Leather trade, processing of hides badly hit
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Leather trade, processing of hides badly hit

While people were celebrating Eid-ul-Adha, disturbing photographs of raw animal hides floating in water bodies or dumped along roadside shook the conscience of an average Kashmiri.

While people were celebrating Eid-ul-Adha, disturbing photographs of raw animal hides floating in water bodies or dumped along roadside shook the conscience of an average Kashmiri.  

To the surprise of everyone, these hides, mostly sheep skin, were that of sacrificial animals unable to find any takers due to the sluggish leather market.  

Various Kashmir-based leather traders say a drop in international demand, especially for Indian market after the BJP government came into power at the Centre in 2014, has reduced the price of a sheep or goat skin from Rs 400 to Rs 40 in the past four years.

Sacrificial hides were a "prized possession" on Eid as several religious institutions, orphanages and downtrodden people collected these animal skins and sell them to leather dealers to generate some income. Since prices have fallen drastically, not many charities showed any interest in collecting these hides this year.

"Till a couple of years ago representatives of orphanages used  to throng our residence for collecting the qurbani hide but on the fourth day of Eid today not a single person came to even inquire about the hide. We are wondering how to dispose it of," said Basit Ahmad of Hyderpora.

Having borne the brunt of massive drop in both demand and prices of hides, Farooq Ahmad Rawanda, who runs a tannery at Lassipora Industrial Estate, says global downturn in "luxury leather goods market" has also impacted indigenous leather industry of Kashmir.  

Rawanda said wet blue leather from Gulf countries being preferred over Kashmiri products was also one of the causes of the fall in demand.

"Apart from the poor response shown by global leather goods manufacturers to raw material from India, there are other reasons for the slump as well. Leather products made by leading luxury brands such as jackets and bags have witnessed a drop in demand globally," said Rawanda who is also president of the Leather Goods Association. 

Rawanda says almost four tanners and 15 traders who used to supply raw sheep skin to Delhi, Kanpur and Jalandhar have suffered huge losses.

He said both India-based manufacturers of leather products and exporters used to procure domestic Indian raw material but now they prefer to import the same from countries such as New Zealand, which even does not attract any import duty.

He said leather goods producers find this raw sheep skin cheaper. 

"Raw animal skin is processed into wet blue but regulations have tied our hands. As far global exports are concerned we can send only complete leather goods outside India. Our hands are tied as we can't send the wet blue overseas," said Rawanda.  

He said the imported raw sheep skin is two feet bigger in size than the Kashmiri produce.

Rawanda said his firm used to procure almost 1000 sheep skin daily, which has now gone down to 200.

"Sheep skin from Kashmiri breed used to incur Rs 100 in production cost which includes Rs 40 for raw material and Rs 60 for works.  In 2013 a sheep skin used to fetch us Rs 400 which does not even get us Rs 40 now. Similarly Dilliwala sheep skin is also making us suffer losses," Rawanda said.

Another Lassipora-based trader, Manzoor Ahmad, admitted that leather industry across India and in Kashmir particularly is witnessing a major slump. He said government policies are not trader-friendly.

"With soaring temperatures around Eid-ul-Adha time, the hides, sheep and goat skins received by tanneries are not suitable for processing as we get them quite late.  These hides have a limited shelf life and the charities which collect them don't salt these for preservation," said Manzoor.

Farooq Ahmad, a hide trader from Jamalatta in Downtown, says animal hides' trade can be boosted by providing better infrastructure. 

"The hub of collection and trading in downtown is Jamalatta. Scattered market and unscientific processing cause environmental pollution. The government should therefore provide separate land for a cluster for trading of hides. This facility cannot be made somewhere far away but here in the trading hub," Farooq said.

President, Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry JavedTenga said levy of Goods and Services Tax has also taken a toll on hide business as end product is quite costly and unable to compete with international market.

"Over 2 lakh animal hide pieces are lying unsold in various leather processing units in Kashmir. The raw sheep skin sent outside for processing has taken a hit as many processing units have shutdown fearing grave consequences from anti-social elements," Tenga said.

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