Enviornment Prelims cum Mains

NGT warns of action against Kanpur tanneries over effluent treatment plants issue.

The News

  • The National Green Tribunal has rapped the tanneries located in and around Kanpur over the delay in setting up of common effluent treatment plants (CETP) and directed them to contribute 25 per cent of the cost as per its direction.



  • A PIL was filed by Advocate MC Mehta in 1985, in which he brought to focus the problems arising from unabated pollution in the River Ganga.
  • He sought several reliefs primarily aimed at restraining polluting industries that had mushroomed on the banks of the river from polluting it.
  • Subsequently in September, 1985, the apex court issued notices to all industries situated in urban areas on the banks of Ganga to stop discharging effluents without treating them properly in accordance with the standards prescribed by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB).
  • In its first major order in September, 1987, the apex court directed closure of 20 tanneries on the banks of Ganga and discharging effluents into it.
  • Similarly, in January, 1988 the apex court, while reiterating the earlier directions, ordered the municipalities concerned to set up Sewage Treatment Plants (STPs) to ensure that untreated domestic sewage does not enter the river.
  • In 2006, it took note of the CAG report on the expenditure on the Ganga Action Plan and said that audit test check in the states, however, found many instances of financial mismanagement.
  • Several other important orders were also passed by the apex court on the PIL including that industrial units shall submit a time bound action plan for setting up of anti- pollution measures to be completed before March 31, 2015.
  • In 2017, the Supreme Court wrapped up the PIL on cleaning of river Ganga and sent it to the National Green Tribunal (NGT) for more effective adjudication. The transfer of PIL to NGT was done because NGT deals with the issue related to municipal solid waste and industrial waste on a daily basis, thus the concern regarding domestic sewage and other sources of pollution should be heard by it.


NGT on pollution in River Ganga

  • The Tribunal directed the Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand governments to formulate guidelines for religious activities on the ghats of the Ganga and its tributaries.
  • The Bench further noted that indiscriminate groundwater extraction at all industrial units in the catchment areas of the Ganga should be stopped.
  • The court reiterated its earlier order while stating that no in-stream mechanical mining is permitted even mining on the floodplain should be semi-mechanical.
  • The NGT prohibited dumping of waste within 500 metres of the Ganga while declaring an area of 100 metres from the edge of the Ganga between Haridwar and Unnao as ‘No Development Zone’. It also imposed an environment compensation of Rs. 50,000 for dumping waste in the river.
  • The green panel had directed the industries to contribute finances not exceeding 25 per cent of the total cost in relation to the construction, up gradation of sewage treatment plant, CETP and providing common infrastructure.
  • The tribunal warned that the tanneries at Jajmau, Kanpur in Uttar Pradesh would be shut down and relocated if the tribunal’s directions to restore the river are not strictly followed.



  • A tannery is the place where the skins are processed.
  • Tanning hide into leather involves a process which permanently alters the protein structure of skin.
  • The alteration makes it more durable and less susceptible to decomposition and also possibly coloring it.
  • Tanning is a widespread, global industry that works with both light and heavy types of leather.
  • Light leather is generally used for shoes and other soft products such as purses, and heavy leather is used for straps, belts and in various machineries.


Pollution from Tanneries

  • The two main types of tanning are:
  1. Chrome tanning
  2. Vegetable tanning
  • Chromium compounds are applied to protect hides from decay and to make them more durable against moisture and aging.
  • Other materials that may also be used in the pre-treatment and tanning processes include sulfuric acid, sodium chlorate, limestone, and limestone soda ash.
  • Due to the repeated processes of soaking raw hides and wringing them out, the tanning process creates large amounts of wastewater that is contaminated with many different chemicals.
  • Chromium from leather tanning can make its way into air, soil, food, and water, and the most common forms of exposure are through inhalation of dust or fumes and ingestion of or contact with contaminated water.


Pollution hazards of tanaries

  • Continuous discharge of untreated effluents from tannery areas has an adverse effect on water quality, soil and human health.
  • If tannery effluents are discharged on land it may affect ground water quality due to presence of high concentration of chromium and chlorides. It renders the land unsuitable for cultivation due to high salt content.
  • The suspended solids, in the form of lime, hair, flesh etc. settle to the bottom and both lowered dissolved oxygen and suspended solids can harm aquatic life.
  • Tannery effluents are very toxic in nature and have an obnoxious smell. It has alarming levels of Arsenic, Cadmium, Mercury, Nickel and Chromium VI.
  • According to the World Health Organisation, these heavy metals have a lethal impact on public health when they enter the food/ water chain.
  • Diseases caused by heavy metals include Minamata by Mercury, Itai-Itai by Cadmium, Nickel-Itch by Nickel, Black-foot disease by Arsenic and respiratory distress by Chromium VI.
  • Cadmium is a potent kidney toxicant and Mercury is a potent neurological toxicant. Chromium VI is a known human carcinogen.


The Common Effluent Treatment Plant (CETP)

  • Effluent treatment plants need land for construction, capital cost, power and specialized manpower for their operation and maintenance.
  • Because of these constraints, small scale tanneries cannot afford to have their own effluent treatment facilities and therefore, combined effluent from all tanneries is to be brought to a centralized place for treatment. This facility is called a Common Effluent Treatment Plant (CETP).
  • For operation and maintenance of CETP, small scale tanners formed a co-operative society. The expenses for operation and maintenance of CETP are being shared by participating tanneries.
  • Thus Common Effluent Treatment Plant (CETP) is a way by which the small tanneries can treat pollution at cheaper way.


What is no- development zone?

  • ‘No-development zones’ are areas where no construction including commercial or residential buildings can come up.

What is In-Stream Mining?

  • In- Stream Mining involves the mechanical removal of gravel and sand directly from the active channel of rivers and streams. In-stream mining commonly results in opening of the channel bed, which can spread upstream and downstream as well.


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