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Why this Indian town once known as Manchester of the East sinking into oblivion

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By Rituparna Chakrobarty

Kanpur, a city once known as the Manchester of East, now fights hard for its own existence. All the cotton mills, the backbone of the city’s traditional economy, have been wiped out and the remaining  industries are in their last stages of survival.

But as every cloud has a silver lining, the city is now creating its new identity as a leather city along with the soap industries and hosiery industries blossoming within the city.

History of Kanpur

The city was founded by Raja Kanti Deo of Prayag in 1207 and was called Kohna. It was established on the banks of river Ganga over an area of 605km square. Later it was renamed Kanpur. The first mention of Kanpur was recorded in 1579 during the reign of Sher Shah Suri. By the time of 1801, the European businessmen realized the importance of the site and started establishing themselves there. Kanpur was one of the main centers of Industrial Revolution in India. It later became one of the most important military stations during the colonial rule. Presently it is the 5th largest city in country and counted as 7th largest city in the world.

 Manchester of East

Like Manchester in England, Kanpur spearheaded the Industrial Revolution in India with its cotton mills. Around 19th Century, Sir John Burney Alllens established a group of industries. National Textile Corporation (NTC) and British India Corporation  (BIC) by jointly combining nine textile industries viz: Swadeshi Cotton Mill, Allign Mill-I , Allign Mill-II, Kanpur textile, Meur Textile, Arthan Mill, Lal imli mill and Laxmi Ratan Cotton mill. As most of the raw material came from West Bengal and Surat, for easier accessibility the first tram facility was provided in the city. In the beginning of 20th Century, Lala Kamlapat laid the stone of JK cotton mills and JK Iron etc. The British added another feather in its crown by establishing a number of factories like: Hinduatan Aeronautics Limited, Indian ordnance factories.

Failure of the cotton mills

The condition of cotton mills started deteriorating after independence, as the Government of India did not show serious concern about the smooth running of the mills in Kanpur. Other than this, the internal politics of laborers doomed the functioning of the mills to a halt. The unavailability of funds, the communication gap between the laborers and management also led to the winding up of the mills. The machinery too was not upgraded with time.

Present Scenario

The privatization of industries is helping the city to gain its lost glory and to boost up its economy. Kanpur has emerged as one of the largest exporters of leather goods creating a new identity for itself. In order to further promote small scale industries, Uttar Pradesh state’s Industrial Development Corporation(UPSIDC) and Cooperative societies have come forward. Approximately 6500 small scale industries have been set up in the state. Public sector units are also outsourcing the machinery parts to the engineering sectors for their production; hence the engineering sector is also mushrooming in Kanpur.
Kanpur faces an economic fracture due to the lack of political unity. The absence of strong budget by the state or the central government is hampering the development of the city. Despite this, the people of Kanpur are rising above all odds and trying to develop their city with themselves, but without proper Government support, it’s still a dream which will take a very long time to materialize into reality.

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