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KANPUR – A new technical centre will aim to revive the leather industry of Kanpur, India by driving best practice in production and improving adherence to environmental standards. The local leather sector once boasted more than 400 tanneries, but in recent years has dwindled to just a handful amid concerns about pollution of the River Ganga (or Ganges) and closure of numerous units.

The state-of-the-art facility was inaugurated at the Kanpur Leather Complex by Marten van den Berg, Dutch ambassador to India. It is part of the Pollution Prevention and Efficient Water Use programme for the Kanpur-Unnao leather cluster. 

This Dutch-funded programme, led by Solidaridad, is introducing global best practices for tanneries. It will seek to improve prospects for local tanneries by teaching workers, supervisors and other relevant stakeholders global leather industry standards in areas including state-of-the-art technologies, eco-friendly practices, safe use of chemicals and shop-floor management 

The Kanpur-Unnao region of Uttar Pradesh State was once a formidable exporter of leather products. Recently, it has been an environmental conundrum for local authorities due to its contribution to pollution. Most affected is the iconic River Ganga (or Ganges), which runs through Kanpur. 

The Indian government launched an ambitious programme in 2014 which aims to prevent pollution in the Ganga and restore its vitality. As a result, the leather industry in the region has come under stricter scrutiny from national and state pollution control boards, and other regulatory bodies. 

Local stakeholders have now set up the programme for the Kanpur-Unnao leather cluster. The aim is to contain pollution in the Ganga thanks to efficient water use and well-managed discharging of effluent.

Tanneries in Kanpur, especially smaller ones, have been running below their production capacity in the past few years. More than 200 have endured lockdown for months on end, leading to huge losses both in terms of exports and local markets.

Ambassador Marten van den Berg said: “The Netherlands and India make a great team to achieve UN Sustainable Development Goals 16 and 17, and both the countries emphasise the value of water globally, not just as an economic asset but also in the light of its social, cultural and environmental importance.” 

Shatadru Chattopadhyay, managing director, Solidaridad Asia, commented: “The excellence centre showcases Dutch technologies for water-efficient and eco-friendly tanning to reduce pollution of the Ganga cost-effectively. The present project also showcases how a serious ecological challenge may be solved in a viable way using a Public-Private Partnership model in India.”

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