Lucknow/Kanpur: In what can be termed as another jolt for the leather industry of Kanpur, once known as the Manchester of the East, the Bharatiya Janata Party-led Adityanath government in Uttar Pradesh has ordered shutdown of leather processing units or tanneries till February last week.
The UP government’s order to close the tanneries is a bid keep the water of the holy Ganga river clean for the upcoming annual Hindu bathing festival of Magh Mela, starting January 10 with Paush Poornima.
In 2019, too, the state government, headed by saffron-clad Adityanath had ordered the shutdown of tanneries, which directly and indirectly employs about a million people, for four months due to the Hindu festival of Ardh Kumbh, another bathing festival, which was dubbed as Maha Kumbh by the government.
In 2020, the BJP government is promoting the Magh Mela as ‘Mini Kumbh’. The Magh Mela is an annual event lasting over 40 days even at Sangam, the confluence of rivers Ganga, Yamuna and mythical Saraswati, in Prayagraj, formerly known as Allahabad.
According to Kanpur-based tanner, Asad K Iraqi, who is also the chairman of the AKI group, the officials in Kanpur have issued a roster asking the leather units to keep their units closed three days prior to the holy bath. This year there are six holy baths starting January 10 and ending on February 21 on Maha Shivratri.
“In Kanpur, the roster has been issued, but for the tanneries in Unnao, the administration has asked them to be closed during the entire period. How can there be two different decisions for two different districts?” says Iraqi, who also holds an important post in the Leather Council of India.
Already reeling from the impact of last year’s prolonged closure orders, the leather trader said, “The tanneries could open only in November last after the decision of the government to keep them closed for Maha Kumbh. The Kumbh concluded months ago and the order to open units was received several months later. Industrialists who deal in leather, buffalo hides and other material have suffered heavy losses due to this policy of the government.”
Dismayed by the total indifference of the BJP government, Iraqi said: “We have tried a lot of times to take the matter to the chief minister by contacting the officers concerned, but it seems no one is interested in taking this matter up. We do not get any heads up and we are suffering. The infrastructure, tools and other things that we replaced recently, will rot again and will be of no use, adding to the loss. Banks also are not giving us more time for repayment of loans, the labour have left due to lack of work. Also, how will the government help us in restoring the international leather market,” asks Iraqi, adding, “The international buyers have turned to Pakistan, Malaysia and Bangladesh for leather citing ‘lot of uncertainty’ in the Indian markets due to government policies.”
As per Iraqi’s estimate, the leather exports from the Kanpur cluster have declined by more than 35% and the industry has suffered a loss of more than Rs 1,000 crore in the present fiscal.
“The government should understand that if the ban continues for a few more months, then the state will lose a major revenue-producing sector and it will not be easy for the government to bring things back on track,” he adds.
Another tannery owner, Arshi Khan, said earlier, keeping religious faith in mind, they used to keep their tanneries shut prior to the holy bathing dates, but this government is stretching things too far in an effort “to kill the industries.”
“If this is being done because it is Muslim dominant business, then the government is is wrong, as a large chunk of people who work in tanneries are lower caste Hindus and this move of asking the tannery owners to shut so often will even affect other people who are dependent on this industry,” said Khan, adding that “Instead, of shutting down the tanneries, the government should increase the capacity of sewage and chemical treatment plants.
Leather exports from Kanpur and Unnao are valued at around Rs 8,000 crore, and about Rs 12,000 crore from the entire state. As per data provided by the Council for Leather Exports, the export of leather and leather products for 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.
Magh Mela to be ‘Eco-Friendly’
Rajnish Mishra, the Mela officer, said: "The Magh Mela will be an eco-friendly affair. We will be deploying three special teams to keep an eye on vendors flouting the rules. Instructions have been passed to everyone for not using plastic and thermocol products.”
The important dates for bathing are also the dates when maximum numbers of pilgrims will come to Prayagraj, include Paush Purnima on January 10, Makar Sankranti on January 15, Mauni Amavasya on January 24, Basant Panchami on January 30, Maghi Purnima on February 9 and Maha Shivratri on February 21.