31 July, 2011
Process of introducing the new-generation sports shoes for Army Jawans is in
Animal rights activist Maneka Gandhi has come in the way of our soldiers getting
trendy and comfortable leather sports shoes. She says thousands of cows will
have to be slaughtered to make sneakers for 1.1 million jawans. But the Army
believes that Maneka's objection is a ploy to "derail the process of
Some weeks ago, the central government announced the decision to award contracts
for eight lakh pairs of high-quality sneakers replacing the no-frills brown
canvas PT shoes that jawans use. But with Maneka throwing the spanner in the
works, the project is stillborn. The shoe project is worth Rs 100 crore only in
the first phase, when sneakers will be provided to eight lakh soldiers. More
orders would follow.
Maneka told TOI that defence minister A K Antony had confirmed in writing that
the contract was being cancelled. "It is illegal to use cow leather. Army should
be the beacon of law in this country. About four lakh cows could be slaughtered
to make eight lakh pairs," she said.
Army sources, though, cannot fathom why the smart sneakers project got stalled.
In any case, they insist, several other shoes and items procured by them, the
Navy and the Air Force are made of cow leather. Cowhide is tough and ideal for
the difficult terrains soldiers operate in.
Prior to Antony scratching the contract, the ministry of defence sent a query to
the master-general of ordnance (MGO), who handles procurement of supplies. A
three-page MGO note argues that during interaction with a dozen vendors "cow
leather was unanimously approved as the most appropriate material, being most
versatile and tough to withstand anticipated usage by soldiers." The note is in
The Army note says that in 2008-09, India exported products made of over 6.85
crore square feet of cow leather and 1.38 crore square feet of calf leather.
"Indigenous cow leather products would perhaps be manifold and being used in
India. The current tender is miniscule of just six to eight lakh sq feet for the
Indian Army. Vested interests, therefore, appear to be attempting to
sensationalize this issue and are far removed from the reality in India," the
In July 2008, the Army began the process of picking a new-generation sports shoe
to replace the basic brown canvas PT shoes provided to jawans. Based on user
trials, the Army recommended two possible choices as suitable for jawans. "We
decided on cow leather (and not synthetic leather or other items) based on open
consultations with all the companies that tendered," one source said.
Of the 12 companies that participated in the contract, one was disqualified at a
very preliminary stage and the rest sent their samples for tests by the
director-general quality assurance and another specialist institute. Two
companies were finally shortlisted, before the commercial bids were to be
opened. That is when Gandhi's objections about cow leather landed at the defence
"After three years of deliberations, intensive troop trials and fair and a
transparent competitive bidding process, two firms have been found fully
compliant in technical evaluation process," the Army has pointed out to the
ministry. In the process of introducing the new-generation sportswear, the Army
has slowed the process for purchasing the old brown canvas PT shoes. But all
that is in trouble for now.