A recent study by Bangladesh University of Engineering & Technology (BUET) paints a gloomy picture of the state of water bodies in the country. Unless steps are taken today, it is estimated that the textile industry will be dumping 20,300 crore litres of untreated wastewater into the country's water bodies every year from 2021. The industrial discharge into rivers and wetlands will also seep through the ground and adversely affect underground water tables.
In and around Dhaka, thousands of textile mills are pumping out untreated wastewater that has been used for washing and dyeing fabrics. Dhaka city's water supply has already paid a very heavy price over the last two decades since Hazaribagh tannery industry was allowed to operate in the heart of the city. Now, we are faced with a problem that is of a much greater magnitude since there are thousands of textile factories. Wastewater generation will only increase as Bangladesh gears up to reach USD 50 billion in exports a year by 2021.
Although we have laws like the Environment Conservation Rules, 1997 that made effluent treatment plants (ETPs) mandatory for factories, these rules have never been seriously implemented. Although ETPs are installed in about 70 percent of factories, a large number of these factories do not use them. Smaller factories, on the other hand, have never installed ETPs to begin with. Factory owners mostly cite the high cost of running chemical-based ETPs for not using them; but our question is: why is the government failing to do its job as the regulator? Why, knowing full well the cost to the environment and public health, doesn't the government implement rules that will make it extremely costly for errant factories to dump untreated effluents into waterways? We cannot afford the large-scale destruction of the environment so that industries can go on producing their goods. A balance has to be struck between profits and safeguarding the environment and that responsibility falls squarely on the authorities concerned and they must implement existing laws.