Saurabh Sharma | Sep 26, 2018 | 6 min read
Lucknow: The Government of Uttar Pradesh has taken a decision to close tanneries operating in Kanpur and Unnao, between December to March, 2019, to provide clean water for devotees participating in the upcoming Ardh Kumbh festival.
The Kumbh Mela is to be held in Allahabad for three months, between January 15, and March 4, 2019.
This decision was taken by the UP government, and handed down by Renuka Kumar, Principal Secretary of the Forest Department, on June 12. A review meeting on this decision was chaired by the UP Pollution Control Board (PCB) on Monday, September 17, and the copy of the order was dispatched to the district magistrates of Kanpur and Unnao, Director of Uttar Pradesh State Industrial Development Corporation (UPSIDC), Managing Director of the Uttar Pradesh Jal Nigam (UPJN), and Divisional Commissioner from Kanpur range.
T U Khan, the Chief Environmental Officer at the UP PCB, says the government’s orders will be followed though the Board was not consulted before a decision was taken.
According to the UPSIDC, there are 264 big and small tanneries that operate in Kanpur and Unnao. Income from these tanneries is the primary source of livelihood for more than one lakh families.
Mukhtarul Amin, Chairman of the Council of Leather Exports says that the government’s decision will have an adverse impact on the leather industry - “If this happens, it will be impossible for us to get back into the leather business.” They have asked Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath for time and requested that the decision be reviewed. He added that leather exports from Kanpur and Unnao is valued at around Rs 8,000 crore, and about Rs 12,000 crore from the entire state. Amin says that the government should act swiftly to avoid consequences - “Pakistan and Bangladesh will earn the larger share in global leather exports.”
According to the UP PCB, these tanneries discharge 6.7 million litres of treated effluent per day. This water is treated at a chemical plant in Jajmau area, which holds the capacity to treat up to 37 million litres per day. These tanneries were once the biggest exporters of finished and unfinished leather in the international market, however, 154 tanneries have been shut down since 2016 due to excessive water pollution or illegal functionality.
To maintain the treatment plant, the government recently provided Rs 17 crore to the UPJN, according to the UP Minister for Export Encouragement, Satyadev Pachauri.
According to the PCB, waste water coming out from tanneries is first treated at the 37 MLD chemical plant in Jajmau, after which the treated water is sent into the Ganga. The water is considered not fit for consumption, but the treatment makes it fit to be sent into the river. There are nine points in the treatment plant from where the water is dumped into the river.
According to A K Srivastava, Managing Director of UPJN, the treatment plants are sufficiently equipped to deal with the polluted water. The funds requested were to repair the processing unit. “The department is also in process to set up more treatment plants in the future,” he added.
Taj Alam, President of UP’s Leather Industries Association, said that the government’s order will kill the leather industries in the state. “The leather industries are already in loss and global exporters have started terming India as an unreliable market. In conditions like this, the industries will either shut down or move to different states and this will affect us very badly,” he said, adding that workers are seeking employment elsewhere, and a few industries are operating day and night to meet productions deadlines.
As per data provided by the Council for Leather Exports, the export of leather and leather products for the financial year of 2017-18 touched Rs 9,153.321 crore, as compared to 2016-17, which recorded a negative growth of -4.89%, at Rs 9,624.193 crore.
A report by India Spend states that the leather industry employs around 2.5 million people across the country, most of them Dalit or Muslim. India’s leather industry accounts for 9% of the world’s footwear production, and 12.93% of international production of hides/skins.
“This order, for the government, is just three months, but for traders like us this is going to affect more than four months, as we will have to stop the soaking process a month before and the raw material will also rot in this period if not processed,” says Taj Alam.
Vaki Mohammad, who runs Kanpur Leather Exports, a leather showroom, says that industries have increased the cost for local dealers, and shop owners are not receiving adequate supplies from tanneries, due to which they would have to look for some other business. “This industry is sinking and nobody cares for it other than the labourers who work there. It is not the first time that Kumbh is happening, but this type of closure is happening for the first time,” he said.
Small-scale tanneries are likely to be the worst affected by the government’s order.
Babu Bhai, the owner of Star House, a small tannery unit, thinks that if the government sticks to this decision, a lot of labourers and small businessmen will die. “We do not have much money like big tanneries. A lot of money is required in processing the leather and we do not have savings to feed our family for three continuous months. Most of the labourers are working overtime to complete the order before this diktat is implemented.” He has asked his employees to find another job during those three months as they are in no position to challenge the government order.
Rakesh Tripathi, the UP BJP spokesperson, said that Kumbh is the world’s largest gathering where people from various nations visit; this step has been taken just to provide clean water, as bathing in the ‘pure’ Ganga water would benefit pilgrims. “The government would not want visitors to have a negative perception of the state,” he explains, adding that the government has started discussing alternative solutions, to prevent the leather industry’s loss. When asked about the order’s impact on workers’ livelihood, Tripathi said that the Kumbh Mela will generate sufficient employment opportunities to a large section of the population.
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