The government has set December 30, 2016 as the fresh deadline for relocating the tannery units in Dhaka's Hazaribagh area to the under-construction Savar Tannery Estate.
Industry Minister Amir Hossain Amu came up with the fresh deadline on Sunday after a meeting with the tanners and project officials at the newly-developed industrial zone at Savar, outskirts of the capital city.
He, however, warned that the errant tannery units would face stern action like disconnection of water, power and gas supply lines from the first day of 2017.
On an apparent note of frustration, the Minister said that they had given ultimatum on several occasions for shifting the environmentally-hazardous industries from the capital's densely-populated Hazaribagh area which is situated on the bank of Buriganga river.
Those ultimatums went into vein because of the apathetic response on the part of the tanners although the government completed necessary tasks as far as the environment-friendly relocation process was concerned, he noted.
Amu said, "The tanners who fail to relocate their setups by the deadline will also lose their plots in the Savar tannery estate."
During the visit, he also visited the Central Effluent Treatment Plant (CETP) and units of the tanners who already started operation there.
Meanwhile, the industry insiders think the latest warning by the Minister will not be able to ensure cent per cent relocation of the tannery outlets within the fresh deadline as the announcement has been made, what they said, without understanding current status of the business.
Abdul Awal, Vice-President of the Leather Goods and Footwear Exporters Association (BFLLGFEA), said they requested the Minister during the meeting to allow them six more months taking into consideration the current orders as placed by the buyers.
He said the tanners assured the Minister of starting the much-talked-about wet blue process, which causes major pollution, at the CETP in Savar by the deadline, but their request was rejected outright.
Vehemently opposing the fresh move, he said, "It will not be possible to relocate all the hide-tanning firms by the deadline."
Industry insiders said wet blue is the process of converting raw hides and skins into tanned leather using chromium salts and it makes the hide free of hair. It is also responsible for causing more than 80 per cent of the overall pollution.
Awal, also the Chairman of Bhulua Tannery Ltd that is set to start production at Savar from today (Monday), said many of the firms cannot show the courage to stop production at Hazaribagh for the sake of relocating their businesses considering the peak season they're going through these days when their customer orders reach the highest mark.
Like him, many of the tanners also moved to import new machineries with a view to relocating their businesses, but the process as they said will take few more months to get things done, he said.
"If the government forces us to meet the fresh deadline, we will have no other option but to shut our business," he added.
The tanners and project officials said some 25 tanners have already started production from the Savar Tannery Estate with 25 more supposed to follow suit within this month.
As per a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed earlier between the government and the Bangladesh Tanners Association and the Bangladesh Finished Leather, Leather Goods and Footwear Exporters Association, a total of 155 tanneries were due to be shifted to Savar by December, 2014. But the deadline was already revised three times.
In fact, the Hazaribagh tanneries could not be shifted to Savar in more than a decade though the Ministry of Industries undertook a project in this regard in 2003.
The project at Savar on an area of about 2000 acres of land is being implemented by the Bangladesh Small and Cottage Industries Corporation (BSCIC) at a cost of Taka 10.79 billion.
The tanners are blamed for pouring thousands of litres of untreated and highly toxic liquid waste into the Buriganga River every day, posing a serious risk to human and animal health.
Currently, about 250 million square feet of leather is produced by 220 tanneries, 3,500 small and cottage industries, and 110 large industries with about seven million people getting employed.