In Maharashtra, leather artisans are spread across several districts and their population is concentrated in Kolhapur, Mumbai, Pune, Nashik, Kolhapur, Satara, Solapur, Nagpur, Osmanabad and Raigad. Kolhapur is famous for its intricate art worked leather chappals which are better known as Kolhapuri chappals. Three main sub-castes, namely the Charmakars, Dhors and Holars of the district are engaged in this traditional leather work. This has been their traditional occupation and the skill of making these crafted leather sandals has been handed over for generations.
Kolhapuri chappals are made from leather that is tanned using only natural ingredients, without any chemicals and these slippers are completely handmade. The associated tanning industry is also run indigenously.
Trailing down of the market
The fall in exports of shoes and leather garments comes as a setback for Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He has sought to create more jobs by doubling the revenues earned from the leather industry. The government had targeted revenue of $27 billion by 2020 from this industry.
But in reality, not only the growth rate but also the employment generation of the industry is diminishing across India. In Kolhapur, the production of Kolhapuri chappals has suffered under the cow slaughter ban and cow vigilantism. Though the chappals are generally made of buffalo or bull hide, the cow slaughter ban has led to closing down of most of the tanneries in the city.
A government crackdown on Muslim dominated slaughter-houses and on the cattle trade pulled down India’s exports of leather shoes by more than 13% in the last year. The industry is also dealing with Goods and Services Tax (GST) which has augmented the production cost by around 6% to 7%. On the other hand, the rates of leather sheets have fallen from Rs. 50 a feet in 2014 to Rs. 22 feet in 2018.
As a result China, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Pakistan have secured their supplies and arrived as leading markets. This situation is also forcing Indian manufacturers to import hides and that is raising the cost of production and narrowing profit margins. Many tanneries, as a result, have run out of leather. Those who have decided to stay in the industry for lack of other options are facing payment cuts.
In Maharashtra, the Maharashtra Animal Preservation (Amendment) Act, 2015 which was introduced by the BJP government, banned slaughter of cattle, sale of beef and beef products, and transporting cattle out of the state. This has negatively impacted the market of the tanning industry and has also caused job cuts and loss of livelihood for indigenous leather artisans.
Artificial leather posing challenges
To avoid cow slaughter and combat high production cost, manufacturers are favouring artificial leather. These chappals are easy to sell because of their low prices. Additionally, non-leather chappals with artificial zari or strings are also in the offing and are poised to replace the traditional Kolhapuri chappals. The changing styles in the footwear segment have also risked the traditional Kolhapuri chappals as many prefer newer designs and other types of footwear.