Even before the new UP government’s crackdown on unauthorised slaughterhouses, the state’s leather industry was strained by slowed exports, closure of tanneries for environmental concerns and reduced supply of hides amid fears of becoming the target of vigilantes.
From Dalit workers who skin dead animals and suppliers who buy the hides, to tannery owners and their workers, those in the industry now say their earnings have fallen further, with many losing their jobs. At the Sunday hide market in Banthara of Lucknow district, where skinners from rural areas come to sell a week’s collection in allotted areas, business closes by noon.
Radhe Lal, 38, from Sandila in Hardoi, says he has been supplying hides for 15 years. “It has been very bad the last few years. I used to sell a piece of hide for Rs 400 two to three years ago; it now fetches only Rs 100.”
“I don’t know much about the industry but the rates have come down. Since 2014, business has been bad; it was not like that during the Congress regime,” says Radhe Lal, who claims he voted for the BJP in UP this year, hoping “the new government would make things better”. A graduate with three school-going children, he followed his father into the family profession.
Abdul Latif, 55, who brings hides from Barabanki, says his trips to the market are no longer weekly. “I come once in 15 or 20 days. There is not enough skin. People who skin dead animals are scared of being attacked, and rates are so low. Besides, skin from smaller slaughterhouses has stopped.”
The market operates on land owned by the family of Manoj Singh, a local Samajwadi Party leader, who says it has been so since Independence. “Stray animals are damaging farmers’ crops. They are roaming all over the road, causing accidents. When animals die, skinners are afraid to lift them,” he says.
At the raw hide market in Pechbagh, Kanpur, police raided a warehouse on April 26 following an alleged tip-off that “white skin” — apparently from a cow or its progeny — was stored there. Police locked the warehouse and picked up the driver of the truck that had brought hides from Jaunpur. “We gheraoed the police station… We get hide from people who skin dead animals, including cows, which is not illegal. The governments gives them a licence,” says Shafiq Ahmed, of the UP Hide Merchants’ Association.
Another trader, Farhat Hussain, says: “Nearly 95 per cent of the market is closed. There is little supply from UP. Suppliers from other states too are scared of being attacked on their way. We have about 240 firms registered here but most are shutting down.”
At his warehouse, only two labourers are working. Kamruddin, who has been in Kanpur for 15 years, says he used to get Rs 500 to 600 a day but now finds it hard to find enough work to earn him even Rs 100. He has sent his wife and children to his village as he can no more afford the house rent; he now sleeps in the market.
Tara Chand, 65, a Dalit, says he has been working at hide warehouses for 40 years but rarely gets any work these days.
Meraj Solanki, vice-president of the UP Hide Merchants’ Association, says his firm now does only 20 per cent of the business it had a few months ago.
At tanneries in Jajmau locality of Kanpur. Hafizur Rahman, president of the Small Tanners’ Association, says work is down by more than 50 per cent.
According to a report of the Uttar Pradesh Pollution Control Board, out of 400 tannery units in Jajmau, only 271 were operational in 2016, 42 had shut of their own and 87 had been closed by the board for pollution.
Qazi Naiyer Jamal, general secretary of the Small Tanners’ Association, says, “The industry has lost its reputation because of setbacks one after another. The closure of slaughterhouses has further hurt the industry. Twenty per cent of the demand for hide is met by skin from animals that die in villages. About 40 per cent supply comes from large mechanised slaughterhouses and 40 per cent from unorganised slaughterhouses, now closed. People are not interested in supplying the skin of dead animals because of low prices and fear of vigilantism.”
Taj Alam, president of the UP Leather Industries’ Association, says the closure of small slaughterhouses and butchers’ shops has hit supply. “Hide prices are up. Orders are about about one-third of what we got earlier. Buyers are are tapping other places for their orders,” he says.
Sunil, 38, a Dalit, who lives close to Jajmau, says he had been making shoes for five years but has not been able to get regular work in the last two months. “I have started sitting at my mother’s small grocery,” says Sunil, who claims he had voted for the BJP this year.