. Shifting of area is expected to be started with new standard setting for future generation.
The writer is an advocate and researcher.