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Shoe-makers put best foot forward

• Small units in Calcutta produce about 40,000 pairs of footwear a day, as opposed to over 150,000 pairs produced daily in Agra, Delhi and Mumbai. The figure has to be raised to at least 100,000 pairs a day in the next two years

• The present footwear production in the eastern region is estimated at six crore pairs a year. However, the necessary infrastructure for manufacturing components in the eastern region, with its base in Calcutta, is still missing

• West Bengal lags behind in terms of technological change, and this is a major disadvantage in the face of tough competition

• The Indian footwear components sector is estimated at Rs 13,000 crore

• India, producing over 170 crore pairs of shoes annually, is the second biggest shoe-manufacturer in the world, after China, yet the industry accounts for only 1.5 per cent of the country’s global trade, and only 4 per cent of the produce is exported

Calcuttans can look forward to bidding adieu to sore feet, as local shoe-manufacturers will soon be improving on design and technology to provide quality and cost-effective footwear.

An institute to train workers of the footwear industry, introducing the concepts of design and pattern, will soon be set up in the city.

The state government will “facilitate” the setting up of a training institute and resources centre on the premises of the College of Leather Technology (old and new complexes), located at Beleghata, said CPM parliamentarian Md Salim on Saturday, before inaugurating the first Calcutta shoe fair.

The fair, exhibiting components and machinery, is organised jointly by the Indian Footwear Components Manufacturers Association (IFCOMA) and the All India Rubber Industries Association (AIRIA), eastern region. Once completed, the institute will match the likes of FDDI, Noida, and the CFTIs in Agra and Chennai.

“Calcutta has huge potential to emerge as a major market, since there are no units in the eastern region, supplying footwear to the northeastern states, Orissa, Bihar and Jharkhand. There is also considerable demand from Bangladesh,” said M.S. Almal, IFCOMA president , adding that, “the base for converting that potential into actual achievement will be created through this fair, focusing on the development of the local footwear industry. In all, 39 stalls have been booked and a number of manufacturers and financiers have shown interest.”

According to AIRIA officials, “the West Bengal footwear market is largely dominated by north Indian suppliers, and the local footwear manufacturers are unable to penetrate the market. Moreover, most of the local manufacturers are engaged with brands like Sreeleathers, Khadim’s, Elite, Ford and Ajanta, among a host of others, providing cheap components which are defective in terms of scientific design.”

The Indian footwear industry started in Calcutta with Bata Shoe Company India Limited, which kicked off in 1931 from Konnagar, and later shifted its base to Batanagar. IFCOMA was born out of the Bata initiative to bring together component vendors. Bata’s decentralisation process during the mid-60s resulted in the expansion of the footwear industry to other states, which took over the market leaving Calcutta and the eastern region far behind. The Agra-Delhi (Noida, Gurgaon) belt established itself as the leader in the industry, with even Ludhiana and Saharanpur gaining a lead.

“Such interactions should be taken seriously, since they make us aware of where we stand and how we can improve on our position,” said A.H.M. Ehsanuzzaman, senior vice-president (general manufacturing), Bata.

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