Solidaridad, Stahl and PUM launch five-year tannery project for clean Ganga

Solidaridad Network Asia, in association with Stahl, a leading global chemical company, PUM Netherlands senior experts, Uttar Pradesh Jal Nigam and a number of Indian industry partners officially announced the launch of a public-private partnership to clean up the Ganges River. The project will contribute to the objectives of the National Mission for Clean Ganga and the Memorandum of Understanding signed between the governments of Uttar Pradesh and the Netherlands.

The focus of the project would be to make Kanpur leather cluster more sustainable by implementing new working methods and state-of-the-art technologies with a lower environmental impact. This five-year project aims to address several challenges related to overall water use and pollution from the Kanpur leather cluster.

The project was launched in Kanpur on 13 November 2017, by Alphonsus Stoelinga, ambassador of the Netherlands to India, Nepal and Bhutan in presence of the following honoured guests:

  • Ella Lammers, The Sustainable Water Fund (FDW)
  • Nico Roozen, Executive Director, Solidaridad Network
  • Johan van de Gronden, Global CEO, PUM
  • Michael Costello, Global Sustainability Director, Stahl
  • DP Mathuria, Executive Director, National Mission for Clean Ganges
  • Ashish Tiwari, Member Secretary, Uttar Pradesh Pollution Control Board, Kanpur
  • Dr B Chandrasekaran, Director, CLRI
  • Mukhtarul Amin, National Chairman, Council for Leather Exports, India
  • Dr Shatadru Chattopadhayay, Managing Director, Solidaridad Network Asia.

The overall objective of the five-year project led by Solidaridad is to reduce the effluent water discharged by at least 40% and to introduce alternative technologies and processes at tanneries with a reduced environmental impact. Solidaridad, Stahl and PUM are working together with local partners such as Uttar Pradesh Leather Industry Association (UPLIA), Small Tanners Association(STA), Central Leather Research Institute(CLRI) and Ganga Pollution Control Unit(GPCU). The latter is part of the wider “Clean Ganga” initiative launched by the Indian government several years ago.

The project will work towards reducing the volumes and pollution levels of the effluent water from the tanning sector. Immediate beneficiaries of the project would be 250,000 workers in the regional tanning and leather industry (30% female) as well as the 30,000 smallholder farmers who depend on the re-use of the wastewater for their agricultural production (crops and dairy). A Stahl-Solidaridad Center of Excellence will be established to demonstrate more sustainable technologies.

HE the Ambassador of the Netherlands: “Ganga River Basin is one of the most populous regions on Earth and the success of the Clean Ganga Project is of national and regional importance. I am confident that this Tannery Project for Clean Ganga will help champion the challenges posed to Ganga through its innovative interventions and not only help in the restoration of the mother river but also bring a sustainable transformation in the lives of people dependent on the Ganga. The Netherlands supports the Clean Ganga River project through MoU’s with the Uttar Pradesh State Government and the National Ministry of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation.”

The project is supported by The Sustainable Water Fund programme (FDW), a public-private partnership facility of the Dutch government. Solidaridad is the overall project coordinator and consortium leader. Stahl is the main private contributor and PUM provides technical assistance and training support from senior experts.

Ella Lammers from the FDW said, “The tannery project is a unique partnership contributing to improved river basin management. The government, private sector and civil society are working together to improve sustainable water use in the Ganga basin. By joining hands, the tannery sector will introduce new innovative and eco-friendly technologies. Interesting is that small enterprises and larger companies will work together in reducing the volume and pollution levels of wastewater effluents, and that the tannery sector will closely work together with the government to ensure a proper treatment of the effluents.”

Dr Shatadru Chattopadhyay, managing director of Solidaridad Network Asia, said, “The project is unique because it connects technical solutions with social and economic issues built around the overall objective of cleaning the River Ganges. Solidaridad Network Asia together with its partners is going to introduce water efficient and eco-friendly tanning technologies that will lead to the reduction of operational costs. This will, directly and indirectly, contribute to the overall competitiveness of the leather cluster in Kanpur-Unnao and will be a major incentive for companies to adopt the processes. It will protect hundreds of thousands of jobs that are dependent on the tanneries and also improve the farming of downstream farmers who are getting affected due to polluted water”.

With this project, Stahl reaffirms its commitment to achieving a more sustainable leather industry via transparency. “At Stahl, we believe in actively promoting safe usage of chemicals around the world,” said Michael Costello, sustainability director at Stahl. “We are well aware of the complex issues in the Kanpur leather cluster where some 400 tanneries discharge 50 million liters of wastewater each day. We also understand that we alone cannot change the situation, so we have joined forces with industry partners and local authorities to contribute to the clean-up already underway of this iconic and sacred river,” he added.

“There is a lot of talk about aid and trade these days, but bringing tangible benefits to working-class families while sparing the environment is hard work,” said PUM CEO Johan van de Gronden. “We are proud to work with governments, the industry, NGOs and the local communities to help build a leather supply chain that is as vibrant as it is clean.”

The Kanpur-Unnao leather cluster is the largest in the country. Other main tanning and leather manufacturing clusters in India are based around Chennai and Kolkata. The technical and environmental innovations and the public-private approaches adopted by this project will also serve as an example for the leather clusters elsewhere in the country.

Learn more about Solidaridad programmes in South & South-East Asia.