PPE Production In India

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Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), comprises of garments used by the health care workers or any other person from getting infected. It generally consists of standard precautions: gloves, mask, gown. It includes face protection, goggles, and mask or face shield, gloves, gown or coverall, head cover, rubber boots in case it is blood, or high airborne infections.

Medical Health officials wearing PPE suits going to conduct health checkups. (ANI)
Medical Health officials wearing PPE suits going to conduct health checkups. (ANI)

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Today, the whole world is in the middle of the “global war against the COVID-19 pandemic.” The manufacturing of the Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) has become a crucial gear required to protect the health and sanitation workers. India, for long, has had only a handful of domestic manufacturers; consequently, there was never sufficient amount to take care of the needs. So, the majority of the requirements for the medical fraternity was fulfilled through bulk imports.

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Till 1st March, the country has had a negligible amount of PPE production. Earlier, there were only 50 companies that were certified for such products and even the types of equipment produced were not worthy enough to use it during the COVID-19 treatment. However, within two months, there has been a surge in production. By 5th May, the country was producing about 2.06 lakhs of PPE suits a day. Within two weeks, the production was doubled to about 4.5 lakhs of PPE kits. There has been an increase in the certifications for companies as well. More than 600 companies are now involved in production across the nation.

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Some government institutes like Defence Research & Development Organization (DRDO), South India Textile Research Association (SITRA), and Ordnance Factory Board are the front runners in developing new technologies, materials, and testing facilities. DRDO has also developed new PU coated nylon/polyester for supply to domestic manufacturers. Arvind, The Trident Group, Welspun JCT Mills, and Shahi Exports are some of the domestic companies involved in the production.

Not only that, but about 200 women from a village in Andhra Pradesh have also restarted a defunct tailoring unit and are producing masks, shoe covers, and lab coats in bulk quantity. 15,000 masks, 6,000 shoe covers and 5,000 lab coats are being churned out and supplied to the state government.

Overall, the industry has grown more than 56 times according to a report by Invest India, a company set up by the government to facilitate investments. All these developments are in line with a statement made by the Prime Minister when he addressed the nation. It is indeed an opportunity in disguise during the crisis. More than $300 million would have to be pooled out for the imports if there be no investments in this sector. This indigenous push for PPE manufacture is a good move for import substitution. According to the Apparel Export Promotion Council of India, the industry is expected to have a turnover of over $60 billion by 2025.

If the industries work closely with the government, even significant improvements can take place in less time. A nudge from the government, an appeal to help the countries, and a great opportunity in times of crisis have done the job. Ministry of Textiles stated that several steps were being taken to ensure smooth steps and functioning of the industry. Not only that, but adequate attention is also being given to the quantity and the quality of the PPE coveralls, thereby making India the world’s second-largest manufacturer of body coveralls, next only to China. Apart from that, body coveralls are allowed to be supplied by only certified players across the entire supply chain. Besides that, there has been proper procedure laid out for testing and certifying PPE body coveralls required for healthcare workers and other COVID-19 warriors.

PPE producing industry has been a tiny industry in India, with all the raw materials being imported from China. However, due to the pandemic, there was a considerable disruption in the supply chain. Hence, a domestic supply chain had to be created on a priority basis. Today, all the raw materials are available in India, except for sealing tapes. It gives a competitive edge over all other competitors such as Cambodia and Vietnam.

275 companies are currently certified under the DRDO for making medical coveralls. As per Invest India reports, today, India has an inventory of about 16 lakh PPE kits of all kinds, and there are 2.22 crore kits against firm orders by the industry. Bengaluru has become a major PPE hub, as about half of the production is done in that city. The rest of the production spread across the country — Tirupur, Koyampuththoor (Coimbatore), Vadodara, Ludhiana, Bhiwandi, Chennai, Ahmedabad, Kolkata, Noida, and Gurugram.

Although the demands for the PPE are at its peak during this time, it would inevitably shrink in the next couple of years. However, India cannot lose this opportunity because of the forecasts regarding the future. Currently, PPE is not allowed to be exported so that the domestic needs are first met. That is why the global market is still dominated by China, Vietnam, and Bangladesh due to the absence of a potential competitor.

Workers of Maheshtala Bright Tailoring prepare Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for medical staff at Maheshtala, South 24 Pargana district.
Workers of Maheshtala Bright Tailoring prepare Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for medical staff at Maheshtala, South 24 Pargana district. (HT photo/Samir Jana)

“Vocal for local” motto to being used as much as possible. Only 30% of the production capacity is used by the 95 approved PPE producers due to the social distancing guidelines. Still, so much is being produced even though without the full capacity. Not only that, but there are also still about 300 of the certified companies that are awaiting their respective orders. The capacity is still underutilized and can be used to its fullest in the later times. However, this cannot be denied that these productions are possible only because of the lack of demand for fashion apparel from the international market.

Unfortunately, India should ensure that enough product is made so that export can also be done. There is an ocean of opportunities in this field. However, these opportunities will shrink with each passing day due to restrictions. Should, therefore, consider the economic and political dividends that timely PPE exports will generate in the post-COVID-19 era.

There has been an extraordinary demonstration by the Indian apparel industry’s enterprises to rejig extensive production facilities to manufacture PPEs. Material, labour, and supply chains that were distorted were also repurposed to bring them to the line.

Self-reliance is an aspect that India feels proud of. It is essential to show the world that they are not being ignorant of their foreign policy and quickly working on the same.

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Apoorva Iyer
Apoorva Iyer is a student of B.A Political Science (Hons.) at Deshbandhu College, Delhi University.

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