By Amita Verma
Kanpur, May 31 (IANS) The tannery business in Kanpur is breathing its last.
Tannery units were shut down in December for the Kumbh Mela. The Kumbh is already over but the Uttar Pradesh government has not allowed the tanneries to reopen.
The National Green Tribunal (NGT) on Wednesday ordered closure of 78 tanneries located in Unnao and Banthara areas. The NGT passed the order on a report submitted by a team of Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) and UPPCB.
According to UP Pollution Control Board (UPPCB) officials, as many as 106 tanneries are operating in Banthara and Unnao. The team had earlier collected samples from the tanneries from May 20 to 24 and found that they were flouting pollution control norms.
In Kanpur, 260 tanneries have been closed in compliance with NGT and government orders.
According to tannery owners, bad days began for them with demonetization that hit exports and local sales.
Then the crackdown on cow slaughter affected the supply of raw material and now the NGT order on removing all polluting units along the Ganga river is sounding the death knell of the leather industry in Kanpur.
Kanpur – once Cawnpore, the Manchester of the East – is facing troubled times with over 300 tanneries having shut down. The four lakh people working in this industry face an uncertain future.
Taj Alam, President of UP Leather Association, said: “Even if all 700-odd tanneries are shut down, effluents will still continue to pollute the Ganga as the problem does not end with us. We discharge merely 15 to 20 per cent effluents, while the rest is untreated domestic sewage. Apart from the leather industry, as many as 30,000 small and medium enterprises consisting of battery plants, chemical and detergent units, dyeing units, textile mills and metallurgical units are situated on various small towns on the banks of the Ganga. It is only the leather business which is being targeted.”
Naiyar Jamal, of Kanpur Tanneries Association, too said that the industry was being asked to pay for the inefficiency of the state administration.
“UP Jal Nigam takes money from each one of us for the operation and maintenance of the treatment plant, yet there has been no upgrade for more than two decades. The old plant had the capacity to treat 175 tanneries in 1996, after which more than 500 tanneries have come up. No work on capacity building has been done and the old plant has started overflowing,” he pointed out.
Apart from green issues, the crackdown on cow slaughter has also hit the industry in a big way and those in the industry claim that they have taken a 50 per cent hit because of this.
“There is a scarcity of raw material. People in the business are afraid of cow vigilantes and we are cancelling orders now because of this. If the situation does not improve, our turnover will be less than 50 per cent this year,” said a tannery owner on condition of anonymity.
A member of the Council for Leather Exports, however, put the impact on the leather industry at much higher: 80 per cent.
Some tanneries are planning to migrate to ‘safer’ cities outside Uttar Pradesh.
Kanpur alone accounts for almost 40 per cent of the country’s leather exports and Germany is one of the biggest buyers. It earns foreign exchange worth Rs 6,000 crore.
Jajmau, which is the hub of the leather industry and has hundreds of families working from inside their homes, cleaning the hides with chemicals and then selling them on to tanneries, reflects the state of affairs.
Several families have lost their livelihood due to scarce supply of hides, children have been taken away from schools and women are working as domestic help.
Raju Gautam, who cleans hides with his three brothers, said that after the crackdown on cow slaughter, his family was afraid of buying and selling hides.
“It is better to go without work than to get killed,” he said.
Jamil Akhtar, a retail seller of leather accessories, said: “The governments do not understand the changing market trends. People now go for online shopping and make a bid for big brands-whether it is bags, shoes or purses. Our sales have plummeted after demonetization and instead of giving us incentives; the governments are making it even tougher for the industry to survive”.