By Brij Khandelwal
Around five thousand trained shoe workers of Agra are now without work as over 35 leather shoe units have downed shutters following changes in the purchase policy by several government departments few years ago.
Agra is the biggest hub of leather shoe industries in India and exports a major chunk of its production. The industry employs over 2.5 lakh trained hands.
More than 80 per cent of all shoes for the Armed Forces and paramilitary agencies are manufactured in Agra. “Since Mughal times, Agra has been a major supplier of footwear all over India,” says an industrial consultant.
Members of the Boot Manufacturing Association said, “The recent changes in the purchase policies by the Directorate General of Supplies and Disposals (DGS&D) and other government bodies have hit hard the Agra industries. The parameters have changed.
“Preference is now being given to units with higher annual turnover, above Rs 20 crore. This excludes the smaller, tiny, and cottage units that till now were able to participate in the tender process.”
Association secretary Anil Mahajan said the government policies are now promoting only big business houses and units at the cost of smaller units that employ thousands of workers. Machines are taking over. This has proved detrimental to the interests of smaller units in Agra, Kanpur, and Kolkata, Mahajan added.
Sunil Gupta, the president of the Association said, “Shoes costing only around Rs 200 were being purchased for over Rs 600 by the government agencies.”
Mechanised units were being importance, whereas in terms of quality it does not make any difference. Shoes manufactured by hands are as good as those produced by machines, Gupta claimed.
The middlemen or big retailing giants were taking advantage of the changed policies and supplying shoes manufactured by smaller units, to the government bodies.
“On the one hand the Union government wants to increase employment potential, on the other hand, faulty policies were compelling smaller labour intensive units to shut down,” local shoe manufacturers said.
Association members said the government agencies were buying shoes from big firms that purchased the same shoes from smaller units. “All because of the wrong purchase policies. Actually, nobody has been able to explain the crying need for this abrupt change in purchase policy by the DGS&D and various other government departments, including the NCC,” Mahajan told IANS.
However, shoe industry consultant, Dr Abhinay Prasad told IANS “The real problem is keeping pace with the latest technology and upgradation. At the national level, there cannot be a separate stand-alone MSME policy for Agra. I am surprised at the logic that national policy favours Delhi and other cities, but not Agra.
“If a policy is unsuitable for Agra, then the real problem is with the manufacturers, their failure to adapt and change in response to new challenges and demands. They are playing the emotional card of raising fears about unemployment and flaunting the caste fears. The affected Agra units should immediately upgrade technology and change their mindsets. Generally, these small units are steeped in century-old practices and resisting change.”