Trichy’s Leather Industry Faces Closure of Last Four Tanneries, Marking the End of EI Leather Exports

Tirchy Leather Industry has come to an end with the closure of the last four tanneries, due to stringent pollution control regulations and an unfavourable business climate.

The once-thriving leather industry in Tamil Nadu’s Tiruchirappalli district aka Trichy, known for manufacturing and exporting East India (EI) leather to European markets like Italy and France, has seen its final days with the closure of the last four tanneries. The ideal climatic conditions for processing goat skin once made Trichy a bustling hub for leather production. However, recent developments have marked the end of an era.

In 1890, a tannery unit based on the East India Company’s technique was established on the outskirts of Trichy. This method, known for its high-quality leather production, leveraged the city’s bright and hot sunshine to dry goat skin efficiently.

The success of the initial tannery led to the proliferation of more units, particularly along the Tiruchi-Pudukottai Highway near Sembattu. By the 1990s, the leather industry in Trichy had reached its zenith.

At its peak in 1990, Tiruchi housed 24 tanneries. However, the number of operational tanneries began to decline steadily, dropping to 15 by 2015. A year ago, only 8 factories remained, and this number further dwindled to 4 before the final closures.

The Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) issued shutdown orders citing regulatory violations, marking the end of an industry that once processed approximately 25,000 goat skins daily and generated an average yearly turnover of Rs.90-100 crore (approxi US$10-12 Million), employing around 700 workers.

Several factors contributed to the industry’s downfall. While an unfavourable business climate played a role, tannery owners primarily blamed stringent pollution control norms. A. Sajith, Secretary of the Trichy Tanners Association, expressed his dismay over the closures, stating that despite their best efforts to comply with regulations, the industry could not survive.

In response to earlier criticisms regarding unscientific waste treatment methods, the tanneries had fully adhered to pollution norms following the establishment of the Common Effluent Treatment Plant (CETP) at Thiruvalarchipatti.

Treated wastewater was disposed of safely in Virudhunagar and Gummidipoondi. Despite these measures, the TNPCB enforced closures based on complaints of non-compliance, a decision that industry stakeholders like Mr. Sajith argued was made without proper procedural orders.

A senior TNPCB official confirmed that the shutdown actions were based on verified complaints regarding non-compliance. According to the official, only four units were forcibly closed for violations, while the remaining closures were attributed to the challenging business environment.

In conclusion, the closure of the last tanneries in Trichy marks the end of a significant chapter in the city’s industrial history. Once a flourishing center for EI leather export, the industry has now become a relic of the past, primarily due to stringent pollution control regulations and an adverse business climate.

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