Un-Hiding the Other Side of Adyar

When we think of Adyar, images that crop up are those of a rich and invigorating cultural history and the rich and luscious residential areas of today. However, beyond these socio-cultural edifices of this sprawling Chennai neighbourhood, Adyar is also home to the world’s largest leather research institute. Central Leather Research Institute (CLRI), spread over a 100-acre campus on Sardar Patel Road, is the central hub of the Indian leather sector. It was founded in the very first year of India’s independence, on April 24, 1948.

In 1947, the leather export basket of India included mostly raw hides and skins. There remained an untapped opportunity for India in the leather sector for economic development, employment generation and export earnings. The missing link was addition of technology to the manufacturing base of the sector. Hence, CLRI was founded to develop internal strength in the country to generate, assimilate and innovate technologies for leather sector.

When Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) Chairman Shanti Swaroop Bhatnagar conceived it, there were two competing locations for its establishment – Calcutta and Madras. Both the cities had massive clusters of leather production in their vicinity. At this critical juncture, A.L. Mudaliar, a great visionary and the then Vice-Chancellor of Madras University donated his own land in the vicinity of the University for the establishment of CLRI. He envisioned it as an academic partner of the University whose research and training will help tap the leather production potential of the region.

CLRI has been playing this role diligently for the last six decades, employing a ‘tripod approach’. Through its pedagogy program, it trains the trainers from different educational institutes. Moreover, students getting admitted for graduation, masters and even doctorate in Anna University are trained and educated in the CLRI campus. CLRI also provides human resource development facilities through its industrial linkages.

Moreover, due to the synergy created by this research-academia partnership between CLRI and Anna University, today the adjoining clusters of Chrompet, Pallavaram and Ranipet flourish along with other clusters of the country. Today, more than 60 percent of the tertiary level human resource of the national leather sector is borne out of this partnership.

Hence, the trinity of Nehru-Bhatnagar-Mudaliar has successfully created this central hub with direct roles in education, research, training, testing, designing, forecasting, planning, social empowerment and leading in science and technology relating to leather.

However, there have been other leaders too who have made this institute what it is today. Two prominent names among these are Prof.Y. Nayudamma and Dr.T.Ramasami.

Prof.Y. Nayudamma, a visionary who lost his life in the infamous Emperor Kanishka (Air India Flight 182) air crash in 1985 was the second director of CLRI. He contributed a lot to the growth of the institute by establishing close linkages with the Indian leather industry on one hand and international agencies on the other.

Dr.T.Ramasami, who is now the Secretary of Department of Science and Technology, took over the leadership of this institute in January 1996 and gave a new thrust and vision to the institute’s activities. Being an advocate of inclusive growth, he put his efforts behind The Leather Technology Mission launched in 1995.

It is worth noting that of the three million Indians directly employed in the leather industry, 97 per cent have just primary skills. This mission aimed at reaching out to such grass root artisans in the country. It carried both technology and related tools to them. With its efforts ‘Athani’ artisans and ‘Kolhapuri’ chappals went international.

Another important development in 1996 brought CLRI to the center stage to save the livelihoods of thousands of workers. The Supreme Court had ordered the shutting down of around 600 tanneries in Tamil Nadu due to the pollution being caused by them. In response to this, CLRI got together with Indira Gandhi National Open University in a mass campaign which changed the very image of the industry from ‘polluting’ to ‘cleaner’. This model not only saved the jobs of those working in these tanneries but also helped CLRI to reach the unreached manpower of leather tanning at all levels across India. CLRI successfully trained them in cleaner and greener leather processing methods of controlling the effluents and reducing the emissions.

CLRI has not only helped such indigenous workers but has also emerged as a ‘messiah’ for under-developed countries to learn cutting-edge leather technologies. In last few years, CLRI has trained close to 1000 entrepreneurs, industrialists and around 400 executive personnel from over 65 countries in leather processing, product technologies, process safety, safety audit, pollution control, animal/ tannery by-products utilization, etc.

Amongst others, the Leather Industry Development Institute of Ethiopia has been in a constant contact with CLRI for last one decade and has been striving to emulate CLRI through a twinning program. With the help of CLRI, already half of the 22 tanneries in this under-developed African nation have been technologically up-graded.

CLRI’s one pointed goal remains to provide technological support to the world leather industry. It has been striving to gain prestige, pride, economic benefits as well as reverential power in the global scientific leather industrial research for India.

This vision of CLRI is today being realized by a team of dedicated scientists whose efforts have made it one of the most important edifices of not only Adyar but India too.

- Vipul Grover

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