Long a key source of industrial pollution, Kanpur’s tannery industry is set to be revolutionised by an Australian government agency. Environmental experts from "Sustainability Victoria" will visit India in July to instigate the Tannery Waste Management Programme. It will develop an eco-friendly business model for around 500 tanning units located close to the Ganga River.

At present, the Ganga is one of the world’s five most polluted rivers, and the tannery industry is one of the worst offenders. Engaged in the removal of flesh, fat and hair, as well as chemical treatments, these tanneries dispose of waste by discharging it into the water. The effluents threaten biodiversity and adversely affect the river’s flow. The upcoming project, funded by AusAID, will aim to clean the river and explore alternative options for Kanpur’s tannery industry.

"The idea was given to us by IITKanpur which will act as our local partners in the project," said Stan Krpan, CEO of Sustainability Victoria, during a visit to Kanpur. "We will lend our expertise in finding a sustainable and viable solution to safe disposal of waste discharged by tanneries.

" He stressed that the project will address social, environmental and technical aspects in tandem. "We will prepare a road map for the tannery industry by looking at all angles including finding a technical solution for waste management, community engagement for saving the river and regulatory issues as well," he said.

The project follows a similar scheme in Australia three decades ago, when Sustainability Victoria found a solution for high levels of tannery pollution. The challenges faced in Victoria, and the initiatives applied, are expected to provide a useful starting point for managing waste water in India.

"We formed landfills for the chemical waste generated from the tanneries. Now we have to find solution that suits the Indian conditions," Krpan said.

The agency is working together with the Australian company Earth Systems, which provides sustainability solutions to environmental challenges. Should their programme prove successful, it is likely to be replicated in other parts of the Ganga basin.