Published in: The Daily Star August 23, 2012
The number of industries in Dhaka is huge, and it is ever-increasing while causing serious pollution to water, air and land of the densely-populated capital. Although there are quite a few designated industrial areas in Dhaka, many industries have been set up in different other areas too, cashing in on loopholes of related laws and guidelines, muscle and money power, and political affiliation.
Behind the poor state of the megacity’s environment and other menaces are the haphazard industrialisation, lapse of strict monitoring of compliance by the authorities concerned and absence of a comprehensive master plan.
Moreover, we see degrading environment also in the designated industrial areas situated around the city, namely Savar, Ashulia, Tongi, Gazipur and Narayanganj. The authorities concerned seem to have gone idle without ensuring whether the industries there are operating keeping the environment unharmed. However, the regulator does some enforcement activities against the polluters at those areas, but that are too inadequate to maintain or create a cleaner environment.
Even though a couple of years ago we had heard of a well-accepted detailed area plan (DAP) that entails reshuffle of the city’s areas for different purposes and also shifting of industries and some other establishments out of the city, it is yet to see the light of the day — thanks to some self-seeking businessmen, especially the realtors, who have been opposing the much-awaited blueprint, and insincere bureaucracy.
The context of demanding relocation of industries and decentralisation of commercial and government establishments is there for many years as city of Dhaka, accommodating some 20 million people in a small zone, is suffering from severe air-water-noise pollution, unhealthy congestion of structures, unbearable traffic jam, and lack of quality civic amenities. These shortcomings have led to the city’s being known and ranked as one of the least liveable of late. The city ranks at the bottom in terms of environment, too.
In Dhaka, serious air pollution — thanks to the industries, smoke of diesel-fired vehicles and, heat of CNG-run ones, dust from construction sites and battered streets — and water pollution — all the rivers, canals, and lakes have been equally vitiated — are enough to put the lives of thousands at risk of health hazards. The city dwellers are suffering from different respiratory skin, and waterborne diseases.
Because of poor management of the city’s thousands of tonnes of waste and the waterbodies, the dwellers have been experiencing insufferable pain of airborne diseases, when the mosquitoe menace rises high too. There could be found hardly any canal or lake in the city suitable for a soothing boat ride. Bad odour from both solid and liquid waste in the heart of the country’s capital is simply unbecoming of a sincere government, though anyone may argue by saying that similar instances are present in many other cities across the world. Yes, there are. But we are ashamed to be among those cities with shameful state of the environment.
We, unfortunately, see no concrete steps by the subsequent governments following any long-term and comprehensive plan to keep the city clean and liveable with the involvement of the city dwellers.
But we can see highly hazardous industriesgarments and dyeing units, plastic and polythene factories, steel mills, tanneries and brickfields coming up in and around Dhaka city often under garb of “the government’s assistance in industrialisation”.
Even though the areas are designated for industries, the rules are hardly followed by businesses as they get assistance of the government officials without “legal hindrance”.
Though we know that industrialisation is necessary for a country’s faster growth, the possible environmental losses and threats should have been taken under consideration, too, and avoided as well. But here it is only one way traffic.
Meanwhile, the environment regulator is supposedly not having cooperation from the other government bodies — ministries and agencies like the city corporation — in going stricter against the violators of the existing environmental laws.
Had the successive governments been sincere enough towards the environment, they would not have allowed so large number of industries to be set up in the highly congested city, rather dispersed them to suitable areas.
And with the days passing, it is becoming impossible for any government to initiate relocation of the industries as the process requires a huge amount of reinvestment and the authorities are unwilling to provide the business owners this money as compensation.
So far, we can see realistic efforts only in the case of shifting around 150 tanneries from the city’s Hazaribagh to an industrial zone near Hemayetpur in Savar. However, it is still undecided what will happen to some 50 other tanneries still operating in Hazaribagh. Will they continue discharging seriously contaminated waste water to the Buriganga?
But what about the hundreds of garment industries though they are contributing significantly to the country’s economy through exports and by employing millions of poor people? No answer is there but rhetorics of long-term plans to set up a garments industrial park somewhere else.
What will happen to the plastic and polythene factories operating overtly and covertly (because of ban on polythene production) in Old Dhaka and other parts of the capital? The governments only time and again try to assure people by pledging to set up a dedicated industrial zone for this sector too.
We are yet to know the fate of the steel mills emitting huge smoke into the air and polluting the nearby land and water with the waste discharged.
The brick kilns were supposed to be on the most priority list of shifting or getting their technology changed into environment friendly ones. But, after years of research and publication of different survey reports elaborating the hazards from over 1,000 brickfields around the city — Aminbazar, Basila and Ashulia — the government is yet to finalise the technology viable for Bangladesh and ensure brick manufacturing in a cleaner way.
Even thought the government in 2010 had declared that no brickfield would be allowed to operate in the traditional method after September 2012, we are yet to see any fruitful outcome. Possibly, like always, the deadline would keep on extending for the businessmen’s sake.
It is observed that due to indifference of the authorities concerned in protecting the environment of the city’s industrial areas, more industries are being set up and those existing are expanded indiscriminately caring a fig for existing laws. So far, what must be acknowledged is the enforcement drives by the environment regulator, though irregular and inadequate.
As many industrial units, other than those penalized and forced to suspend operations, are still functioning without abiding by laws and harming the environment unabated, it seems that the symbolic enforcement initiatives have not been effective in checking further contamination of the environment of the city and the surrounding areas.
It is also frustrating that the materialisation of DAP which could have eased much of the city’s owes is stalled. It has become more of concern now since media reports say the plan is being revised. We are afraid it is happening only in the interest of vested quarters!
Patchy steps by different government agencies, environmental organisations and even by the people may bring some change to the current situation. But it would not be effectively sustainable without a realistic master plan.