Financial Daily from THE HINDU group of publications
Saturday, Mar 02, 2002
Agri-Biz & Commodities
Government - States
Industry & Economy - Environment
Crisis engulfs Kolkata tanneries
Workers at a closed leather factory at Topsia in Kolkata. The Supreme Court order on tanneries operating in the city has cast a shadow on the future of thousands of people employed in these tanneries.
KOLKATA, March 1
EVEN as the tanning community hopes for a miracle emerging from the March 5 discussions on the Common Effluent Treatment Plant (CETP) at the leather complex in Kolkata, many units stopped production today in compliance of the Supreme Court order.
Consequently, uncertainty dogs the 25,000 workers employed directly in these units, not to speak of the more than two lakhs who depend indirectly on the sector.
However, there is another environmental hazard lurking around the corner which the State Government might face. As most of the 523 units ordered to be closed down in the eastern part of the city stopped operations today, a question mark has appeared over the fate of nearly 800 tonnes of hides that arrive daily to the city for tanning.
"What happens to this hide now since it cannot be stored; it might start putrefying,'' a tanner wondered.
A tour round the tanning units revealed that it was business as usual at some units such as Mow Chong Leather products.
A third-generation entrepreneur, the white-haired Mr Chiu Chien Ching is completing his processing cycle before shutting shop. He too wonders about the fate of his 60 employees, although he is not prepared as yet to talk of retrenchment.
Industry observers, however, mention that, in a sector where the receipt of statutory dues come as a boon, it was doubtful whether the units would support an idle workforce for long.
The city, which sources its skins and hides from neighbouring areas including Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Orissa, has the third highest tanning capacity supplying cow and goat leather to New Delhi, Agra and Tamil Nadu.
Besides, three shoe majors including Bata source their supplies from the local markets, industry sources told Business Line.
With the closure becoming a reality now, the impending human misery is causing concern as much to the leather community as to the Government, coming as it does at a politically-sensitive time.
The tanning units are located in Tiljala, Topsia and Tangra in eastern Kolkata. While Tiljala, where most tiny units are located, is inhabited by the scheduled castes mostly, a minority community is the dominant part of the workforce in Topsia while the Chinese hold fort in Tangra.
"They do not understand court orders and pollution control ... what they know is that their daily bread is threatened,'' Mr S.S. Kumar, the owner of Titan Leather Works, said. Mr Kumar's unit in Topsia employing 30 heads has stopped operations.
Mr Bijoy Pan of the B R Ambedkar Tanners Association agreed saying that many of the workers have been employed in this trade for nearly four generations and have no other skills.
Any talk of the State Government planning relief for them is met with blank faces or angry retorts. "These people will force us either to beg or to turn criminals''!.
Caused as much by feet-dragging on the part of the tanning community as by the State Government and the BOT (build-operate-transfer) party M L Dalmia Construction which has been entrusted with the job of implementing the Rs 280-crore Kolkata Leather Complex, the problem has been in the making for nine-and-a-half years since the pollution being caused by these units was first taken up by the apex court.
However, despite the order delivered in August 2001 setting the deadline for shifting, the tanners were hopeful that some sort of an extension would be given.
In the meantime, after a lot of delay, the BOT party has started handing over the plots since January 2001, that too in compliance with the SC order.
However, till now the CETP, considered the heart of the project, is not in place. So far, 231 units have been allotted land in five zones and 109 have had their land but is yet to be handed over.
Particularly worse off are 183 small tanneries whose land holding at their present location is so minimal that they will not be able to start any sort of modernised activity at the new complex.
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