The High Court on Monday ordered the government to shut down more than 100 tanneries in Dhaka after they were accused of dumping huge amounts of toxic waste into the city’s main river.
The High Court ruling followed a petition by Bangladeshi environmentalists, who have accused the government of failing to enforce earlier orders to clean up the tanneries.
“The court told the administration to shut down tanneries and cut their utility connections,” said Rizwana Hassan of Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (BELA), which had petitioned the court.
“The tannery owners were asked to evacuate the place years ago. But they are deliberately procrastinating,” she told AFP.Environmental campaigners have accused the tannery owners of years of “deliberate” delays in relocating plants to an industrial zone on the outskirts of the capital.
But the owners say the proposed new location does not have the facilities they need. “The water treatment plant and waste management plant are not ready yet,” tannery owners’ association spokesman Tipu Sultan told AFP news agency.
“Many people will lose their jobs if the shutdown goes ahead. The court should reconsider its decision.” Leather and leather goods are the country’s second-largest exports after garments and the tanners employ some 30,000 workers.
But the government says the tanneries dump 22,000 cubic litres of toxic liquid waste including the cancer-causing toxin hexavalent chromium into the Buriganga every day.
In 2013 the New York-based Blacksmith Institute put Hazaribagh, where most are located, in a list of the top 10 most polluted places on earth and said residents faced elevated rates of skin and respiratory diseases. Human Rights Watch says the tanneries employ workers as young as 11, and that many become ill because of exposure to hazardous chemicals.
The Supreme Court first directed the tanneries to leave the area in 2009, before extending a deadline until April 2011. But so far only 35 out of 152 have relocated.