Case Study 24

Sanjeev is posted as the District Magistrate in the Kanpur district of Uttar Pradesh. The district has thousands of tanneries that provide jobs to lakhs of poor people in the area. The state government is making massive preparations for the grand celebration of the Kumbh Mela that is going to take place at Allahabad confluence. The government has asked you to ensure that no sewage or industrial effluent should flow into the Ganga to ensure that pilgrims could have a cleaner dip lower down at the Allahabad confluence for the duration of the Kumbh.

Providing clean water means that the tanneries need to be shut down for 3-4 months as tanning is a highly polluting process involving many toxic chemicals. However, this will take away the livelihood of daily wage earners. Also, the whole industrial chain will also get disturbed, thus affecting other industries. Most of the workers belong to a minority community. You are in a state of confusion. As a senior officer entrusted with the responsibility of handling this issue, how Sanjeev is going to address it?


The case presents the challenge of the governance process in balancing the rights of various sections of society. Mr Sanjeev faces an ethical dilemma – The right of livelihood of workers in tanneries Vs Rights of pilgrimage in the clean holy river, Ganga.

There are other issues involved in the case –

  1. Environmental ethics – since tanning is a highly polluting process.
  2. Cultural promotion – through the successful conduction of the Kumbh Mela.
  3. A perceived sense of deprivation – should not occur in the minority community, to which most of the workers belong.
  4. Mr Sanjeev’s conduct must be in line with civil service foundational values of empathy, compassion and impartiality.  

Mr Sanjeev must take a holistic approach, considering the grievances of all stakeholders.

Pollution from tanneries must stop not only for pilgrims’ rights but also for people’s rights to clean drinking water, agriculture and conserving biodiversity. River Ganga is a common good and must be preserved.

At the same time in the spirit of good and ethical governance, citizens must not be given emotional and financial shock by stopping their means of livelihood suddenly.

Hence Mr Sanjeev must take the following steps –

  1. Following the instruction from the state government tanneries must be closed for the optimal period of time.
  2. There must be an arrangement made for alternate livelihood for those who will lose it –
  3. Work under MGNREGA can be offered to willing workers for income support or other social security schemes of the government.
  4. Some of the workers can be employed as volunteers, on a paid basis, for making arrangements for the Kumbh Mela.
  5. They may be encouraged to join skill development programs for better job prospects.
  6. Cheaper credit for entrepreneurship can also be arranged.

C) Sense of inclusiveness must be spread through government support, participation of local government in information dissemination for alternate livelihood etc.

There must also be some long-term measures taken to avoid the conflict of livelihood and clean river –

  1. Technological advancements for effluent treatments.
  2. Subsidies to adopt new technology.
  3. Value inculcation to preserve the environment and live in harmony with it.  

Immanuel Kant said that “So act as to treat humanity, whether in their own person or in that of any other, in every case as an end withal, never as means only”. Tanneries must be closed but steps must be taken to preserve human happiness.

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