New Army uniform: NIFT tweaked pattern to bypass ordnance factory’s patent, firm got preferential treatment

Jagatjit Cotton Textiles (JCT) Limited owned by the Thapar Group, was engaged to manufacture uniforms in the beginning without consulting “stakeholders”

New Army uniform: NIFT tweaked pattern to bypass ordnance factory’s patent, firm got preferential treatment
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Vishwadeepak

To evade hurdles involving patent clauses, National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT) – which recently designed the new combat uniform for the Army – changed the camouflage pattern, of which the Modi government was aware, top ranking sources at ordnance factories have claimed.

They have alleged that not only did NIFT deliberately tweak the pattern, but a private textile firm, Jagatjit Cotton Textiles (JCT) Limited owned by the Thapar Group, was engaged to manufacture uniforms in the beginning without consulting “stakeholders”.

Though the government had assured that a tender will be floated for large-scale production at a later stage in which PSUs can take part, the alleged involvement of a private textile firm has angered the Army’s top brass as well as rank and file, NH has learned.

It may be recalled that the new combat uniform, which has a disruptive digital pattern – a combination of olive green and earthen shades – similar to that donned by the US Army, was unveiled on Army Day on January 15.

Selected by Army chief Gen MM Naravane, the new design is being seen as “a trapdoor to let in private players in the production at the cost of Army’s own interest” by many.

As many as 17 pattern options were given to the Army, of which four were shortlisted. These were then made into garments so as to check the efficacy, and one pattern was finally selected by the Army chief which many alleged is a violation of the patent rights obtained by the Ordnance Clothing Factory (OCF) Avadi.

Issued on January 10, 2018 by the Ministry of Defence, the patent certificate reads, “Copyright in the design will subsist for 10 years from the date of registration, and may under the term of Act and rules be extended for a further period of five years”.

New Army uniform: NIFT tweaked pattern to bypass ordnance factory’s patent, firm got preferential treatment

NH had reported on January on 20 that despite having three dedicated facilities for the production of the Army uniform, the Modi government preferred NIFT and private manufacturers when it decided to change the battlefield uniform.

The move was opposed by ordnance factory unions and employees as well as by a few veterans. However, the veterans chose to remain silent on the issue.

When contacted, C Srikumar, general secretary, All India Defence Employees’ Federation (AIDEF) said, “By involving NIFT and JCT in designing and initial manufacturing, the government has not only undermined the legacy and patriotism of the ordnance factories’ employees but has paved the way for the privatization in the future”.

Slamming the Union government for giving preferential treatment to private players, Srikumar who has led an anti-privatization movement in the recent past, asked, “How can the government deprive its own employees of opportunities?”

“We have already brought the matter to the notice of the Defence Minister Rajnath Singh,” he said, adding, “In the name of cheap pricing and outsourcing, Army has gone to the private sector in the past also and burned its fingers as the private suppliers failed in quality and timely supply”.

Presently, there are 1600 employees working at OCF Avadi including about 750 women employees. Srikumar fears these employees may be rendered jobless after 2023-24 if the order is not given to them.

There are two other OCFs – one at Shahjahanpur and one at Hazratpur. Employees working at all three facilities expressed the same apprehensions regarding their future.

Notably, while the government has talked about the new features and specialties of the new combat dress at length, there was a studied silence over the alleged involvement of JCT.

Based in Phagwara, Punjab, JCT is one of the biggest textile companies in India. Founded in 1946, a year before India got independence, the company’s profile on its website claims, “JCT Limited, one of the leading manufacturers of textiles and filament yarn, is the flagship company of Thapar Group.”

“With operations in two distinct businesses – cotton, synthetic and blended textiles and nylon filament yarn – JCT Limited is a market driven company fueled by good work ethic, values and a high standard of performance,” it says.

When Coronavirus pandemic hit the country, sensing an opportunity, the JCT began producing PPE kits. Soon, it became among the top PPE kit producers in the country.

NH called at the corporate office of the company and contacted its admin chief for comments but did not get any response. JCT’s comments on the allegations will be incorporated in this report as and when they are received

Other firms are unhappy over the alleged “blatant favoritism since the beginning,” NH has learned.

One expert having a close watch on the textile industry, alleged, “JCT emerged as the blue-eyed firm in this sector.” The expert said proximity between the establishment and JCT can be gauged by the fact that Vivek Jaitley – a representative of JCT – was invited by the Army chief.

“We are today proud to announce that JCT fabric has been chosen for the Indian Army new design uniform. Feather on the cap of JCT is that we have been invited by the Chief of Army today at Army Parade ground. Vivek Jaitley attending the ceremony on behalf of JCT limited,” Jaitley posted on social media.

New Army uniform: NIFT tweaked pattern to bypass ordnance factory’s patent, firm got preferential treatment

“This is against the professional ethics which Indian Army is known for,” remarked Srikumar.

Notably, before changing the Army’s combat uniform, the Modi government had in 2018 changed the status of the uniform from “strategic items to non-strategic items”.

A letter issued by the MoD on 16 Jan 2018, catalogs “non-core items” including Army’s logo status has been changed in this financial year.

The letter, accessed by NH, shows that the government set a deadline to change the status of the items used by the Army in a phase-wise manner.

Ordnance factories’ employees allege that this is “an attempt to hand over the whole production to the private sector”.

While windcheaters, water-resistant bags etc, as per the list, will be excluded from the core category in 2022-23, Arctic tents have been put on the list for FY 2023-24. The letter also says that OFB can also take part in the bidding and obtain orders on a “competitive basis”.

New Army uniform: NIFT tweaked pattern to bypass ordnance factory’s patent, firm got preferential treatment

Srikumar, who had shot off a letter to the Master General Ordnance (MGO) on 26 October 2021, seeking participation of Avadi in “task/mission of development and creation of Camouflage design for the advanced combat uniform”, feels exclusion of the combat uniform from the “strategic-battlefield item” is just the beginning.

“In coming years, we will see how after public sector banks, airports, the Modi government has put Army and defence sector on sale,” he said.

The government has increased the limit of FDI from 49% in 2014 to 74% in 2020 in the defense sector.

Seeking a reply on concerns and apprehensions raised by the ordnance factories’ employees and involvement of JCT, NH sent a questionnaire to the Directorate of Public Relations (DPR), Ministry of Defence but no response was received till the time of publishing of this report. It will be updated as and when a response is received.

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