Several mills and factories with dyeing and printing units have long been polluting rivers and other water bodies in Tangail by dumping industrial waste into them.
The worst affected water bodies are the Bonshai river, the Jhenai river and the Sohagpara canal in Mirzapur upazila, and the Louhajang river in Sadar upazila.
As the rivers and canals became badly polluted by the untreated and harmful industrial wastes, aquatic life vanished from the water bodies.
The very rivers and water bodies that were supposed to be a blessing for the local people and the environment have become a curse.
According to the Tangail office of Department of Enviroment (DoE), there are 14 mills and factories in Mirzapur upazila, including Gorai Industrial Area, with dyeing and printing units.
The mills and factories have Effluent Treatment Plants (ETPs).
But locals allege that most of the mills and factories have not installed ETPs following rules and as per capacity and also that they do not run these properly.
Moreover, the ETPs were kept shut most of the time due to high costs. Consequently, they dumped the untreated toxic industrial wastes into rivers and canals through pipelines.
“The installed ETPs are just an eye wash. The waters of the nearby rivers, canals and water bodies have been made poisonous due to dumping of untreated toxic industrial wastes,” said Azad Rahman, a local rights activist and founder of Ideal Mirzapur, a social organisation.
“We have held various programmes protesting mindless river- and water pollution and also demanding action against the polluters but to no avail,” Azad said.
Locals also allege that the polluters are influential and have managed to keep the authorities concerned at bay through bribes. The officials got fat amounts during renewal of the environment certificates, they alleged.
The Louhajang river flowing through Tangail district town is all but dead due to pollution and illegal encroachment.
The dumping of a large amount of waste, particularly industrial waste from different local mills and factories, has turned the river into a toxic water body over the last two decades.
The natural environment of the river has been destroyed and aquatic life in it has disappeared.
The picture is especially sordid at Taratia, Gosai Bari Kumulli, Khudirampur, Karatia and Birpushia areas of Sadar upazila. Artificial colours used in the factories have bled into the river and can be seen in different layers.
“We cannot use the water of this river for bathing, farming or for any purposes. Drinking this polluted river water causes diarrhoea in cattle,” said Abdur Rauf, a resident of Khudirampur area.
“Once upon a time, big boats plied this river. We swam in the river and fished. The farmers of the area irrigated the river. But now not even a single frog can be found in this water,” he said.
Shamim Mia of Gosaibari Kumulli said it was difficult to stay in the area because of the noxious smell coming from the water contaminated by untreated waste from factories. Contact with the rotten water of the river causes various diseases, including skin diseases.
According to locals, a BSCIC Industrial Area was established on 23 acres of land at Taratia of Sadar upazila along the Dhaka-Tangail highway in 1983.
Later, several mills and industries were opened there. After a few years, another textile mill was set up in nearby Khudirampur area.
Pollution in the rivers started as more and more industrial units were set up. The untreated toxic wastes dumped in the river is carried to other areas with the current during rainy season, while it remains stagnant during the dry season, they said.
The river has never regained its original appearance despite protests by locals for years and even fines levied on mills and factories by the DoE on a few occasions.
“What did we not do? Protests, rallies, human chains, complaints to the public representatives of the area, verbal and written appeals to the district and upazila administrations. How much more? But nothing happened,” said Abdur Rashid of Gosaibari Kumulli.
On the other hand, authorities of mills and factories have been claiming that the Louhajang is a dead river and they released the water into it after treating it with ETP.
Locals, however, allege that running ETP is expensive, so sometimes ETP is run to show people, but in the dark of night, all the untreated water is dumped directly into the river through pipelines.
Earlier, local DoE officials had inspected the factories at different times and found the allegations of the locals to be true.
They fined several mills and factories in the area for river pollution and also directed the local industries to increase the efficiency of the ETPs and to become modernised.
However, the situation has not changed so far.
“What else can we do? Nothing has happened at all. The media focuses on the problem on many occasions. However, local public representatives, administrations, and also environment department could not free us from this curse,” said Azahar Ali, a resident of the Gosaibari Kumulli.
People living close to river banks are frustrated as they are have not gotten any solution to the mindless river pollution and its effects in Sadar and Mirzapur upazilas for years, said Gautam Chandra Chanda, a senior research officer of Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (BELA).
Gautam, however, admitted that BELA did not file any lawsuit against the river pollution by the mills and factories.
Asked about the matter, Mohammad Mujahidul Islam, deputy-director of the Tangail office of the environment department, told The Daily Star that several mills and factories were fined by the DoE on a few occasions for polluting the rivers.
“We could not do regular monitoring and take action against the industrial pollution due to lack of manpower,” he said.
“We have also no water testing laboratory here. Water released from the mills and industries is tested in the laboratory in Dhaka every three months. If pollution is found, action is taken against the mills and factories concerned,” he added.