Harmful chemical wastes from various factories are dumped without treatment into the River Turag at Goran Chatbari in Dhaka on Wednesday. — Sourav Lasker

The Department of Environment, Dhaka Water and Sewerage Authority and Dhaka’s two city corporations failed to control the dumping of millions of tonnes of industrial effluents, domestic sewage, clinical wastes and solid wastes that were continuously polluting the Buriganga, Shitalakkhya, Turag, Balu and Dhaleswari waters, green activists said.

Raising concerns over the deteriorating situation, they said that though over 100 directives were passed during the period by several High Court benches since 2012, failure in waste management threatens the lifelines of the four Dhaka rivers.

The DoE failed to take legal actions against hundreds of polluting industries in compliance with the HC orders when utility service providers like city corporations and WASA failed to develop proper solid waste and domestic sewer dumping system that contributes to the 40 per cent of the total pollution of these rivers, they said.

They lamented the fact that no execution of government plans has so far been witnessed and added that these plans were developed following studies carried out by various agencies in the past two decades spending public money.

They said that the nation is paying a high price for the river pollution as WASA’s water production cost increases for using apparently the less polluted Padma river water for Dhaka dwellers while the agency’s extreme dependency on groundwater source is depleting the groundwater level of the capital which might one day lead to a major natural disaster, they said.

No fish is found in these rivers while their polluted water turned out to be a major public health concern, they added.

Bangladesh Fisheries Research Institute chief scientific officer Md Anisur Rahman said that their ongoing study reveals a fall in the number of hilsas in the upper part of the Meghna for continuous dumping of untreated effluents into the river from the industrial zones of Dhaka, Munshiganj, Narayanganj and Narshingdi.

Human Rights and Peace for Bangladesh president Manzill Murshid told New Age on Thursday that he personally had filed over 50 writ petitions in the High Court seeking directives for controlling river pollution in Dhaka.

In 2012, he said, a HC bench gave specific directives for taking measures to save the Buriganga from pollution while another HC bench in 2009 gave directives to save all four rivers from the grabbers.

‘But both the problems are still continuing for collusion of some corrupt business and government officials,’ Manzill said.

The last directive was passed in March 2021 by the HC bench of Justice Gobinda Chandra Tagore and Justice Mohammad Ullah who directed the Department of Environment to take appropriate legal action against 30 washing plants in Dhaka’s Keraniganj for polluting water of the Buriganga.

It issued a rule asking the managing director of Titas Gas Transmission and Distribution Company Limited and chairman of Rural Electrification Board to explain in two weeks why contempt of court should not be brought against them for giving further gas and electricity connections to the companies despite a prohibition order.

While visiting different locations in the capital, New Age found that waters of the Buriganga, Balu and Turag were unbearably odorous even after heavy showers every day since the monsoon set in.

Locals said that they hardly find any aquatic life in the rivers except a new type of alien fish.

At the Goran Chatbari pumping station in Mirpur, operated by the Water Development Board, it was found that the agency was dumping pitch black, odorous waters from its retention pond area into the Turag.

‘Millions of litres of polluted water are stored in the retention ponds from Uttara, Mirpur, Airport, Dhaka cantonment and other areas through the natural canals and storm lines,’ said the board executive engineer Dewan Ainul Haque.

‘It is not our responsibility to treat waters as our mandated task is to pump out the rainwater. But we are also affected by storage of industrial effluents and domestic sewage into the retention pond as it increases operation cost,’ he said.

The same picture is found in the pumping stations operated by Dhaka’s two city corporations located at Rampura, Saidabad, Kalyanpur and Dholai Khal.  There are several thousand other channels through which toxic chemicals and domestic sewage are dumped into the rivers.

Several studies carried out in the past two decades since a World Bank study in 2007 gave almost similar pictures that hundreds of polluting industries like paper mills, dyeing factories, tanneries, battery factories and others were dumping heavy metals, including lead and chromium, into Dhaka rivers.

Using such contaminated waters might seriously affect the human brain, kidney, lungs, liver, and blood circulation, and long-term exposure to heavy metals may cause cancer, according to the studies.

For pollutions, studies revealed, dissolved oxygen level in Dhaka river waters is less than 1 mg/L, whereas the standard minimum requirement is 4 for treating those potable and 5 for fishing.

In Fatullah alone, 3,400 cubic metres of wastewater from the textile industries are dumped into the Buriganga, according to a joint study by Toriqul Bashar and Ivan WH Fung, published in June 2020 by Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute under the title ‘Water Pollution in a Densely Populated Megapolis, Dhaka’.

It further said that the capital’s only sewerage treatment plant operated by Wasa at Pagla treats a smaller volume of wastewater than its capacity due to the low flow of wastewater during dry seasons.

Even the relocation of tanneries from Hazaribagh to Savar did not yield expected results as tanners of Bangladesh Small and Cottage Industries Corporation continue to trade blame with industries at the BSCIC Leather Industrial Park for dumping heavy metal into the Dhaleswari water.

Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association senior vice-president Mohammed Hatem said that the department of the environment should take a project to install and maintain central effluent treatment plants at the industrial zones adjacent to Dhaka as neither the businesses nor other agencies were treating effluents properly.

‘The department can charge businesses based on their production,’ he suggested.

Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association executive director Syeda Rizwana Hasan said that Bangladesh rivers are most polluted in the Asia Pacific region as a study revealed.

‘It indicates that our model of development is nowhere close to sustainable,’ she said.

‘The government has to prioritise river pollution as the leading environmental problem of the country and take immediate steps to tackle it, Rizwana said.    

Dhaka South city chief waste management officer Air Commodore Md Badrul Amin admitted that they could not develop an effective solid waste management system.

‘We will develop it soon. And we will take action against those who dump untreated domestic sewage into storm drains maintained by the corporation,’ he said.

Dhaka WASA director AKM Shahid Uddin Shahid Uddin said that individual households would have to use septic tanks until they are able to increase the sewerage coverage from the present 15 per cent to 100 per cent in the capital.

‘But getting funds and lands are two major problems that stand in our way as we make an attempt to improve the services,’ he said.

DoE director Fahmida Khanom said that they served notices to WASA on several occasions for developing sewerage lines according to the demand and also fined the BISCIC for dumping effluents from its Savar tannery park.

‘We are also developing a digital surveillance system for instantly identifying the polluting factories,’ she added.

Local government and rural development minister Md Tajul Islam, who is also chief of the government’s committee for saving Dhaka rivers from encroachment and pollution, expressed his determination that river pollution and grabbing would be controlled soon.

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