In a major relief to the Kanpur leather tanneries, staring at potential losses of more than Rs 30 billion due to a complete shutdown ordered earlier from December 15 to March 15 in view of the Kumbh Mela 2019, the Uttar Pradesh green watchdog has now allowed them to operate at a 50 per cent capacity.
Earlier, 249 tanneries located in the Jajmau industrial area of Kanpur had been asked to shut down by the UP Pollution Control Board (UPPCB) to stop effluent discharge in downstream Ganga meandering towards Prayag (Allahabad) during Kumbh, where an estimated 120 million pilgrims and tourists are expected to congregate.
Following the UPPCB directive, tannery labour unions had approached the Allahabad High Court challenging the UPPCB order dated July 29, 2018 pertaining to the closure of the tanneries in Kanpur. The workers had contended the potential closure for several months would impinge on their livelihood and wages.
In its reply, the UPPCL submitted that the Board had already withdrawn the said order and replaced it with another observation dated October 5, 2010, following which the HC disposed of the petition.
The Kanpur leather cluster, which also includes nearby Unnao district, is estimated at about Rs 120 billion, including Rs 60 billion worth of annual exports to the Gulf, Europe, China, Iran etc. It provides direct and indirect livelihood to almost a million people.
A senior UPPCB official told Business Standard the Board had allowed the tanneries to operate at half capacity with certain riders. “Earlier, we had ordered for complete closure of tanneries, since the Jal Nigam had claimed that their effluent treatment plant would be shut for maintenance. However, now they have given an undertaking that 2 of the 4 effluent treatment units are functional, so we have allowed the tanneries to operate at half capacity until the treatment plant augments to its optimum capacity.”
However, the tanneries have been warned to ensure that their effluent does not pollute the river.
Meanwhile, Small Tanners’ Association member Nayyar Jamal said it was a major breather for the local industry, which could now operate at half capacity, although he lamented the ‘frequent jolts’ that the 150 year old Kanpur tannery industry was subjected to over issues of ecology and pollution.
He noted the tanneries faced a bleak future as the authorities were passing the buck at the industry, while they themselves lacked any long term action plan to address the lacunae. “Such shutdowns are taking toll to our export markets, since the buyers have ready leather and finished leather suppliers in Pakistan and Bangladesh.”
In fact, the local tanneries have been advised to shift the proposed leather cluster at Ramaipur, where a mega effluent treatment plant would be set up, but the scheme remains a non-starter.
UP comprises three major leather industry hubs viz. Kanpur-Unnao, Agra and Noida. Of the Rs 200 billion worth of annual UP leather industry, about 50% is accounted for by the export market. The state accounts for almost a third of India’s annual leather trade and exports.
Under Namami Gange and National Mission for Clean Ganga (NMCG), both the central and state governments have reiterated that river Ganga should be set free of pollutants and discharge by 2022. Of the total projects worth over Rs 200 billion under MNCG so far, the Centre has approved projects worth almost Rs 90 billion for UP alone.
A central team is also expected to visit Kanpur today to take stock of the ongoing projects for ensuring clean water flow in the river during the coming months.