In one of my first Limeblasts, I criticised developing countries’ neglect of effluent problems in order to be able to produce leather that is competitive against leather processed in industrialised countries. I also criticised the industrialised countries that buy leather or leathergoods from countries where there is no environmental protection from waste produced by tanneries.

I said it was not right that pollution was shifted from industrialised areas to the third world, in the very first place because this endangered the environment and public health that industrialised countries are preserving for their own populations. It is, therefore, commendable that the Dutch Government has made resources available to Pakistan in order to build, equip and maintain the Kasur Leather Service Centre.

The results that have been produced at the KLSC are very disappointing but I think one could not have expected better. I don’t believe that the fact that ‘the majority of the staff were untrained’ made any difference, and even if the staff had been fully trained, the results would have been the same.

If the KLSC had been privately owned, and if the owners had financed the project, the management and staff, whether trained or not, would have been very careful not to destroy what they would have earned with their own sweat and toil. As it is, however, the plant has been managed by people who had no stake in it other than their jobs. There was no interest in maintaining and developing the actual industrial wealth that had been entrusted to them. At the same time many provided for their own future with a personal ‘retirement fund’.

I maintain that an industry, whether it is a tannery, shoe factory or an effluent plant, must not be set up with non-reimbursable grants or donations, and certainly not in a big way for mega production. It is important that those who will manage an enterprise must be kept accountable and responsible first of all by producing profits, and secondly by reimbursement.

The management must be capable of doing its job, ie managing the outfit, and that can only be done if the management knows, not just in theory but in practice, how to run the business. The test as to whether they are capable of doing this is affected by the market. If they make a profit, they know how to do their job and prove that new outside investments should be made available as they have earned it in the field.

Pakistan has built up a huge tanning industry from scratch. It had a lot of help, cheap loans, export incentives, ban on export of raw materials, etc, etc. But those small artisans who produced wet-blue skins 25 years ago under rather dire circumstances in their backyards, and who had faith in themselves and invested step by step in machinery and technology, have grown today into large industrial complexes in a very natural way of industrial expansion.

They moved from Rangiwara to new industrial areas around Karachi, bearing witness to their abilities. Only now concrete steps are being taken to provide the Korangi Industrial Area with a central wastewater treatment plant of which the local industry bears a mere 27% of the cost but, as far as my knowledge goes, does not own shares or responsibilities for the proper functioning of the plant once it is up and operating. Thus there is a risk that the CETP in Korangi ends up on the block like the Kasur plant.

The CETP plant comes, like similar plants all over the world, with a huge cost since it is established after the tanning industry has formed and expanded itself for more than 25 years. If the plant could have been constructed when Korangi became a tanning area, and if it could have grown together with the industry, the cost would have probably been far less, and certainly the expense would have been better spread over the years. Most of all the area would have been in a completely different condition.

It is, therefore, surprising that Sialkot in Punjab has permitted the proliferation of some 264 small-to-medium sized tanneries in urban areas, most of which have mushroomed in the past six months. According to the Pakistani press, the Sialkot tanners and exporters are aware of the problem and they demand from their government action to help them move the tanneries from the urban areas to specially designated industrial areas, and for the provision of an effluent treatment plant.

So I ask myself why these same tanners and exporters have not thought about this before they set up their industries? They could have settled in specially designated industrial areas right away. They could have thought of an effluent treatment plant from the beginning, taking to heart the lessons learned from the Karachi tanners during the last 30 years.

Why did the local authorities grant licences to set up highly polluting industries in the middle of their ancient city which goes back several hundreds of years? What is behind this way of thinking, because I can hardly believe that people become pollution conscious in the space of just six months?

Sam Setter