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Process of introducing the new-generation sports shoes for Army Jawans is in trouble  

31 July, 2011
Process of introducing the new-generation sports shoes for Army Jawans is in trouble

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 procurement".

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 TOI's possession.

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 note reads.

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 ministry.

"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.

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Posted on 31 Jul, 2011

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