Seven months after the closure of tanneries in and around Kanpur and Unnao, the Adityanath-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in Uttar Pradesh has decided to restart the tanneries on the condition that they will have to follow the norms laid down by the National Green Tribunal (NGT).
To ensure that tanneries’ toxic waste is not released directly into the Ganga, the government has also decided to set up a separate 20 million-litres-per-day (MLD) waste treatment plant at Jajmau in Kanpur. Kanpur District Magistrate Vijay Vishwas Pant, confirmed the news saying that government has cleared a project worth Rs 617 crore to check the release of tannery waste into river Ganga.
However, experts and owners of tanneries believe that this is probably another one of the many hollow promises made by the UP government to restart the tanneries, ever since the tanneries were unceremoniously shut.
In November, 2019, ahead of the Kumbh Mela in Prayagraj, over 200 tanneries situated on the banks of river Ganga were shut by the Adityanath government to ensure clean water in the river for the Kumbh Mela.
Meanwhile, the ban was supposed to be lifted in March after the conclusion of Kumbh Mela, however, owners and labourers of tanneries incurred heavy losses and job loss respectively and therefore, many shifted to other sectors to continue earning for their survival.
The leather industry in Kanpur has welcomed the state government's move to reopen the tanneries, but has also urged the government to fast-track work on setting up Effluent Treatment Plants (ETP) to check pollution so that the industry can operate in it’s full capacity.
Commenting on the government's move to reopen the tanneries, Naiyar Jamal, former general secretary of Kanpur Tanneries Association told NewsClick, "since November 18, 2018, the tanneries have been closed and this government has misguided us several times since then that they're opening the tanneries so that we do not take any legal action against the government. Every 2 months, they spread the rumor that tanneries will reopen soon, but trust me, it's the government’s strategy to give us a slow death. Recently, it was said that after inspection, tanneries will start functioning. But where is the inspection report? nobody knows and it has been nearly eight months since we have been waiting to open our tanneries. Now, the leather industry has lost its credibility. We have lost all credibility in the eyes of laborers and buyers. Seeing the uncertainty, buyers do not want to order goods as we can't deliver to them. The uncertainty has led to importers moving to other markets in Pakistan and Bangladesh. Leather industry of Bangladesh has flourished after our tanneries were shut down here."
"In the search for other jobs, labourers have been migrating to other places because they can not wait for seven- eight months and our machines have also stopped working now. If in case the tanneries start working, from where will we get labourers? The machines which stopped eight months back, we are not sure if they will still function. It will take at least one- two years to repair our machines and in the search for labour. There is a machine called ‘wooden tanning drums’ which is important in tanneries but due to a long period of closure, the woods have dried out,” Mr Jamal added.
SEVEN MONTH CLOSURE, HOW MUCH LOSS ?
Speaking to NewsClick over the losses incurred by tanneries, Javed Iqbal, Regional Chairman, Council for Leather Export (Central region, Kanpur), said, “Tanneries in Kanpur and Unnao had a turnover of Rs 30,000 crore per year- Rs 20,000 crore domestic and Rs 8,000 crore of export, the turnover has been adversely affected. Over 10 lakh people were directly and indirectly employed with the tanneries. 99 percent production of safety shoes, upholstery leather (furniture leather) is in Kanpur and Unnao. Kanpur is the leading exporter of harness and saddlery products in Asia. Apart from these products, our leather belt is also in huge demand. This is the background of leather industry which gives approximately Rs 30,000 crore and since the tanneries have been shut, losses are estimated at Rs 20,000 crore in seven months."
"There are two clusters in Unnao and Banthar- few km away from Kanpur, which is run by industry people and responsibility of maintenance lies on them only. There are 402 tanneries in Jajmau of Kanpur alone, which were established 240 years ago when the East India Company made its foray in Kanpur, but this industry has seen a huge downfall during the last five years. Tanners do not discharge so much water, then from where is this CTEP getting full? Their claim is that it is other wastewater from domestic channels and other industrial units, but only tanneries are being targeted,” Mr. Iqbal added.
Chief Minister Adityanath had earlier also constituted a high-power committee to examine if the waste from tanneries was being discharged directly into the river. The committee and officials have conducted these inspections several times, however, these inspections have not yielded any result and tanneries have remained shut. Keeping in mind the past order- inspection drills, the recent order might also prove to be futile in giving a second wind to the leather industry of Kanpur.
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