Nowhere to hide

Once renowned as an export powerhouse, Kanpur’s tanneries are perceived to be the primary source of industrial pollution in the Ganga. Jacob Koshy reports on the embattled industry’s struggle to stay afloat in the face of rising compliance costs and an increasingly hostile business environment A year into her marriage, Savita, 24, wishes she had never left her father’s home, which is in another part of Kanpur. She and her husband live in a house that overlooks a 20-ft wide drain. Beginning at Shitla Bazaar, on the outskirts of Jajmau — a major industrial cluster of tanneries in north-eastern Kanpur — the drain winds its way to an underground sewerage network that eventually empties out into the Ganga. The stench from the drain’s blue-black contents is indistinguishable from the characteristic odour of sewage drains anywhere — the usual acrid assault of methane, ammonia and hydrogen sulphide. Like most other drains, the one in Shitla Bazaar is also composed mostly of sewage and organic waste. But what marks it out are the hues of the effluents from the tanneries. “Sometimes the water turns red, sometimes green, depending on what dyes are being used to treat the animal hide,” says Savita, whose husband works at one of the tanneries. Savita complains of repeated bouts of diarrhoea. Her nephew, a seven-month-old baby, who stays in the same house, is constantly sick. “I wish we had the means to move somewhere else. We have been pleading with the government to do something… people come here, take pictures and disappear,” she says. The Shitla Bazaar drain is a catchment for several rivulets that can be seen snaking in and around the tannery cluster of Jajmau. At the periphery of one of the slums is an interceptor station — one of four — set up by the Jal Nigam, the Uttar Pradesh water authority. The station is a single room that serves as a power outlet for a network of pumps and treatment plants that filter out some of the solid waste such as remnants of animal skin, sludge and excreta. From here, the partially processed tannery sludge is sent for further treatment to a large Common Effluent Treatment Plant (CETP) about 20 km away.

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