Leather technology and its potential in Kashmir
Raw animal hide traders in the valley have experienced a boom during the last few years. Engaged in the rawhide business since generations and mostly confined to the downtown area of Srinagar localities, they constitute a very small number of people. Between 200-250 families are involved in this business, and that means around 1000 people are involved in this trade. Number could be much higher right now as these figures were calculated in 2008 study. The annual overall turnover in this business is worth millions of rupees, according to the industry experts. The growing turnover figures are a statistical evidence of the profitability of this business. Rawhide dealers collect hides of various animals like sheep, goat, and cattle mostly from Srinagar and also from villages. Raw hides are tanned with a coat of non-iodised salt and other materials at various storage points from where they are segregated and transported to various places outside Kashmir. A large number of young people are involved in this business. Over 3 million pieces of rawhide are transported to different tanneries and leather factories in Delhi, Kanpur, Agra and Chennai where various leather products like jackets, boots, wallets, purses and belts are designed and made. From these factories these items are being exported to the international markets since decades.
Leather is a very durable and flexible material created by tanning rawhide and skin of animals, ranging from using domestic animal like Cow, Sheep and Goat hides to wild animals as well subject to statutory limitations. During the course of history leather production has gone from small scale like cottage industries to heavy scale industries as the demand increased for the finished products and introduction of new uses of this material. Technology on the other hand is defined as, the collection of techniques, methods or processes sometimes used in the production of goods or services or in the accomplishment of objectives, such as scientific investigation. Technology can be the knowledge of techniques, processes, etc. in order to facilitate a particular task or it can be in the use of machines, computers, devices and facilities.
Leather Technology as a discipline is described as leather processing and its finished products. Because of the kind of wok it involves, it utilises principles of chemistry, biochemistry, chemical engineering, computing, management, microbiology, physics, polymer sciences and mechanical engineering. Professionals engaged in Leather Technology are known as Leather Technologists. Leather Technologists understand the materials, their reactivity, the means to control them and techniques of testing and analysing the finished products. Leather Technologists use this knowledge in practical tanning processes and machinery operations in a leather industry. In India, leather industry involves:
(1) The process of raw material production – collection of hides and skins of animals for initial process in order to make them ready for next phase processing.
(2) Production of leather from the raw material – this is known as tanning process and its converts the basic rawhides into semi-finished leather and eventually finished leather after applying the desired colour.
(3) Manufacture of leather products from finished leather. All these processes involve operations which determine thickness, softness, texture, colour and water proofing leather. Leather is then converted into a wide variety of products – bags, belts, bookbinding, clothing, driving belts, footwear, gaskets, gloves, gas meter diaphragms, harness, hydraulic seals, luggage, saddles, wallets and underwater craft, upholstery including automobiles, sports goods and many others. Buffalo, Cow, Goat, Ox and Sheep are major animals from which hides and skins are procured.
Potential of leather technology
Encouraging Leather entrepreneurism in the Valley will be a fruitful initiative, as the rawhide business is not fully saturated and there is lot of potential for growth. Not only those engaged in the raw hide business directly are reaping the benefits but also businesses ranging from the salt merchants to the transporters which act as support services, to the business will bank their profits from the growth in this industry. Of course, voracious meat-eating habit of the people in the valley plays a key role in the regular supply of huge number of raw hides which is a main ingredient in the leather manufacturing. As per the report, in Jammu and Kashmir total requirement of mutton during 2012-13 was 560 lakh kg. Due to mismatch in demand and supply of mutton, the import of sheep and goat is continuously increasing. During the period 2000 to 2010 the import of sheep and goat has increased by over 26 percent. During 2013-14, a number of 13, 70,755 sheep and goat were imported as such hundreds of crores of rupees are spent on import of meat. Kashmir valley boasts of maximum ratio of non-vegetarians in India. Consequently, the rawhide traders in the valley are also reaping it benefits.
Due to highest per capita consumption of mutton and beef, Kashmir is a major exporter of raw material to leather industry in India. But the lack of processing infrastructure back home remains the major obstacle in realizing its full potential in the state’s economy. To boost the sector, State Industrial Development Corporation, (SIDCO), state’s premier industrial developer, has reserved 1500 kanals of land for the development of a Leather Park in its 5000 kanal huge industrial estate at Lassipora, Pulwama. The Centre has proposed to set up two satellite (dry) ports in Jammu and Kashmir to facilitate "direct import and export" and has sought 300 acres of land from the state government for the purpose, even as it plans to undertake highway projects worth Rs 25,000 crore in the state this year. As is evident both state as well as central governments is taking initiatives to create infrastructure which will support growth in the industry, but the disturbed thing is the rate of development of these initiatives.
Experts believe Kashmir leather industry has a potential to generate revenue in millions for the state economy annually. On an average 3.5 million sheep and goat skins plus 1.2 million cattle hides are available in the Kashmir market every year. Apart from its export potential, leather industry can support a large number of people belonging / both to rural as well as urban areas. The employment potential can be judged from the fact that it can provide employment to as many as 15000 persons directly, at present in the state as per the industry experts and can generate revenues of around 500 crores.
The industry being highly capital intensive can prove an effective and powerful instrument for bringing about the socio-economic transformation, especially in rural and backward areas of the state. The sizeable gap between the demand for and supply of superior quality leather products in major importing markets has offered an ample opportunity for Kashmir to emerge as an alternative source of supply, because it possesses the necessary raw material, but lacks infrastructure for the production of superior quality leather products. This is where the role of government comes in, they have to identify the bottlenecks and take necessary steps to encourage entrepreneurs to take interest in this industry which promises huge increase in revenues for the state. They have to set up a department to evaluate the potential of various industries in the valley and provide appropriate help as needed. However, due to the presence of redtapism and nepotism in the state, it has not been able to reach its full potential which it deserves.
Kashmir is an area with great availability of natural resources giving potential to lot of development. But, it is also true mere production of raw materials in tonnes won’t uplift leather sector in the valley, government support is needed to uplift this sector. According to the experts, the leather produced here is best for making shoes, jackets, purse, fashion accessories and every other leather item. The way forward for the leather industry here is forward integration and start manufacturing the finished products themselves in national as well as international markets? Government also has a role to play in this development as they have to facilitate the necessary conditions to allow for growth. Leather Industry can surely emerge as a way of employment generation, poverty alleviation & sustainable development in the valley.