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More lustre to leather: 70 years of CLRI

There is a welcome re-focus at CSIR to use first-grade scientific knowledge to provide sustainable solutions to challenging problems. Recently, Director General Girish Sahni stressed on the need for the CSIR scientists to focus on application of science and technology and not just be content with academic pursuits on pure research and publications. 

CLRI’s contribution is seen in the growth of leather and product exports that expanded ten times from Rs 39 crore in 1960 to Rs 390 crore in 1980. After the liberalisation of the economy in 1991, the growth had been spectacular: from Rs 2600 crore in 1990, exports shot up to Rs 40,000 crore in 2015. Leather industry acknowledged it was primarily due to CLRI interventions. 

The industry faced a terminal crisis in May 1995 when the Supreme Court directed the closure of 700 tanneries in Tamil Nadu for not meeting biochemical oxygen demand. Director Dr T Ramasami and his team implemented cleaner technology measures and in-plant pollution control techniques that facilitated the resumption of business in all the tanneries in quick time. Common effluent treatment plants set up in leather clusters was a boon to the industry; 80 per cent of these are under the MSME category. 

The Institute has been focusing on converting tannery waste into wealth. The recovery of solid residues generated during the process  added to profits.

Chromium is a major tanning agent for two billion sq.ft of leather produced in India. CSIR-CLRI has introduced a waterless chrome tanning technology and another product for facilitating dry tanning. The saving in chromium by 15-20 per cent is a great advantage. Dr. B Chandrasekaran, Director, mentioned that such technologies generate value, almost equal to that of the leather itself. 

After its success in streamlining the functioning of leather clusters in Tamil Nadu, CSIR-CLRI repeated this in Kolkata. The leather clusters in UP, located from Agra down the Ganges, offer a greater challenge. Under the Namami Gange Program, the 

Institute has provided a detailed plan for waste management in tanneries in UP. This programme is bound to be invaluable in saving precious water and in cleaning up river Ganga. 


More strengths than normal

The strengths of CSIR-CLRI also lie in imparting skills and provision of sustainable technologies. It has provided around 60 per cent of the skilled workforce in the leather industry.  The integrated skill initiative program of CSIR which includes a unique training programme for the underprivileged would increase the training capacity of the Institute to nearly 3000. 

G Sahni earlier headed with distinction the Institute of Microbial Technology (IMTECH). His pioneering work in translating science to precious biotechnology has helped introduce a major protein drug, Streptokinase, used in cardiac and circulatory diseases. His extensive work in drug discovery should help CSIR-CLRI to accelerate development of a range of healthcare products based on collagens. 

There is potential for a high degree of collaboration among the CSIR units. The plan of CLRI and CSMCRI to work together on recovering sodium chloride and sodium sulphate (over 100,000 tonnes of these have been accumulated at various tanneries), sounds interesting. 

Four decades ago Dr. Nayudamma as DG, CSIR, along with Minister, C Subramaniam, experimented on taking science to villages. Dozens of CSIR scientists swarmed Karimnagar in Andhra Pradesh and Chandrapur in Maharashtra.The impact of science in improving the rural economy was visible in a short time. After R A Mashelkar, there was a dip in such social orientation of CSIR. Sahni breathes a welcome fresh air.

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