Yogi's poison is Didi's meat- Kanpur tanneries test Calcutta waters
Around 20 tanneries based in Kanpur and Chennai are exploring the possibility of investing in Calcutta at a time cow vigilantism in the heartland has affected the availability of leather.
The shortage has been compounded in Uttar Pradesh by a crackdown on s-called illegal abattoirs, launched by the Adityanath government as soon as the BJP swept to power in the state.
The Uttar Pradesh overdrive, combined with the lethal attacks on cattle transporters in several parts of the country, has spread concern in the $17.85-billion leather industry in the country. However, probably because of the political sensitivities at play, few wanted to draw a direct link between the exploration in Bengal and the events in Uttar Pradesh.
Officials in Nabanna, the Bengal secretariat, said the 20 tanneries were planning cumulative investments of around Rs 1,000 crore in Bengal.
Such projections do not always materialise fully. But the very fact that some investors are proposing to invest in Bengal on their own signifies economic as well as political dividends for Mamata Banerjee who has spoken out repeatedly and unequivocally against attempts to target minorities by controlling dietary habits and means of livelihood.
Sources in Nabanna said the tanners from Chennai and Kanpur - two prominent leather goods manufacturing centres - had themselves sought an appointment with industries and finance minister Amit Mitra through the Council of Leather Exports (CLE), the largest trade promotion organisation for the leather industry.
"They want to come to Bengal. They have sought 200,000 square metres in the Calcutta Leather Complex at Bantala. We have promised to help them secure space at the earliest," Mitra said after the meeting with the representatives of the CLE. If the proposals translate into projects, around 6,000 jobs could be created.
"Not only tanneries, we have asked them to start leather product manufacturing units here as we have enough land in the complex. They have promised to look into the proposal," Mitra said.
The representatives who met Mitra today said that they had travelled across the country in search of land for expanding the business and they found Bantala to be the fittest for their requirement.
"Nearly 70 per cent of leather products are exported from Kanpur and Chennai.... But now, we need to expand and Bantala is the fittest place as it has ready infrastructure, which confirm the standards set by the European countries and US," said Mukhtarul Amin, president of the CLE.
Although the CLE representatives referred to availability of physical infrastructure as the primary reason behind the decision to select Bengal as the base for expansion, sources in the leather industry that the tanneries chose the state as the owners considered Bengal as a "safe place" to carry on with their business in "today's India".
Over the last two years or so, the atrocities of cow vigilantes have wreaked havoc on the lives those dependent on such industries.
"Only unauthorised slaughterhouses have been banned in UP.... But we know that raw material would be available in Bantala as it could be sourced from the catchments area of Bengal, Bihar and Odisha," Amin said in response to a question whether the crackdown on slaughterhouses had prompted the tanners to explore options elsewhere.
Cattle slaughter is permitted in Bengal where a few restrictions related to the productivity of the animals do exist on paper. "So, it's natural that leather product exporters would find Bengal as an attractive place to set up tanneries," said a state government official.
Around 325 tanneries and 39 leather units now operate in the Bantala park where 970 acres are available for leather-related operations. The Bengal leather industry does business worth Rs 13,000 crore a year, of which exports account for Rs 7,000 crore.
"The companies are expected to begin the application procedure for land within the next one month. This step will encourage more tanneries to expand in the state soon," said Ramesh Juneja, regional chairman (east) of the CLE.
Hafiz ur Rehman, a Kanpur-based tannery owner who was not part of the delegation that was in Calcutta, confirmed the "shortage of leather ever since the BJP government took over" but added that to his knowledge, not too many are thinking of moving right now.
"We have held several meetings on the issue and concluded that only 2 per cent of them were extremely keen to shift. But their family or social situation did not allow them to do so," Rehman said.
Moin Lari, another tannery owner in Kanpur, said he was aware that Bengal was safe but he was still hoping that the Uttar Pradesh government would realise its mistakes.