UP CM’s ‘Cow Credentials’: After Abattoirs, Tanneries Shut Down
Image used for representational purposes.
Image used for representational purposes.(Photo: Aroop Mishra / The Quint)

UP CM’s ‘Cow Credentials’: After Abattoirs, Tanneries Shut Down

The 240 tanneries at Jajmau in Kanpur, which were closed for the Maha Kumbh Mela from 26 December onwards, continue to remain closed although the event wrapped up on 4 March. Migrant workers have deserted the cluster, companies are losing business, overseas buyers are shifting to reliable suppliers in Bangladesh, Pakistan and Vietnam, and the tannery owners are wracked by anxiety.

Kanpur District Magistrate Vijay Vishwas Pant told this correspondent about ten days ago, that the district administration had recommended to the state government, the opening of the tanneries.

The owners of the tanneries say Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath had announced they would be re-opened on 15 March. But earlier this week, an official committee visited the cluster, and after inspecting the waste discharge process, made some ‘recommendations’. The tannery owners think it is stalling trick.

Tanning drums
Tanning drums
(Photo Courtesy: Vivian Fernandes)

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“Tanneries Won’t Be Allowed to Re-Open Till After Elections”

“Rest assured the tanneries will not be allowed to re-open, at least not before the elections,” says a retired senior IAS officer who hails from Kanpur but doesn’t live there. By forcing the tanneries to shift out, the “cow credentials” of the chief minister will be boosted, he says. (Though Jajmau processes raw buffalo hide as the slaughter of cattle is disallowed in the state).

Hides drying at Jajmau, Kanpur.
Hides drying at Jajmau, Kanpur.
(Photo Courtesy: Vivian Fernandes)
The loss of jobs is a “bonus” because they would be mostly of those who are unlikely to vote for the ruling party at the state and the Centre.

About 30 tanneries have received land allotment letters at the Central Leather Complex at Bantala near Kolkata, says Javed Iqbal, Central Region Chairman of the Council for Leather Exports. Some are planning to shift; Iqbal is not. “I will set up a secondary unit,” Iqbal says. Most of the tanneries in Jajmau are small, with an annual turnover of Rs 20 crore or less. They supply semi-processed leather called ‘wet blue’, to those who process it further, and make footwear and other goods.

Jajmau is a British-era cluster. According to Feroz Alam, Executive Member of the Small Tanneries Association, the first unit came up in 1905. More units had come up over a period of time to process abundant hide from cattle (till their slaughter was banned after Independence), and buffaloes.
Feroz Alam, Merit Leather Finishers and Exec Member of Small Tanneries Association
Feroz Alam, Merit Leather Finishers and Exec Member of Small Tanneries Association
(Photo Courtesy: Vivian Fernandes)

Uttar Pradesh has the highest bovine population in the country. According to the 2012 Livestock Census, its share was 17 percent of the two species combined, and 33 percent of that of buffaloes. As new entrants set up units and family businesses expanded and split, Jajmau became a 12 sq. km dusty sprawl of faceless and nameless sheds that processed hide, and discharged effluent into the Ganga.

Also Read : UP Meat Producers Mull Legal Options Against Ban on Abattoirs

Laws on Effluent Discharge & Waste Treatment

Tanning is highly polluting. The process of converting raw hide into ‘wet blue’ takes three to seven days, and involves a host of chemicals: ammonium sulfate, bate powder, common salt, sulfuric acid, sodium formate, basic chromium sulfate and sodium bicarbonate.

In 1987, the Supreme Court ordered that the tanneries should not discharge their effluent without treating it.

In 1992, a common effluent treatment plant (CETP) became operational with Dutch technology and financial aid. The central government also contributed. The tanneries paid 17.5 percent or nearly Rs 4 crore of the project’s cost of Rs 21 crore.

CETP discharging treated sewage
CETP discharging treated sewage
(Photo Courtesy: Vivian Fernandes)
The effluent is treated in two stages: in the tannery premises, and at the CETP. The CETP has a capacity of 36 million litres per day (MLD), of which 9 MLD is for tannery effluent and the rest 27 MLD for the city’s sewage. Tanneries pay half of the running cost as their pollution load is higher.

The treated waste water does not empty into the Ganga. It is sent through a channel, for irrigation of crops, as this correspondent saw during a visit to the cluster early in March.

Tannery Owners Urge Govt to Upgrade CETP, To No Avail

The CETP has enough capacity to handle effluent generated by the tanneries and the 7 million litres of sewage that Jajmau produces daily. However, ahead of the Maha Kumbh, the chief minister desired that no sewage from Kanpur should flow into the Ganga. Since its sewage treatment plant does not have enough processing capacity, the excess was diverted to the CETP. To make space, all but 26 tanneries (which are connected to one of four pumping stations) were ordered shut.

The tanneries have been urging the government to upgrade the CETP, says Ashraf Rizwan, Director of Homera Tanning Industries. He usually represents them at the National Green Tribunal.

The central government has approved a second CETP for use only of the tanneries at a cost of a little over Rs 500 crore. It will be able to treat 18 MLD of tannery waste and 2 MLD of sewage that is generated by them. It will be operated by the Jajmau Tannery Effluent Treatment Association as a non-profit company. The current CETP will only process municipal sewage.

Govt Should Set Up Hygienic Abattoirs Instead of Punishing Butchers

The tannery owners believe they are being targeted because they belong to a community which the ruling party does not count as its support base. Soon after taking over as Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath ordered the closure of slaughterhouses in the state on the grounds of cruelty to animals and violation of pollution control norms.

All the slaughterhouses in the state supplying meat to the domestic market are owned by municipal corporations. It’s the government’s responsibility to set up modern, hygienic abattoirs and ensure they do not pollute; instead, the community of butchers has been punished. Meat shops were also forced to spruce up under threat of losing their licenses.

Mob lynchings, encounter killings by police, the forced closure of businesses selectively… adharma seems to be stalking the land which has a monk as chief minister. In 2002, a prime minister told another chief minister (vainly) to observe Raj Dharma.

In 2017, in response to the writ petition of a goat meat trader whose trading license was not being renewed, the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad High Court repeated that advice. It said, the “balance of such competing rights,” to “health, culture and personal food habits,” are issues that “need deliberation before any overt or covert action is taken.”

(Vivian Fernandes runs a website called Smart Indian Agriculture. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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