Kanpur’s leather and tannery industry, which earns foreign exchange worth Rs 6,000 crore for the country and gives direct livelihood to more than one lakh people, is being held responsible by the National Green Tribunal (NGT) for polluting the Ganga.
NGT has taken a stern view on either closing down or shifting the 700-odd units if they fail to stop polluting the river.
Already 98 units have been shut by the state administration on the same ground while clouds of uncertainty hang over the rest until such time the NGT takes a final decision. Taking into consideration the fact that the matter is of utmost importance, the NGT is hearing the case on a day-to-day basis.
It may be mentioned that the NGT bench headed by Swatanter Kumar had recently ordered closure of 700 tanneries located on the banks of the Ganga in Kanpur, terming them as one of the “highest sources of pollution”, and had observed that if effective steps to curb the pollution level were not taken, then the tanneries would be closed as the “life of millions cannot be put at stake.”
“The life of millions cannot be put at stake for carrying out a commercial activity for a group of individuals. A balance has to be struck,” it had said, adding that, “We make it clear in unambiguous terms that if the industry, the government and the UPPCB and UP Jal Nigam do not act with a complete sense of responsibility and take effective steps to prevent and control the pollution of the Ganga in all respects at least from this industrial cluster, we will be compelled to order complete closure of all 700 tannery industries operating in Kanpur.”
The bench, which was hearing a plea filed by Krishan Kant Singh, had directed inspection of the entire tannery industrial cluster by a team comprising representatives of the Uttar Pradesh Pollution Control Board (UPPCB), Central Pollution Control Board, environment ministry and National Ganga River Basin Authority, and following which the UPPCB had started cracking down on the tanneries and initiated the process of closing 98 such factories in Kanpur, which were allegedly releasing toxic effluents into the riiver, by cutting electricity and water supply to them.
Apart from seeking the current status of the total number of drains carrying sewage and effluents from these industries as well as the number of plants that treat the waste before discharging it into the river, the NGT bench had also sought to know the capacity of existing effluent treatment plants (ETPs) and sewage treatment plants (STPs) and how much untreated waste was being discharged into the Ganga.
Details were also sought for the quantity of effluents being generated by the tanneries, and the average duration of power available to the existing STP and common ETP, and whether there were alternate arrangements in case of power cuts.
However, while the tanneries agree they discharge affluents, they feel they are being made scapegoats in the matter, which has more to do with the administration’s inefficiency. “Even if all 700-odd tanneries are closed down, effluents will still continue to pollute the Ganga as the problem does not end with us. We discharge 15-20% effluents only, while the rest is untreated domestic sewage. Apart from the leather industry, as many as 30,000 small and medium enterprises consisting of battery plants, chemical and detergent units, dyeing units, textile mills and metallurgical units are situated on various small towns on the banks of the Ganga. They don’t even have effluent treatment plants and no one bothers to see to that, while the leather business is being targeted,” said Taj Alam, president of UP Leather Association, adding that the common treatment plant is run by the UP Jal Nigam, which has done precious little in upgrading it.
Agreeing with the bench’s assertion that the life of millions cannot be put at stake, Alam says that while the leather industry cannot be held above board, the root of the problem lies somewhere else. “No infrastructural upgradation has been undertaken over the years. The city has a sewage treatment plant that is years behind current needs. Population has grown manifold and so has the industrial imprint, but the city still works on an age old treatment plant. The government needs to have long-term vision and upgrade the infrastructural system. The leather industry is being killed over the inefficient attitude of the state government,” he said, adding that even with all technological and financial backing at its disposal, it took the British government 22 years to clean the river Thames. “How can the river Ganga which has a run of more than a 1000 km and so many industrial towns on its banks, be cleaned overnight?” he asked.
Naiyar Jamal, of Kanpur Tanneries Association, too, feels the industry is being asked to pay for inefficiency of the state administration. “The Kanpur tanneries are more than a century old. UP Jal Nigam takes money from each one of us for the operation and maintenance of the treatment plant, yet there is been no upgradation of it for more than two decades. The old plant had the capacity to treat 175 tanneries in 1996, after which more than 200 more tanneries have come up. No work on capacity building has been done and in the meantime the old plant has started overflowing,” he said, adding that now that the NGT has taken a stern view on the issue, the state administration has woken up.
Indeed, the state government on Monday sanctioned Rs 8 crore for a feasibility study and survey project for a new treatment plant.
It may be mentioned that Kanpur accounts for 40% of leather exports and had upstaged Chennai to take the number one position for exporting leather a few years ago.