Monday, March 2, 2015


V.M. Khaleelur Rahman

On the first day of the India International Leather Fair (IILF), held from 1st to 3rd February 2015 in Chennai, when the leather industry was in jubilation targeting to achieve exports of $ 27 billion in the next five years as expressed by Mr. M. Rafeeque Ahmed, Chairman, Council for Leather Exports,  the sad and shocking news came that 10 (ten) workers who were sleeping at night in a tannery at Ranipet were killed trapped under the toxic sludge that gushed out by a breach in the concrete wall of its storage tank of the adjacent common effluent treatment plant (CETP) 

The Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) immediately ordered the closure of the plant run by the Ranipet Sidco Finished Leather Effluent Treatment  Co.Ltd. and 79 units linked to it for negligence and not following safety norms and the police registered a case under various sections.
The Tamil Nadu Farmers Association and people living or working near the CETPs protested and demanded a thorough re-look at the functioning of various plants and remedial measures to avoid such incidents in future. 

The Tamil Nadu government announced a grant of Rs.3 lakh as relief to each of the families of those who were killed.

Tamil Nadu Ministers Mr. P. Mohan and Mr. K.C. Veeramani, DIG of Police, Vellore Range Mr. R. Tamil Chandran and  Dr. R. Nandagopal, Collector of Vellore district visited the CETP and the tannery in the morning to oversee relief and rescue operations.  

Police have taken action against the directors of the Ranipet Sipcot common effluent treatment plant under various sections of IPC for the death of 10 employees.

Meantime the National Green Tribunal’s bench in Chennai directed the SIDCO Finished Leather Effluent Treatment Company which operated the CETP at Ranipet to pay a compensation of Rs.75 lakh to the state government for causing pollution. From this, Rs.25 lakh will be disbursed to the families of those killed and the remaining amount will be utilized for better management of environment in Vellore district.
No doubt, the unfortunate incident could have been averted if there had been regular monitoring of the CEPT by the TNPCB. There is panic among the owners of the closed tanneries. They are also worried not knowing how to manage the affairs and take care of the goods under process whose worth may be many crores of Rupees.

Tanners are also worried about the reports appearing in the press such as a tannery unit can pollute groundwater up to a radius of 7 to 8 kilo meters. They say that it is baseless as all precautionary measures have been taken and crores of Rupees spent in private and common effluent treatment plants to control pollution. They also regret that their rejoinders are not published in the newspapers. However they accept that all necessary measures should be taken to avoid unfortunate incidents as the one witnessed in Ranipet. It is learnt that a high power team consisting of CLRI, CLE and other officials is constituted to survey the prevailing condition in tannery areas and suggest solutions for better maintenance of the existing effluent tanks.  

The Ranipet incident is a setback to the leather industry particularly in Tamil Nadu. Tanners feel that it should be taken as a serious lesson and be cautious in future. It is noteworthy that Mr. M. Rafeeque Ahmed, Chairman of the Council for Leather Exports has said that the tanning capacity in Tamil Nadu has already faced a fall of 35% due to restrictions and that the industry has to work in ways to improve technology and machinery of common effluent treatment plants to ensure that tanning goes up maintaining standards and avoiding effluent problems. According to him the industry would require a sum of Rs.500 crore in Tamil Nadu alone to improve technology of existing plants and is expecting allocation of funds from the Union government for this.

An expert committee has been formed by the state government to study the functioning of the common effluent plants in Vellore district. It will submit its report within two months. It would help the government formulate a policy to avert such disasters. 

The Crime Branch CID arrested some people including the Ranipet Sidco Finished Leather Effluent Treatment Co. Managing Director Mr. Amirthakatesan, Directors Mr. Jayachandran and Mr. Subramanian and he Contractor of the tank Mr. Mani. 

It is argued in the trade circles that the engineer and site-in-charge are responsible for safety and security of the premises and that the persons connected with the above mentioned effluent treatment company were not informed about the condition of the tank. Hence they cannot be blamed for what has happened. It remains to be seen how the court views it and gives its judgment. 

It is also learnt that the TNPCB has started a massive exercise in shifting quite a large quantity of dry sludge from common effluent treatment plants in Vellore district to the Tamil Nadu Waste Management Company premises situated on a 1000 acre landfill site in Gummidipoondi near Chennai.

In the meantime the scientists at CSIR-Central Leather Research Institute(CLRI) have come out with a new technique which promises zero tannery pollution and reuse of treated effluent to process leather. 

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