Lucknow: After a long hiatus, some 261 leather tanneries in Kanpur’s Jajmau area have started stirring to life, began removing the dust and greasing their machines, but a bigger crisis now stares at them – an acute labour shortage.
After the sudden countrywide lockdown, most migrant labourers have left for their native places and the factories are now facing a tough challenge in restarting production after the Regional Pollution Control Board of Uttar Pradesh gave them a green signal.
On Wednesday, district magistrate Brahmadeo Ram Tiwari, who chaired a meeting along with officials of the pollution control board and owners of the leather industry, allowed the tanneries to resume work, asking the units to take all necessary precautions in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The district administration made it clear to representatives of the leather industry that except in the containment, red zone and buffer zones, tanneries could start production with certain conditions.
Ever since first phase of lockdown was imposed all of sudden on March 23, over 261 tanneries in UP that were operating had to close down. As a result, raw material worth around Rs 250 crore, which was in the processing stage, decomposed.
The district magistrate has asked the leather units to follow the anti-pollution rules and treat the effluents properly instead of discharging these into the Ganga river. The representatives assured the administration that they would follow all the instructions.
The tannery industry’s woes began much earlier, starting with demonetisation and then the Kumbh Mela restrictions.
Asad Iraqi, General Secretary, Leather Industries Welfare Association, who was present in the meeting, told NewsClick, "The tannery industry is passing through a difficult phase since Kumbh Mela was held in Prayagraj (Allahabad) when the units were shut down. They are also suffering due to non-availability of raw materials and chemicals but the tanneries came down on their knees due to government orders followed by the lockdown."
Iraqi said the permission to open the export-oriented units would give a new lease of life to the leather industry but this came too late as there has been mass exodus of migrant workers from the leather city.
Iraqi said he lost all hope after the industry suffered huge losses and failed to fulfil its export commitments. "Until the government gives permission to start slaughterhouses to ensure easy availability of raw material, we will not survive and cannot compete with Bangladesh, Pakistan in this trade."
Some tannery owners NewsClick spoke withsaid that they had some raw leather lying with them, and would start work with those only. Due to the closure of slaughterhouses for a long time, raw material is not coming from outside. If the number of labourers is low, there will be a problem in making leather in the tanneries. In such a situation, orders taken two months ago will be difficult to deliver on time.
Naiyar Jamal, former general secretary of Kanpur Tanneries Association said the closure of tannerieshad not only damaged their business image but also affect leather export.
"The Kanpur leather industry gives employment to over 10 lakh persons -- 2 lakh direct and 8 lakh indirect, including electricians, plumbers, truck loaders, tractor drivers. After the lockdown, at least 80% labourers have gone back to their hometowns. The other challenge before us is that we neither have raw leather nor repairing machines or chemicals coming from other states," he said.
"Our hardships have increased in the lockdown period as our products could not be shipped from ports and the raw material completely rotted due to heat," Jamal said.
Explaining how hard the lockdown had hit the leather industry most, Jamal said 25% of leather was used to make shoes, belts, revolver covers etc. for Army people and 75% was used inupholstery leather, like car seats, fancy shoes, sandals, purses, sofa and etc.. But, after the lockdown, the industry’s woes have increased as people are struggling to pay for food, leave alone luxurious things.
The former secretary also claimed that out of 261, as many as 70 tanneries did not get permission yet by pollution board, and those who have got permission to operate, do not have anything in writing yet.