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Loosing to tanneries

In spite of producing 3.5 million sheep and goat skin annually Kashmir 's leather industry loses a big trade share to traders outside the state. In the absence of a tannery in Kashmir, hides and animal skins produced in Kashmir are exported to tanneries outside only to be imported as leather at a higher price. Haroon Mirani reports.

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Srinagar, Kashmir
Apr 16, 2006:

Kashmir leather industry has the potential to generate $ 1 billion for state economy annually, but for a lackadaisical government approach the industry loses billions every year.

Jammu and Kashmir is one of the voracious meat eaters in whole of India. Every year people in the state consume around five million animals- sheep, goats and cattle- leaving the state with plenty of raw material for the leather industry in the form of skins and hides. On an average 3.5 million sheep and goat skins plus 1.2 million cattle hides are present in the market every year.

The absence of a tannery in Kashmir however forces the people to sell these skins, at throwaway prices to traders outside the state.

These hides go out from Kashmir at an average price of about 175 INR per hide and return processed at the rate of 700 INR per skin. According to the people associated with the trade the skins produced in Kashmir are among the best.

"Because of its climate Kashmir provides one of the best hides in entire world. Plus we treat our animals gently so the leather doesn't have any scratches" says Sameer Azad, Chairman of Kashmir Kaiser Mart, a leading export house in Kashmir.

"The hides produced here are of a fine grainy type, best for shoes, jackets, purse and other fashion accessories" Azad adds.

Azad planned to set up a leather industry in the state but for the last four years he is caught in official tangles for registration, clearance certificates and other formalities.

People associated with the industry blame government apathy for blocking any chances of exploiting the potential in full. Red tapism ensures the government incentives to the sector remain on papers. Even if any factories are commissioned, their expansion is marred by the inadequate infrastructure.

In order to earn some income from this sector, state's premier industrial developer State Industrial Development Corporation, (SIDCO) has reserved 1500 Kanals of land for the development of a leather park in its 5000 Kanal huge industrial estate at Lassipora, Pulwama. Some incentives have also been offered to entrepreneurs wishing to set up a leather processing unit but most of them only on papers.

"During the last so many years SIDCO couldn't take out tenders for setting up of an effluent treatment plant (ETP) , forget commissioning it. As a result no new industry is taking root and even the already established ones are also being threatened".

Environmental aspect is another hindrance for the leather industry as environmentalists are not in favour of too many tanneries.

"We can't have leather tanneries here and there, they can have adverse impact on eco-sensitive areas like Kashmir valley" says Rashid Khan, an environmentalist.

"If they want a new plant they should go for treatment plants and sewage disposal mechanism, but they are not doing that" says Khan.

Many NGO's and organisations working for the environment have been voicing their concern against the establishment of leather tanneries, which produce highly toxic effluents. The non construction of ETP is simply adding to the problem. The government has already cleared the setting up of seven tanneries but due to the absence of Effluent Treatment Plant, everything is stalled.

Government officials say the construction work on the High cost ETP, is going to start soon, but it is already a long wait for the aspiring entrepreneurs.

"Even after being committed with money and other facilities from the centre, the official lethargy is at its heights" says Azad.

More than 10 thousands artisans work with the leather sector, making jackets, shoes, purses, belts and other accessories in Kashmir.

Sheikh Ibrahim a leading dealer of leather products opines that with the rise in living standards, more and more people are buying leather products.

"Although it is a bit costly, but because of its warmth people in this cold region find it very useful" says Ibrahim.

Almost all the leather products in Kashmir are entirely made by hand, a reason they are famous even in European markets. Shakeel Qallandher, one of the leading handicraft industrialists of Kashmir says Kashmiris are fast learners.

"You give to them half the design of a leather jacket published in some latest fashion journal of America and they will give you an exact copy of that jacket within a week".

The local dealers in leather have been getting orders from many countries mainly European and ones where the climate is similar to Kashmir.

"I had sent hundreds of jackets to the customers in England and France to their utmost satisfaction". Says Ibrahim. Besides the locals tourists are also the main customers for these fashionable items, and with the increase in the inflow of tourists this sector is also experiencing a boom.

"The only thing that should be priority of the state planners should be to eliminate the outflow of raw material for tanning" says Qallandher "if that happens then the entire billion dollar industry is ours or we else will have to be contend with the 80 crores for whole life".

Tail Piece: Tired of the official apathy Sameer Azad has already begun to shift his proposed leather industry to Jallandhar in Punjab; another loss to the state economy.

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