Just when it got a little quieter in Bangladesh – the Bangladesh Accord transitioned and factory incidents have become somewhat less – a new landmark decision by Bangladesh’s high court could shake things up again. On 20th January, the court ordered authorities to take immediate action against 231 garment-related factories including rubber plants, dyeing factories and tanneries that had been using the Buriganga river as the private dumping ground for their industrial waste, making Dhaka’s main river one of the world’s most polluted.
Over the years, officials have turned a blind eye to these practices, given that Bangladesh’s garment industry is the second biggest in the world after China, contributing 80 percent of the country’s exports with ready-made garments and 20 percent to the GDP. But no longer. “The court asked them to disconnect all utilities including electricity, gas and water supplies to these factories. This order will go a long way to save the Buriganga from an ecological disaster,” commented lawyer Manzil Murshid who filed the public interest litigation according to AFP.
The Buriganga is and was Dhaka’s lifeline even when the Mughals made the city their capital back in 1610. It connects the capital with the southern coastal districts through a network of rivers and is economically very important. Yet, according to estimates by Bangladesh’s Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, 21,600 cubic metres or 5.7 million US gallons of toxic waste are released into the Buriganga by tanneries alone every day (2012), not to mention the thousands of tons of solid waste discharged into the river by the city every day.
Although about 100 tanneries were forced to relocate in 2017 due to international pressure, hundreds of illegal factories, most constructed without complying with environmental regulations, continued to pollute the river. “We welcome the decision because these factories kept on polluting the river as they didn’t have any effluent treatment plants,” said river expert Ainun Nishat according to AFP, adding that he hoped “the authorities would overcome political pressure to execute the order”.