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| Last Updated:01/02/2019

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Kanpur’s famous leather units inching towards closure

Demonetisation hit them hard and local sales plummeted. Then, the crackdown on cow slaughter affected the supply of raw material and now, the National Green Tribunal’s (NGT) order on removing all polluting units along the Ganga is sounding the death knell for the leather industry in Kanpur.


Kanpur — once Cawnpore, the Manchester of the East — is facing troubled times with over 200 of the 700 odd tanneries having shut down. The remaining ones are in crisis. The fate of over four lakh people working in this industry also faces an uncertain future.


Taj Alam, president of the 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 percent 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 is being asked to pay for 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 is been no upgradation of it for more than two decades. The old plant had the capacity to treat 175 tanneries in 1996, after which more than 500 more tanneries have come up. No work on capacity building has been done and in the meantime 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 who did not want to be named.


A member of the Council for Leather Exports, however, put the impact on the leather industry at a much higher 80 per cent. Some tanneries are planning to migrate to “safer” cities outside UP.


“It is not easy to migrate since that will involve shifting the skilled labour and families. But, if the situation does not improve, we will not have any other option,” said a senior-level official of Super House Tanneries.


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 `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.