BJP's blatantly discriminatory policies have brought Unnao's leather industry to its knees, but no candidate acknowledges it

Saurabh Sharma | Apr 26, 2019 | 6 min read




By Saurabh Sharma


"Agar ek pregnant aurat ko karja chukaane ke liye apni kokh bechni pad rahi hai to aap isi se is industry ki haalat samajh sakte hai," (If a pregnant lady has to sell her unborn child to settle her debts then you can understand the condition of tanneries here), said Kaushlendra Chandra Mishra, owner of Triveni Tanners in the Jajmao area of Unnao. According to local media reports, one Meraj Alam's wife, a resident of Amrud Bazaar, sold her unborn seven-month-old child to the landlord as the family had taken a loan of Rs 10,000. This news went viral and the Jajmau police station took cognizance and raided a few places but did not arrest anyone.

The once prosperous tanning centres of Jajmao area in Unnao and Kanpur, today wears a deserted look as even the tea sellers and scrap dealers have moved elsewhere. Forced to shut down by a November 18 order for the Kumbh mela period ostensibly to prevent pollution of the Ganga from tannery waste, the tanneries remain closed even seven weeks after the mela ended on March 4.

Home to more than 400 big tanneries, Jajmao area was known for its leather products with big players like Mirza tanners and Taj shoes setting up manufacturing units here. (pl give approximate turnover figures, how much the business was worth)-- It was Rs 8,000 crores. “The industry is already on ventilator,” said Mishra, an office bearer of the Small Tanners' Association. “If the shutdown continues for much longer, the leather industry in the state will come to an end and no one will ever be able to revive it”.

Officials of the Uttar Pradesh Pollution Control Board and the Uttar Pradesh Jal Nigam are not ready to say anything about reopening the tanneries. The reporter's queries were turned down five times by officials of both departments.

Unfortunately for the tannery owners, none of the candidates in the running from this constituency (pl give constituency and candidate names from Unnao if finalised(-- BJP Has fielded Sakshi Maharaj, Gathbandhan has fielded Arun Shankar Shukla alias Anna Maharaj and Congress has given ticket to Annu Tondon) in the coming Lok Sabha polls have made this a campaign issue. UP minister Satyadev Pachauri, who is contesting for the Kanpur seat ,said that the decision was for a temporary shutdown because of the Kumbh Mela. “The units we reopen and we will also work to restart the closed textile mills in the district,” he said while on the campaign trail.

Not surprisingly, the Small Tanners Association are contemplating boycotting the polls, said Mishra. “Voting for BJP’s development promise last time has turned out to be a curse for us. What we got in return is a four-month closure due to which we are suffering huge losses". Mishra added that a few labourers had committed suicide because of debt. The Jajmau police station confirmed the suicides.

The bulk of the tanneries in Jajmao are run by Muslims and Dalits. “The majority of owners are Muslims but a large chunk of the Hindu population too is linked with the industry and is suffering because of the closure order,” said Arshi Khan, a tannery owner. "We do not know when we will be allowed to reopen. The labourers have migrated to other places and the machines are developing problems which is costing us”.

With no income, every tannery owner has had to resort to debt to survive. “There is no one to solve our problems,” said Arshi Khan. “Even scrap dealers have stopped coming to our areas because they know we have nothing to sell as our stock of untanned leather is of no use now. Everyone talked about Make in India and we were hoping it will give our business a boost, but what is happening to us is very unfortunate."

Chandan Kumar, 39, a chemical supplier with a small shop situated near the Gangaghat police station says he had has lost all hope for the leather industry. “I have not sold even 10 ml of chemicals in the last four months,” said Chandan. “I am now trying my hand in some other profession. I have consumed all my savings and no one is willing to lend me money for the admission of my kids who are studying at a private school”.

Nayar Jamal, 53, former president of Small Tanners Association too felt it was better to boycott the Lok Sabha polls to show the government the value of every single vote, since they failed in cleaning the Ganga and in an election year thought about it and ordered closure of tanneries. “The public should know that a treatment plant was made especially for tanneries so the question of wastes from their drains directly entering the Ganges should not and never arise," said Nayar Jamal.

According to Magsaysay Award Winner Rajendra Singh, also known as the Waterman of India, the main cause for Ganga pollution is dumping of untreated sewage and industrial waste. "You cannot blame tanneries alone for the pollution,” said Rajendra Singh. “So shutting down the tanneries of Kanpur and Unnao for such a long period cannot be justified”.

Requesting anonymity, a chief environment officer with the Uttar Pradesh pollution control board said that the tanneries have been blamed for Ganga pollution for no reason. "The main cause of pollution from what our office has analysed is the dumping of industrial waste, specifically from the sugar industries in western UP,” he said. “The water from the tanneries was going to the treatment plant and only treated water was being dumped in the river. It is totally wrong to blame Tanneries for the pollution”.

“I smell a conspiracy behind this,” said Taj Alam, president of Uttar Pradesh Leather Industries Association (UPLIA). “CM Yogiji told our representatives that he does not have any problem with the tannery operations but the officers are yet to pass orders to reopen the tanneries”. Jamal further added that the industry in Jajmao and Kanpur is almost dead and “buyers are now going to Pakistan, Brazil, Bangladesh, Vietnam and other nations”.

Jawed Iqbal, regional chairman of the council of leather exports, said the government of West Bengal had allotted plots for 12 tanneries and soon these tanneries would be shifting to the Bantala leather industry cluster near Kolkata and would invest of more than Rs 1,000 crores in that state. "Is it unfortunate that people of our own state are being rendered jobless. The loss, which is yet to be estimated, in the leather market from these two districts would not be less than Rs 3,000 crores”.


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