Despite 23 functional mills, Textile Ministry, NTC have no plans to manufacture masks, technical textiles

Even though WHO issued guidelines on Feb 27 stating there was a shortage of personal protective equipment, NTC CMD convened a meeting only on March 12, while no further action has been taken so far <b></b>

Representative Image (Photo Courtesy: Twitter)
Representative Image (Photo Courtesy: Twitter)

Ashlin Mathew

The National Textile Corporation of India, which falls under the Textile Ministry headed by Smriti Irani, has no concrete plans in place to manufacture masks or technical textiles in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic even though they have 23 functional mills.

Even though on February 27, the WHO had issued guidelines stating that there was a shortage of personal protective equipment, which includes masks and gowns, NTC CMD Nihar Ranjan Dash met the Chief General Manager-Technical A Sukumar only on March 12. Dash asked the technical team to come up with a plan to manufacture non-woven technical textiles. Masks, aprons and other surgical disposable items such as pillow-covers and bedsheets are considered as non-woven technical textiles.

In the follow-up meeting on March 18, a plan to manufacture medical textiles, surgical disposable items and non-woven fabric was submitted. But the CMD did not take any decision. “CMD said he would pass on the details to the textile secretary and the minister. The CMD enquired if the production of such items could be expedited to 10-15 days. The team mentioned that the formal tendering would take a month and it would take another five months for the machines to arrive,” a source said.

The government can expedite these matters, said another source in the ministry.

Ironically, five years ago, a proposal had been submitted to the Ministry of Textiles to venture into producing sanitary napkins, geo-textiles and bullet-proof jackets. Currently the mills produce only yarn and some fabric. The mills which manufacture sanitary napkins can also manufacture face masks and other surgical disposable items because the same fabric (polyester raw material) is used for these items. But no decision was taken on this.

Additionally, at the meeting, Dash stated that he would be speaking to the director of Coimbatore-based South Indian Textile Research Association (SITRA) to check if they would manufacture non-woven masks.

SITRA, which falls under the Ministry of Textiles, has several labs on its 50-acre campus for testing and research of material and fabric. In one of its labs, it has a sanitary pad-making machine, which is mostly used for research purposes, but SITRA takes orders to manufacture sanitary napkins as and when they get orders. According to sources within the textile ministry, this machine can also be used to manufacture non-woven masks and it can make up to 30,000-40,000 masks a day.

In the meeting, CMD Das said that N95 masks could be manufactured and giving grand plans, he added that if they could operationalise at least five technical mills, then they would make profits too. However, neither the Textile ministry nor the NTC have spoken to SITRA about this plan despite a shortage of personal protective gear in the country.

For several of the suggestions put forth the team, the CMD stated that there was no approval and that they have to be granted approvals. “The CMD says this at every meeting. No proposal moved forward at the Textile Ministry,” said a source.

Earlier in the day, Vidya Krishnan had reported for The Caravan that the Indian government waited till March 19 to prohibit the export of domestically manufactured PPEs and the raw material required for it. This lack of forecasting has led to a shortage of coveralls and masks.

According to the report, the textile ministry had stated there was a shortage of body coveralls and N-95 masks and the supply should get prioritised. Hence, they wanted to control its supply through Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and procurement through HLL Lifecare Ltd.

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