There is no signboard or any indication to locate a factory in the Zinjira Bus Stand area in Keraniganj on the outskirts of the capital. Gates are guarded to prevent outsiders from entering the illegally-run plant. Aasia Washing Plant only allows its workers and the owner in.
It is among dozens of washing plants operating in the area without environmental clearance and effluent treatment plants – two major conditions set by the government for running a factory.
Set up in narrow alleyways among residential buildings, the plants are discharging pitch-dark waters with hazardous chemicals, which directly flow into the Buriganga in the absence of effluent treatment plants.
Environmentalists have said the businesses have been making money for decades to the detriment of the Buriganga, a lifeline of the capital.
The High Court on Sunday directed the Department of Environment to shut down all illegal factories on the Buriganga that are polluting the river.
The Department of Environment submitted a report to the court saying that 52 washing plants have illegally been doing business without environmental clearance and effluent treatment plants on the south shore of the river, thus polluting its water.
Some factories, which have no environmental clearance and effluent treatment plants, were running on the northern shore of the Buriganga in the Dhaka metropolitan area.
The Department of Environment informed the court that it had also initiated an enquiry in this regard. The government agency, in its compliance report, said that it had already shut down 27 such factories in 2017 and 18 this year as they were polluting the river.
This correspondent visited several washing plants in the Zinjira area on Monday afternoon.
Seated at the entrance, a security guard at Aasia Washing Plant – one of the 52 illegal factories – did not let him into the factory.
Upon repeated requests, the factory manager came outside and talked to the correspondent.
Mohammad Basir shared a few facts with the reporter about the chemicals used in the plant and the waste it discharges.
He said that at least 1,200 pairs of jeans pants are washed at the plant every day. He claimed that the plant did not use hazardous chemicals.
"We do not use heavy chemicals to wash jeans," said Basir. "I do not know as to why we will have to shut down the business."
Employees at another washing plant, Lili Washing, had a similar reaction to the correspondent when he wanted visit it. They even refused to have him talk to the owner about the environmental clearance and effluent treatment plant on the part of the firm.
People in the area are aware of the washing plants but have a little knowledge of what goes on inside them.
Haji Mohammad Karim, a resident and shop owner at Zinjira market, is unhappy about the government's inaction in stopping such illegal businesses.
"We have been experiencing this kind of hazard since our childhood. They are just killing the river from which we drank water in our childhood, but the government is not sincere in this regard," said Karim.
"You will be surprised to see that the river water is getting pitch black and the volume of the black water has been increasing every day," he said, adding the plant owners are influential people.
Meanwhile, leaders of the Washing Factories Owners Association acknowledge that they are polluting the river. They said they were working to relocate their factories soon.
Association President Qazi Abu Sohel said at least 1.80 lakh jeans are washed in 60 plants in the area made for local markets. He said the factory owners need time to relocate the plants.
He added that the owners had not been able to set up effluent treatment plants as they run their businesses on rented plots.
"I could not obtain clearance from the Department of Environment since we do not have effluent treatment plants at the factories," said Sohel.
Experts are of the opinion that the plants use enzymes, detergents and different kinds of dyeing that are very harmful to biodiversity.
Abdul Matin, executive vice-president of Bangladesh Paribesh Anolon, said any kind of chemicals, such as enzymes, detergents and dyeing are harmful to the environment and human life.
"The plant owners always come up with excuses as they run their businesses in violation of the law. Profit making is their only target. They never have any sympathy for the people affected by their businesses," said Abdul Matin.
He said the government would have to take action against the illegal plants immediately.
Environment officials said that they have repeatedly told the leaders and owners of washing factories to set up effluent treatment plants and obtain clearance certificates, but the owners have paid little heed to the instructions.
They said the businesses have been making the same excuse for years about factory relocation.
"We have shut down some factories time and again," said Shaheda Begum, deputy director at the Dhaka district office of the Department of Environment. "And we have seen that the plants returned to operations in the same area with new names under new ownership."
She told The Business Standard that no factory would be allowed to run illegally any longer.