Leaving the precarious Hazaribagh situation behind

published at 21-11-14, by Grensverleggers Redactie

When I first visited Hazaribagh in 1974 it was a typical tanning area of a big town in SE Asia, very similar to equivalent areas in Pakistan and India. Tannery owners could hardly read or write, spoke only Bengali, but were nevertheless trading, first raw hides and skins then wetblue leather, on the international market through local and overseas agents.

Dit blog is speciaal voor Grensverleggers geschreven door Ralph Arbeid, International leather value chain consultant.

The tanneries were sheds with leaking corrugated iron roofs, the streets narrow lined with open-air sewers where tannery effluent flowed freely. Workers waded barefoot in lime and chrome water unaware of the health hazards they were being exposed to.

Smellier dumps

Now, 40 years later, most tanners speak English, but nothing else is changed. If anything, the streets have become narrower, the sewers fuller and the dumps smellier. With the increased export numbers the environmental and health issues have increased exponentially. Since expanding the Hazaribagh area was impossible, the tanneries filled their already small plots designed as raw material warehouses by expanding buildings and adding floors. More than 10 years ago the situation was considered unacceptable, but the tanners had so much political clout that any attempt to make them shift their tanneries to other areas shipwrecked until recently courts, government and international pressure at long last made a stand and gave the industry an ultimatum to move or close.

State of the art tanneries

A new industrial area was designated where the most important feature is the CETP (central effluent treatment plant). The tanners negotiated with the government and obtained a grant of some 120 million US$ to (partly) finance the shift. Today the new tanning area is taking shape. Work is in progress on the CETP, boundary walls of tanneries are being erected and some foundations of buildings start to become visible. This is however not the end of the story. The impression is that only a few tanneries are able and prepared to make the quality step to leave the precarious Hazaribagh situation behind and create a totally new and modern concept of a socially and environmentally clean industrial estate where tanneries are state of the art, rather than a copy of the Hazaribagh site.

No duplication of Hazaribagh

Tanners must realize that their buyers will not accept a duplication of Hazaribagh and will demand social and environmental responsibility. The newly designated Savar estate is situated not far from communities who will not tolerate that their environment is transformed to an open-air dump. MVO is studying the possibility to assist the tanners from Hazaribagh and help them to create a for them new concept of tannery design, cleaner process formulas and new technology equipment where process control, automation and ERP should play a significant role for a consistent leather quality obtained with the use of less water and chemicals.

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