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UP: Already-struggling Tanneries to Shut for Magh Mela, Leaving Lakhs of Workers Jobless

The pollution watchdog took this step in a bid to keep the water of the holy Ganga river clean for the upcoming annual Hindu bathing festival of Magh Mela.
After 14 Months of Closure, 248 Tanneries in Kanpur Shut Down Again

Image for representational use only. Image Courtesy : The Indian Express

Lucknow: The Regional Pollution Control Board office, on Sunday, directed the closure of around 600 industries, including 400 tanneries and 70 factories situated on the banks of the Ganga, for the first bath of Magh Mela to be held on January 6 in Prayagraj.

The pollution watchdog took this step to maintain the cleanliness of the holy Ganga river for the upcoming annual Hindu bathing festival of Magh Mela. The Pollution Control Board has also issued a 24-day closure roster.

The board directed the tanneries to stop their operations starting next week. The team will collect samples of Ganga water from several places and measure dissolved oxygen levels in the river water.

Industries in Bijnor, Saharanpur, Muzaffarnagar, Shamli, Meerut, Baghpat, Hapur, and Ghaziabad will remain closed on the roster for four days each from January 6 to March 8, as it takes nine days for Ganga water to reach Prayagraj from these districts. The closure order specifies, "All tanneries, factories, and industries will remain closed seven days before in Amroha, Bulandshahr, Moradabad, Rampur; five days before in Shahjahanpur, Bareilly, Aligarh, Badaun, Farrukhabad, three days before in Kanpur Nagar, Kanpur Dehat, Unnao, Hardoi, and two days before in Fatehpur and Prayagraj."

According to the Irrigation Department, the water coming out of Kanpur City, Unnao, Kanpur Dehat, and Hardoi reaches Prayagraj in three days.

The administration strictly warned of sealing tanneries if found flouting the norms issued by the Pollution Control Board until Magh Mela ends.

Steps have been taken to ensure that no hazardous chemicals flow into the water body, where millions of Hindu devotees take a ritual bath every year during this time. A team will be formed under the leadership of the district magistrate to keep an eye on the tanneries. This team will conduct surprise inspections of tanneries from time to time, and action will be taken against the tanneries if inspection results reveal non-compliance.


On the ground, tannery workers, mostly daily wagers, are staring at a bleak future after the order. An unprecedented 3 lakh workers in UP's Kanpur and Unnao will be without jobs for more than two months due to the UP government's order to shut down all the tanneries to keep the Ganga water clean for Kumbh in Prayagraj.

Nayyar Jamal, president of the Jajmau Tanners' Association, speaking to NewsClick, said, "Trouble began at the fag-end of 2017 when the Central and State Pollution Control Boards asked the tanneries to cut down their infrastructure by half. It meant, for example, that a tannery with 10 drums used to process leather would be reduced to five. Therefore, all the infrastructure was dismantled. We have been working at 50% capacity for the last five years. To cripple it more, the state government issued a roster for functional tanneries in Kanpur three years ago, under which half of the units would operate during the first fortnight of the month while the remaining would operate in the second fortnight. The result was that our capacity remained at only 25%. The leather industry of Kanpur was already on its deathbed, and now this Magh and Kumbh Mela is like the last nail in the coffin," he said, adding that the government should have allowed workers to do dry finishing work and miscellaneous work.

The move to stop cleaning work for 24 days will lead to losses to the tune of Rs 200 crore due to a number of pending orders from foreign countries.

Jamal further added that in 2014, the Prime Minister had given a push to the leather sector by placing it in Make in India while the chief minister had done so by naming it in One District One Product (ODOP), Kanpur, the city popularly known as the Manchester of the East, losing its glory day by day.

Already reeling from the impact of prolonged closure orders, another tannery owner, Zubair, said, "If the government continues giving orders to close tanneries for a few more years, 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."

After this order, the general secretary of the Tannery Association, Mohammad Nafees, said, "The overflow that is being talked about is not because of the tannery but because of domestic issues because only tannery water is used in these treatment plants. Not only does it go away, but water from people's homes also goes away. There was talk of building a separate treatment plant for the tannery. If it is built, there will be no problem because the tannery industry is continuously moving towards other countries."

The tannery owners NewsClick spoke to said that they are attached to the leather industry because of the legacy their fathers carried for several decades, but seeing the trouble they have been facing, the new generation (their children) quit the trade.

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