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Big deal boost for leather complex
- Chennai-based exporter polishes off Gucci gloom with 4,000-sq m plot

Calcutta, Aug. 6: From Milan to Bantala may be too much to expect, but Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee should be more than happy with what he’s got from Chennai.

Although fashion high priest Gucci didn’t come for a visit in July, as the chief minister had promised, the Calcutta leather complex has struck what is being described as its biggest single deal.

The Chennai-based Farida group, a leading leather and footwear exporter making shoes for such international brands as Florsheim, Pierre Cardin, Clarke’s and Marks & Spencer, has acquired 4,000 square metres at the complex.

M. Rafeeque Ahmed, owner of the group that earned Rs 340 crore in annual revenues (most of it from export of footwear and leather) in 2002-03, said: “The leather complex in Calcutta is the only planned complex in the country. Whatever development takes place, will take place in Calcutta.”

Space in the leather complex is being sold to new tanners at Rs 1,800 per square metre. The leather industry says the rate is high but Ahmed, who might have to spend up to Rs 72 lakh, said: “I’ll not be deterred by price.”

The Farida group turns out around 15,000 pairs of shoes every day from four to five factories in Tamil Nadu. In addition, it has around one million square feet of tanning space.

“To start with, we intend to use the space in Calcutta for tanning. Since we source most of our raw material from West Bengal, we decided to invest here. Once we settle down, we might scale up the facility in Calcutta,” Ahmed said.

The Farida group also exports leather to various countries in Europe and to China, one of the leading producers of leather goods in the world. The group earned Rs 80 crore in revenues from export of leather last year.

Being a supplier to the likes of Florsheim and Pierre Cardin, which conduct ethical and social audits every now and then, the Farida group cannot compromise on issues like pollution, minimum wages and work place atmosphere.

Deb Sengupta, executive director of M.L. Dalmiya & Co, the company that promoted the complex in partnership with the state government, said: “The likes of Farida would encourage others to consider coming to the complex. Aziz Exports — another leading leather exporter from Tamil Nadu — has acquired 500 square metres in the complex, and wants us to reserve 10,000 square metres for future expansion.”

The leather complex, modelled on an industrial park for tanners in Tuzla, Turkey, expects to attract at least 10 of the top 20 leather exporters of the country. Most of them now operate out of Tamil Nadu. “A number of leading exporters have indicated to us that they intend to take space in the complex,” Sengupta added.

Construction of the complex, that straddles 1,100 acres (of which 600 acres is intended for commercial use), began in 1995, three years after it was conceived. Around 175 acres is reserved for tanneries relocating from Topsia and other parts of the state. Space to those tanneries is being sold at a discounted rate of Rs 600 per square metre.

Though most tanners were reluctant to move earlier on, the process has now started. Production at the complex, however, has not begun. Industry observers say the coming of the Farida group is a shot in the arm of the complex that is being built at a cost of over Rs 350 crore.

The complex, that can supply up to 30 million litres of water for processing, has a 80 megawatt sub-station and a common effluent treatment plant.

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