It has been high drama for quite sometime, and not an innocent one. What the tannery relocation drama has cost the nation is more than the continuing pollution or the ruining of Dhaka's lifeline, the Buriganga. More than anything, it is a clear case of denial of the state authority, a blatant display of how the credibility of the state power can be brought to question. By flouting repeated government orders, even court ruling (not to mention the futile howls of you know who), the tannery owners at Hazaribagh have attempted to establish their case as -- state versus the tanners! A battle where it looks like the latter have won.
Looking at the way the things have been moving over the years, it is clear that both parties contributed to create the mess, although apparently it seemed that the tanners were to blame squarely. This is because of the public perception that the government had put everything in place at Savar -- the site for relocation, and that all the tannery owners were to do was pack up and move.
This was not the case, and is still not so. Ever since the government had started setting deadlines, one after another, for shifting the tanneries, the tannery owners knew full well that they could in no way be forced to leave their old location as there were gaps in what the government was saying and the reality on the ground. This had put them in a position where bargaining with the government over various issues seemed quite gainful. The government, as though unaware that these issues might at all crop up, gave in to the game that looked to take for ever to be settled. Compensation for losses caused by the shifting process, sharing the cost and maintenance of the effluent treatment plant (ETP) were the key issues on which neither party was ready to concede. Both sides were at loggerheads for a long time blaming each other of being pigheaded. It was since then that relocation of the tannery hub to its new site fell into wrong hands, although the government time and again came up strongly on the recalcitrant tanners shouting punishment.
The delay eventually got translated into costs. In the face of prolonged and stiff opposition from the tannery owners to relocate their plants demanding higher compensation, the government finally yielded, and this led to raise the cost of relocation by around 100 per cent. However, not all the raised costs were meant to fulfilling the demands for higher volumes of compensation but to meet cost escalation due to manifold snags including delay in implementing the project. The Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (ECNEC) revised the Tannery Industrial Estate project at a cost of Tk 10.79 billion. Under the Tannery Industrial Estate, Dhaka (2nd Revised) project, the government was to develop 224 industrial plots with required infrastructure facilities including among others a central ETP and dumping yard to ensure waste management.
The last in the series of the dramatics that the tannery relocation witnessed was the ultimatum from none other than the industries minister. When, a few days back, the minister, visibly angry at the stubbornness of the tannery owners, declared that they must move to their new place of business at the Savar tannery industrial park within 72 hours, things looked like happening at long last.
But it was not to be so. The tannery owners knew well enough that the gap was still there and until those got plugged in, the ultimatum, however sizzling it sounded, would serve no effective purpose. Video footage shown by a television channel the other day revealed that construction works were still on. As for the central ETP, there is still confusion as to its full completion. Given the level of works done, it was unlikely that the tannery owners could have moved even if they wanted to. Disbursement of compensation was another matter that came up to stall the process of relocation.
Reports say that the government has, of late, come to terms with the demand of the tannery owners on the disbursement of compensation money on relaxed conditions. Compensation, as decided earlier, was to be disbursed on the basis of phase-wise development works done by the tannery owners on their allotted lands. So, the government has once again yielded.
Yielding on the part of the government should not be seen as a major problem or weakness. What indeed is a problem is the cost of decisions made on the basis of indecisions. This creates the culture of defiance of government orders, setting bad precedents.
With many deadlines gone, one only hopes that tannery relocation finally takes place with both sides agreeing on a common time frame.