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This article deals with the ‘ Leather Industry.’ This is part of our series on ‘Geography’, which is an important pillar of the GS-1 syllabus. For more articles, you can click here.
Since immemorial, leather has had universal appeal because of its aesthetic and functional properties.
Main considerations in the Leather Industry
- Raw Material: The hides and skin of cows, goats, sheep, and buffaloes serve as the primary raw materials for the leather industry. India, being one of the largest producers of livestock, provides a substantial supply of raw hides and skins.
- Water: Water is a vital component in the tanning process, where raw hides are treated to become leather. Tanneries are often established near rivers or lakes to ensure a continuous and sufficient water supply. For instance, tanneries in Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh, utilize the water from the Ganges River.
- Labour Availability: The leather industry is labour-intensive, involving various stages like cleaning, dyeing, cutting, and stitching. It requires huge numbers of skilled and unskilled labourers.
- Concentrated Demand: The presence of a concentrated demand for leather products, both domestically and internationally, plays a crucial role in shaping the leather industry.
Reasons: UP has a well developed Leather Industry
- Historical Factor: The rich history of Mughal patronage in the region played a significant role in developing leather craftsmanship in UP.
- Water Availability: Major leather centres like Kanpur are strategically located along the banks of the Ganga River.
- UP is one of the most populous regions in India. The high population density creates a consistent demand for leather products like footwear.
- UP has a well-developed sports industry, and leather is an essential material used in sports equipment manufacturing—for instance, cricket balls and footballs.
- The proximity of UP to Haryana, a state with a robust automobile industry, creates a leather market for car seats and interiors.
- Government Policies: Supportive government policies, subsidies, and initiatives have encouraged entrepreneurs and investors to establish and expand leather-related businesses in UP.
Reasons: Why is Tamil Nadu a significant Leather Industry?
- Historical Reason: Tamil Nadu’s leather industry has historical roots as the British colonialists initiated leather production in the region to meet the military needs (boots, belts, etc.)
- Abundant Water Resources: The presence of rivers like Cauvery and Palar ensures a consistent water supply.
- Access to Market: Proximity to major automobile manufacturing centres, especially in Chennai, provides a ready market for leather products used in automobile interiors.
- Skilled Workforce: The state boasts a skilled workforce proficient in leather craftsmanship.
- Government Initiatives and Support: The Tamil Nadu government has implemented various policies and initiatives, like the Tamil Nadu Leather Development Corporation, to promote the growth of the leather industry.
Reasons: Why is West Bengal a significant Leather Industry?
- Historical Reasons: During World War II, the soaring demand for army boots and belts acted as a catalyst for the leather industry in West Bengal. Consequently, Bata has also set up their plant in West Bengal at the place now known as Batanagar (in 24 South Pargana)
- Cheap Labour: West Bengal and its neighbouring states, such as Bihar, provide a vast pool of skilled and unskilled workers at competitive wages.
- Fresh Water: West Bengal benefits from the presence of the Hugli River, providing a consistent and ample supply of fresh water required for leather manufacturing
- Domestic Demand: West Bengal, a populous state with a growing economy, offers a robust domestic market for leather products.
- Port Facilities: West Bengal has strategic ports such as Kolkata Port and Haldia Port. These ports facilitate the export of leather products to international markets.
Problems of Leather Industry
Inadequate Supply of Hide and Low Hide Quality:
- Cultural Factors: In India, cattle are considered sacred and a source of wealth. Unlike the US and other Western countries, Indians do not sell their cattle for slaughter.
- Laws on Cow Slaughter: Several states have imposed bans on beef and cow slaughter, negatively impacting the leather industry.
- Right-Wing Vigilantism: Right-wing vigilantism frequently harms people from castes involved in flaying, leading many to abandon the profession, causing difficulties when cattle die and need to be flayed.
- Poor Quality Hide: Flaying, considered polluting work, is done by lower caste individuals without proper scientific equipment, resulting in lower hide quality.
Problems with Tanning:
- Tanning Pollution: Tanning, done with Chromium salt and sulfides, pollutes rivers when untreated wastewater is dumped, rendering the water unsuitable for drinking and commercial purposes.
Competition from China:
- During the 1980s and 90s, the US leather industry moved to China due to strict environmental laws, enabling China to acquire US technology and capital.
The dominance of MSMEs
- In India, Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) dominate the leather sector, making it challenging to compete with global players.
- Religious Considerations: Religious beliefs in India affect leather usage, leading to lower demand for leather products.
- Climatic Conditions: Warm weather makes leather jackets and garments unsuitable, affecting demand.
- Price Consciousness: Indian consumers prefer cheaper synthetic substitutes due to price consciousness.