“These trials are planned to be progressed with 80,000 pairs and is scheduled to be undertaken from August this year in four army commands,” said an official

NEW DELHI: Having faced almost a decade of delays in meeting a crying need of its soldiers, the Indian Army is finally moving towards acquiring more reliable and better quality sports footwear to replace its vintage PT shoes, defence ministry officials said today. 

The defence ministry’s Directorate General of Quality Assurance (DGQA) has given Bulk Production Clearance to Liberty Shoes Limited in March this year for providing 80,000 pairs of its sports footwear for extensive field trials. 

“These trials are planned to be progressed with 80,000 pairs and is scheduled to be undertaken from August this year in four army commands,” said an official. 

These four commands- Southern, South Western, Western and Central- will receive 20,000 pairs each as part of the trials. Based on the outcome of the trials, the procurement of the new sports footwear will be undertaken by the army.

But, the progress to reaching this point has been very slow, despite the fact that army troops are using thin-soled canvas shoes that would often cause or risk injuries. Physical training is a very important aspect of military training and the shoes being worn by the soldiers would cause undue stress on the body, explained officials.

A case for replacing canvas shoes with improved sports footwear was first taken up by the army in 2009, said officials privy to the matter. “Five companies had responded to our request, but animal rights activists had objected to our demand of a wanting a shoe with a leather upper and instead asked us to have it synthetic. The order was nevertheless retracted,” said another official.

In 2011, the army again took up its case for better shoes with a fresh Request for Proposal. As part of the procurement process in such cases, the army asks companies for their products, does sample trials and sends it to its field formations. After the formations give the green signal, then sanction is taken from the MOD for more extensive field trials. But the approval from the MOD for the shoes came after five years.

“The approval was accorded by the MOD in 2015 for procurement of 1.7 lakh pairs of improved sports footwear for wider user trials, before procuring it for the complete Indian Army,” said an official.

In January last year, two firms- Standard Gram Udyog Sansthan and Liberty Shoes Limited- were selected for the wider user trials. Before these trials, the firms send their samples to the DGQA, which puts it through a battery of tests to determine whether the samples meet quality parameters. If they meet the parameters, the DGQA gives its clearance for a bulk order and based on this the wider field trials are held.

But there were delays here as well. “The supply of any product is preceded by clearance of the advance sample by the DGQA, based on which bulk production clearance (BPC) is accorded. The BPC in the instant case took considerable time on account of repeated quality failure of advance samples provided by the firms. The BPC has now been accorded to Liberty Shoes for 80,000 pairs. The second firm is yet to obtain the BPC,” explained an official.