Ms. Sitharaman was replying to a debate in the Lok Sabha on a bill on footwears during which members from Congress and Trinamool Congress raised the issue of availability of raw hide and skin for the leather industry in the wake of ban on cow slaughter in UP and other parts of the country.
The bill to declare the Footwear Design and Development Institute (FDDI) an institution of national importance was later passed by the House with voice vote.
“Over the centuries there had been leather taning industry… that has not obstructed cow protectionism,” Ms. Sitharaman said.
She said before the opposition criticises the UP government, they should realise that it was the “legitimate duty” that the Chief Minister was undertaking.
The minister said the Congress party should acknowledge that cow protection was the spirit behind the freedom movement.
“The Chief Minister is doing what is the spirit behind the freedom movement. We should not exaggerate a situation,” she said.
Mr. Adityanath, after taking over as the Chief Minister last month, had banned illegal slaughter houses in the state of Uttar Pradesh.
Talking about the footwear bill, Ms. Sitharaman said there are 7 FDDIs in the country and 5 more are coming up.
The total number of campuses will be restricted to 12 as of now as “we do not want to proliferate the number of campuses”, the Commerce and Industry Minister said.
The bill seeks to make FDDI an institution of national importance for the promotion and development of quality and excellence in education, research and training in all disciplines relating to footwear and leather products design.
Replying to opposition charge of high cost of admission, Ms. Sitharaman said students passing out from these institutes have been placed in “very good jobs” and the rate of recruitment was also high.
“The course is self-financed, capital expenditure is not recovered from the students. Since job opportunity is there, cost has not deterred students to come and join,” she said, adding even as the fees was expensive but people eager as it provided employment right away.
Ms. Sitharaman said these institutes impart modern skill, provides trained manpower and updated technology to capture global market as the demanded is now towards branded leather goods.
She assuaged member concerns over admission of women in the institutes saying everyone is being given equal opportunity and there will be enough representation of the fairer sex.
Ms. Sitharaman also said that the prevailing rules for reservation of SC, ST and OBCs would be followed even in these institutes.
Participating in the discussion, Mohammed Salim (CPI-M) mentioned about the death of a person in Rajasthan allegedly by cow vigilantes, provoking protests from the BJP members.
“These people are taking our country backwards,” he said, in an apparent reference to cow vigilantes.
He said the adverse impact on leather industry would affect the livelihood of many people.
In an indirect reference to the incidents of cow vigilantism, Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury (Cong) said some bigots in some areas are trying to indulge in “competitive fundamentalism”.
Further, he remarked that leather industry cannot be run by vegetarianism.
Mr. Chowdhury demanded that leather-related industrial development board should also be set up.
Referring to ban on cow slaughter in different parts of the country, Trinamool Congress leader Saugata Roy wondered where the raw hide and skin would come for the leather industry.
Mr. Roy also said that there are no major Indian brands in the global leather industry and demanded that Kolhapuri name should be patented.
RJD member Jaiprakash Narayan Yadav said “flames of hatred” should not be allowed to spread in the country and emphasised that people who are left behind should be brought into the mainstream.
Mr. Yadav as well as Kaushalendra Kumar (JD-U) urged the government to set up a campus of the FDDI in Bihar.
M.K. Raghavan (Congress), Anju Bala (BJP) and Rahul Shewale also spoke.