The 5 No. Habilashdweep Union (lowest administrative tier) is located in 10 km north-west of Potia Upazilla (administrative union under district) under Chittagong district. With five villages namely, Charkanai, Hulaine, Pantchuria and Habilashdweep, the Union (lowest administrative unit) has a total population of 30,000 villagers. These villagers were served with 350 tubewells set up for supply of potable water in the 90's by the Directorate of Public Health Engineering Department (DPHE) under the local government ministry.
A total of eight industries set up in the Union in the early 20’s started withdrawing ground water by setting up deep tube wells in their premises leading to catastrophic water scarcity in the Union. Their withdrawal of ground water for industrial operation have so adversely affected the ground water table/aquifer that the 350 hand pumps/shallow tube wells set up by the DPHE have become non-functional. Villagers are compelled to either travel miles and spend hours to collect water or to use contaminated water from the surrounding canals.
Some of these eight industries were set up without Environmental Clearance Certificates (ECC) while all of them, belonging to ‘red’ and ‘orange B’ categories under the Environment Conservation Rules (ECR), 1997, continued their operation without legally mandatory Effluent Treatment Plants (ETPs) or without running the ETPs. They were discharging their untreated wastes to the three neighbouring canals namely, Alam Khal, Boalkhali Khal and Gorulota Khal, that, on the face of scarcity of ground water, could work as important sources for supply of water needed for irrigation and household purposes.
A survey conducted by the villagers identified the legal violations of the eight industries, of which six have no ECC, ETP, and were extracting ground water; and the remaining two have ECC but were not operating the ETPs and were withdrawing groundwater.
On behalf of the local people, a Writ Petition No. 440 of 2014 has been filed seeking for the following: a) A show cause notice upon the respondents to explain as to why (i) the hazardous and polluting operation of the industries in the 5 (five) villages of 5 No. Habilashdweep Union of Potia upazilla shall not be declared unlawful, without lawful authority and against public interest; (ii) they shall not be directed to arrange for supply of potable and household water for the villagers by declaring the five villages as water stress areas; and (iii) in view of the grievances and allegations of the local people, they shall not be directed to reconsider environmental clearances given in favour of some industries.
Meanwhile, local people have also arranged public hearing in which all stakeholders participated and expressed their perspectives on possible solutions. The proceedings of the public hearing have been produced before the Court which was helpful in nullifying the claim that the water scarcity has been addressed by setting up of new tube wells.
In Writ Petition No. 440 of 2014, the High Court has passed interim order on ...barring withdrawal of groundwater by the industries and operation of the industries without ECC and ETPs. The case is now being heard and meanwhile two industries have filed applications seeking permission for closure of their industries. The government is vehemently opposing the declaration of 'water stress area' as it is considered a management failure. The Department of Environment is also trying to save a few industries by granting them ECC and submitting favourable reports on their current compliance status.
Since the case is being fought aggressively by the government agencies and the industries, no opinion can be formed till final decision comes from the judiciary. The applications for closure may just be a ploy to avoid legal sanctions, if ultimately, the case is decided in favour of the petitioner.