February 18, 2017 2:38:07 am
The Namami Ganga Project has hurt leather workshop owner Aqueel Ahmed, 27. His earnings have dwindled with the crackdown on factories polluting the river in Kanpur’s Jajmau area. A kilometre away, priest Ramesh Prasad Tiwari, 63, has a different take. He is happy with the project for completely opposite reasons. Tiwari’s earnings have plummeted due to increasing pollution in the river. He hopes that a cleaner Ganga would attract greater footfall at his temple on the river banks and boost his earnings. The contrasting views are symptomatic of how the Rs 20,000-crore project has divided communities, something that is likely to be reflected in voting patterns on Sunday.
Ahmed supports the project but not at the cost of his livelihood. “I have seen much cleaner water and would love to have that back. But how is it being done. By killing the small leather businessmen,’’ he said. “I do not have the capital to set up an industrial effluent processing plant.’’ He said that the government was punishing them by pushing them out of business. The leather units are now required to first treat their effluent in primary treatment plants before releasing them to the government’s pumping stations for further cleaning. The decrease in demand for Indian leather abroad had since 2014 hit the industry. Suspension of work during festivals to ensure a cleaner Ganga and cow vigilantism, which has led to closure of several abattoirs and brought raw hide supply to half, have made things worse. This has led to closure of many tanneries in Jajmau, the hub of Kanpur’s leather industry. Many tannery owners are facing cases for polluting the Ganga.
Ahmed’s work has gone down significantly. “My father was a labourer in one of these factories. We rose from there to set up a small unit. The way things are going, I will have to go back to being a labourer.’’ Tiwari is nostalgic. “The water was so clear that we would just drink it. So many people used to come here to make offerings,’’ he said. “This (polluted) water turns silver anklets yellow and the white marble Shivling has turned black. Why will people come here?” He hopes Prime Minister Narendra Modi would bring back the Ganga and his fortunes to life. “Earlier, the water would be sticky. Now you can see some fish too.’’
Tannery worker Jitendra Kumar, 21, wants clean Ganga and closure of abattoirs that the BJP has promised even if it means further downfall of the industry. “There is less work. Muslims and Biharis have flooded the workforce and brought down wages,” said Kumar, a Mallah. “Let the government shift these industries. I do not mind losing this job. It anyway gets me little.” Mallahs, an OBC caste, and Brahmins once dominated Ganga ghats. The leather industry over the years has drawn large number of Muslims and Dalits to Jajmau industrial area that is divided into two constituencies; the BJP represents both.
But Abdul Rehman, a leather unit owner, believes things could change this time. “Muslims are in majority here but their votes get divided. This time there is the (Congress-Samajwadi Party) alliance and BSP. (Chief Minister) Akhilesh Yadav has done a lot of work and is popular. Most people in the community say they will go with alliance,” said Rehman, whose leather polishing work too has suffered. “There have been no orders… the Modi government seems only concerned about the river and people on its banks. A few months ago, they were measuring distance between the banks and Muslim settlements. We fear if they come to power, they will demolish half the colony.”
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