The rawhide-processing industry in Chattogram has almost collapsed because of compliance with the Department of Environment's (DoE) regulations – with the untanned leather trade of Eid-ul-Adha dropping to Tk15 crore from Tk75 crore in just four years.
The port city had 22 tanneries a decade ago and many of them used to export finished leather. However, some rawhide processing units were shut down since they did not have effluent treatment plants (ETP) – a must for tanneries to achieve DoE compliance.
On the other hand, many tanneries shuttered their business on their own, resulting in the collapse of the once-thriving sector. Currently, Riff Leather Limited – the lone tanner in Chattogram – remains in the tannery trade.
Madina Tannery, the biggest tannery in Chattogram, which used to buy 50 percent of the Eid rawhide, shut its production in 2018 on charges of destructive environmental practices.
Before the closure of Madina Tannery, a large-size rawhide (25 to 30 square feet) used to sell at Tk1,800 to Tk2,000. However, now the same piece would sell at a maximum of Tk350. At least 10 percent of the rawhides rotted during Eid last year as the hides remained unsold and the city corporation had to initiate a massive cleaning drive to remove the dumped cattle skins.
The leather processing industry began its journey in Chattogram in 1948 and 22 tanneries were built subsequently. Now, 21 tanneries – including Orient, Monty, HRC, Zaman Rahman, Seiko Leather, Karnaphuli, Jubilee Tannery, Asia, Metropolitan, and Chittagong Tannery – are closed.
The lone survivor of the difficult time Riff Leather had its ETP built in 2016.
"Since then, the tannery estate is doing business successfully and now it is exporting leather goods to China," said Riff Leather Director (Marketing) Mokhlesur Rahman.
The tannery was able to collect 60,000 pieces of rawhide during last year's Eid. However, according to the Department of Livestock Services, around five lakh cattle are sacrificed during Eid in Chattogram.
Therefore, rawhide traders in the port city rely on Dhaka's tanneries to sell the rest of their collections.
In the meantime, Madina Tannery owner Abu Mohammad was critical of profit after investing for the ETP. He said the factory has been building the ETP and it will cost around Tk20 crore.
"I am concerned over whether I will be able to make returns from it amid the ongoing difficult time of the leather sector," he added.
Visiting the Aturar Depot area of the port city, rawhide traders were found passing a busy time with Eid just around the corner. The shops had salt sacks stockpiled – to be used in primary processing of the rawhides.
The Chattogram Rawhide Traders' Ad Hoc Committee President Mahbub Alam said around 200 traders buy rawhides from households.
"Once we had to compete to buy rawhides while there were many tanneries in Chattogram. But now we have neither the craze, nor good business," he added.
Mahbub said Dhaka's tanneries buy on credit which puts their investment centering on Eid in uncertainty. They would not have to face this if there were plenty of tanneries in Chattogram continuing their businesses.
Environment department Deputy-Director (Chattogram metropolis) Mia Mahmudul Haque said the tanneries were closed due to their destructive environmental practices and because they did not have compliance certificates.
"Currently only one tannery is running with an ETP while some others are constructing their treatment plants," added Mahmudul.