Kanpur tanneries shut for 9 months, blame game continues
The government ordered shutdown of tanneries in November when the Maha Kumbh Mela had started to ensure that the pilgrims could have a cleaner dip. It’s been five months and yet there is no clarity on why the tanneries are still shut or when they can re-open.While the discharge created by the tanneries is being cited as the official reason, tannery owners blame the government. Thousands have lost their jobs and the industry has suffered losses to the tune of crores of rupees
Mithilesh Dhar 2 Aug 2019 12:41 PM GMT
Mithilesh Dhar Dubey & Ranvijay Singh
There is an unusual pessimism in Jajmau, an industrial suburb of Kanpur, these days. The cluster is home to some of the biggest tanneries, but it's been five months that all except 26 of the 251 tanneries are shut.
The government ordered shutdown of tanneries in November last year when the Maha Kumbh Mela had started to ensure that the pilgrims could have a cleaner dip. It ended on March 4. It's been almost five months and yet there is no clarity on why the tanneries are still shut or when they can re-open.
While the discharge created by the tanneries is being cited as the official reason, tannery owners blame the government and the authorities. Thousands of people have lost their jobs and the industry has suffered losses to the tune of crores of rupees.
According to the Leather Council of India, these tanneries were generating an annual revenue of Rs 12,000 crore, which has now reduced to Rs 2,000 crore. The leather industry in Kanpur provides employment to 20 lakh people.
"I am worried about future of my kids," said Ismail Baksh, 32, who used to work in a tannery. "I used to do trimming job in the factory. But I have been out of work soon after the factory shut down. I have two kids.One of them goes to the school,but I am unable to pay his school fee. I don't have any other skill. The factory owners say that there won't be much work even after the factory re-opens," he added.
Not just the leather industry, many associated professions too have taken a hit because of this closure. There were many mule-owners who would load-unload raw materials. Then there were the transporters, small exporters and other small stakeholders. The tannery owners were dependent on them. Now they too are out of jobs.
Ismail's father Khuda Baksh, 65, is one such. "Earlier, I would earn Rs 1,000-1,200 per day. Now, it is difficult to earn even Rs 500. It is challenging to feed my family of six. We have three horses, now only one is being used. It's been three months that my son is unemployed."
Why the blame game?
On May 29, 2019, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) had ordered the closure of 78 tanneries located in Unnao and Banthara, not very far from Kanpur. The NGT passed the order on a report submitted to it by a team of Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) and Uttar Pradesh Pollution Control Board (UPPCB).
In 2014, 402 registered tanneries were operational in Kanpur and Jajmau. But many were sealed by the government after it came to the light that they were polluting the Ganga.
This has been the bone of contention between the government and tannery owners.
An official from Kanpur Jal Nigam, on condition of anonymity, said: "The tannery owners are not abiding by the rules. An NGT order clearly states that the tanneries have to treat water and then discharge water into the river. But that is not happening."
He even showed us that raw leather was floating in the river. The rules clearly state that only treated water should flow out from the factories.
He added: "Right now only 26 tanneries are operational yet 10.78 MLD untreated sewerage flows through the pipes, when the permitted limit is 1.8 MLD. This means it is 100 times more than the standard value. This just proves how much sewerage all the tanneries were producing collectively."
The other side
To ensure a cleaner Ganga during the Kumbh mela, the NGT had ordered Uttar Pradesh government for closure of the Kanpur tanneries between November 15, 2018 to March 15, 2019. But since the Uttar Pradesh Pollution Control Board (UPPCB) has not issued the necessary clearances, nearly 90% of the tanneries in Kanpur are still shut.
"We discharge only treated water. We also want a cleaner Ganga. When someone falls sick, the doctors treat that patient, not kill him. Similarly, the government is the doctor in this case. It should look after us. We have taken so many orders. We are answerable to our customers," said Nayyer Jamal, a tannery owner.
"Every year, tannery owners pay Rs 78 lakh as tax to the government and still the Common Effluent Treatment Plant (CITP) here is not working properly. We suffer losses because of this. This year in May, chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, Yogi Adityanath, allotted Rs 17.68 crore for repair of the CITP and pumping stations in Jajmau. Not sure what happened after that," alleged Hafizur Rehman, director of Small Tanner's Association.
He added, "The government is neglecting this issue. Thousands have lost their jobs. If this situation persists, then sooner Kanpur's leather business would only be etched in our memories."
Insisting that the CITP is functioning fine, Ghanshyam Dwivedi, project manager at Jal Nigam, said: "We treat the water and the plant is functioning fine. The capacity of CITP is 9 MLD, but the tanneries drain sewage of 11-12 MLD."
He added: "This also proves that the tanneries were functioning even after the government had ordered the shutdown. If we take into account their electricity bill, it shows that some work was happening inside."
Another official of Jal Nigam in Kanpur said that the tanneries are shut only on paper. They operate at night. Many loaders carrying raw leather could be seen waiting on roads.
According to the District Magistrate (DM) of Kanpur, Vijay Vishwas Pant, the state government has cleared a project worth Rs 617 crore to check the release of tannery waste into the Ganga. Of the total amount sanctioned, Rs 480 crore would be used to set up a 20 MLD treatment plant. The remaining amount would be used for the maintenance of the plant.
People suffer losses
"Not only tanneries but also muleteers, auto drivers, exporters and small scaled business men have suffered losses. I had bought raw material in bulk. It's rotten now. On top of that we are losing face," said Shahnawaz Ahmed, a young businessman associated with a manufacturing unit.
Narendra Singh Tomar, a local businessman who used to supply leather belts to the defence forces, said: "Those orders that have got cancelled, we won't get them back. Because of this long duration of unemployment, people have started moving out."
Due to increasing losses, businessmen are requesting the government to reopen the tanneries. "I have been in talks with the government officials. But they are still busy blaming each other," said Rehman, director of Small Tanner's Association.