Non-existent affluent treatment plants

untreated affulent- leather industryToxic waste from industries and factories are polluting the rivers that run across Dhaka like the Buriganga, Turag, Balu and Sitalakhya. These rivers are becoming contaminated as waste is not being treated by affluent treatment plants which is mandatory for factories that dispose off toxic waste.

According to the Environment Conservation Act 1995 every factory with toxic waste must have an affluent treatment plant installed to treat waste before they get dumped into rivers or water bodies. The Act also makes it mandatory for each factory to take a clearance certificate from the Department of Environment (DoE) in this regard. But very few factories have taken the certificate from the DoE and use of affluent treatment plants is rare.

According to DoE sources, there are some five thousand factories in Dhaka division throughout its 17 districts and only 20 percent of those posses the DoE's clearance. The factories in Rayerbazar dump their waste in the Buriganga, Tongi's industrial waste flows into the Turag and Balu while waste from the Tejgaon industrial area accumulates in the Begunbari Khal or Hatir Jheel before seeping into the Balu.

"Toxic waste is mainly generated from dyeing, textile and leather industries. That is why it is necessary to install affluent treatment plants especially in those factories," said Syed Md. Iqbal Ali, environment management specialist of Bangladesh Environment Management Project (BEMP) which is a Canadian initiative.

The Environment Conservation Rules 1997 clearly states that any industry owner who does not possess the clearance certificate of the DoE can be subjected to a maximum three-year imprisonment or a fine of Tk three lakh or both. If any industry is found responsible for environmental pollution, its owner can be imprisoned for ten years or fined Tk. Ten lakh or punished with both penalties. The DoE is supposed to enforce the rules but officials said that lack of manpower makes it difficult for the department to maintain constant monitoring.

"We have only three inspectors working for 17 districts in Dhaka division. This is far too inadequate a number," said Khan M Ibrahim Hossain, director general DoE. The DoE now has 133 employees. Although recruitment of up to 244 personnel has been approved, bureaucratic difficulties have prevented adding more people to the present staff, said the DG. "Ideally, we need 490 people to run the department," he added.

There are some practical problems the factories are facing regarding affluent treatment plants. Many industries have been established long before the Environment Conservation Act 95 or Environment Conservation Rules 97 were enacted. Affluent treatment plants needs extra space which many factories do not have. The Environment Court Law was passed in 2000 to deal with environmental issues in a specific court. Now there are two special environment courts -- one in Dhaka and the other in Chittagong

The Joint District Judge is responsible for the verdict. The special environment court sits on every working day at the Dhaka Judge Court. "We file cases against the toxic waste generating factories that do not have affluent treatment plants. But most of the time, the court allows more time to the factories to take necessary measures as it is not always possible to shut one down," said a high official of DoE. Almost all the factories at Ryerbazar do not have affluent treatment plants and are reluctant to install them also as there is a plan for shifting the tanneries of that area to Savar.

Some industries are installing affluent treatment plants due to pressure from buyers but they seldom operate them because of the added cost. "An industry needs gas, water, manpower. The overhead cost is huge. With extra expenditure, we will not be able to remain competitive in the market. That is why no one operates treatment plants," said an industry owner.

Concerned experts have estimated that a locally built treatment plant, which might cost between 18-20 lakh Taka, can treat 20,000 litres of waste per hour. The operating cost will be Tk. 12 per hour for treating 1,000 litres of waste. The operating cost include use of different chemicals, electricity and gas consumption. The cost of a 30,000 to 40,000 litre capacity treatment plant will be Tk. 40 to 45 lakhs while a 60,000 to 70,000 litre plant will cost Tk. 60 to 65 lakhs.

The DoE had tried to convince the industry owners to have a common treatment plant but the idea did not work out because of the different shapes and sizes of factories. "It is necessary to shift the industries from places like Tejgaon or Rayerbazar to an industrial zone where a common affluent treatment plant can be built," said the DG of DoE (Department of Environment) (Avik Sanwar Rahman, September 20, 2004).

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