After decades of government planning, court orders, and failed deadlines, the common effluent treatment plant (CETP) in Bangladesh's only tannery estate in Savar is still not fully functional. As a result, untreated industrial waste keeps polluting the Dhaleshwari River, leading to the death of aquatic life and ravaging of the surrounding environment. Currently, the CETP can treat 25,000 cubic meters of liquid waste, while 132 factories at the Bangladesh Small and Cottage Industries Corporation (BSCIC) tannery estate produce up to 40,000 cubic meters of waste. That means, on a busy day, the authorities have to release 15,000 cubic meters of waste directly into the river through an alternative channel, according to a recent report by the Department of Environment.
The CETP project, which was initiated in 2003, took years—if not decades—longer than was originally planned to complete, cost way more than the initial estimate, and yet still seems to offer no resolution. It is a perfect example of poor planning and execution by the authorities. With the CETP having gone into operation nine years after the project was taken up, one would have expected it to function much better. Unfortunately, that hasn't been the case.
According to a report published by this newspaper, the CETP still does not have an online monitoring system, and testing facilities at its laboratory are also inadequate—only four out of eight kinds of testing facilities were installed in the laboratory. To fix these and other issues, the government will now have to take up a Balancing, Modernization, Rehabilitation and Expansion project to make the CETP fully operational. But we must ask: why weren't these constructed in the first place (as per the agreement)? What did the monitoring authorities do? Were they not aware of these problems, or did they simply not care?
In the meantime, while the Dhaleshwari River and the surrounding environment get destroyed by the industrial waste of the tanneries, the BSCIC and tanners have been shifting blame, ignoring the real problem. This has been going on for far too long. It's about time all sides owned up to their responsibilities.
In August, one may recall, a parliamentary standing committee had recommended that the environment ministry shut down the Savar tannery estate. And we believe it is high time for the authorities to take a strong stand against the polluting of the Dhaleshwari. If the BSCIC and the tanners cannot come to an agreement and sort out these issues, we see no reason why they should be allowed to continue with this business-as-usual attitude. We call on the higher authorities to immediately look into the matter, and if need be, shut down the tanneries until the CETP is fully up and running.