Government’s efforts to rope in new players to produce masks, protective gear see limited success

Meenakshi Verma Ambwani/Amiti Sen New Delhi | Updated on March 27, 2020

Non-availability of machinery, raw materials and labour during lockdown proves a challenge

The Centre is making efforts to rope in new players for production of masks and gear to protect health workers against Covid-19, but it is proving to be difficult under the current lockdown. While some textile companies are keen to diversify into safety equipment to help bridge the domestic shortfall, many are being constrained by non-availability of machinery and raw materials.

Sanjay Jain, MD of a Delhi-based vertically integrated textiles company, said: “We need specific machines to make masks. We have checked with suppliers from China and it is not available at the moment. Even if we somehow import, it will be difficult to get them cleared and move them out of ports.”

Moreover, with no production taking place in factories due the lockdown , many workers have left for their home towns and villages and there is not enough labour to produce masks, he added.

Special committee formed

The Textiles Ministry has formed a special committee to enable textile producers switch over to production of masks and some like Welspun and Limerick have responded positively.

BK Goenka, Chairman, Welspun Group, said: “We have been making smart non-woven products and medium for diverse applications around safety clothing, filtration, personal hygiene and cosmetic segments. Manufacturing face masks and disinfectant wipes is a natural extension for us.”

Goenka said although the company was using technology and skill-set that are not optimised for the new products, it could manage to build a pipeline of a few hundred thousand masks in the coming weeks. “However, the current lockdown poses its own challenges for sourcing key ingredients and managing workforce. For this, we are working with the government and local authorities,” he said.

A premium fashion label Limerick, in India, has also chipped in and decided to donate 3,000 surgical masks to healthcare officials at Kasturba Hospital in Mumbai after March 31.

Special material

But, such success stories are limited in the current lock-down situation. There are industry players who have the equipment and machinery capacities that can be switched to making protective gear but they will require to import special material for making such products, which is difficult.

Harkirat Singh, Managing Director, Aero Club, said: “We have experience in making adventure and outdoor specialty apparel products and this equipment and technology can be used to make protective gear apt for medical purposes. But we will need to import specialised material. This cannot be done overnight and will take time.”

Another textile producer in Delhi NCR pointed out that it was approached by Invest India, a non-profit agency to promote and facilitate investment under the Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade, to look at the possibility of producing masks, but has not had much success yet.

“We have production capacities and would like to help the country in this time of need by manufacturing masks and other protective gear. But we don’t have either the machinery or the raw material to do so and don’t know where to procure it from in this time of lock-down. If the government provides us with the inputs we can start producing,” he said.

Published on March 27, 2020

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