Resuming operations after 45 days of lockdown and desperately cash-strapped, the city’s garment factories are making Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs) for those at the frontline of the fight against coronavirus.
The factories that usually make shirts, casual wear, and other apparel said they are acceding to the demand for PPEs, as the country at large is struggling to contain the pandemic.
“It is a matter of survival. We have no option,” explained Rangaraj K S, head of HR and compliance at a garment manufacturer in the Peenya industrial area. He said factories are struggling without cash flow and must function with the residual labour force.
“Our workforce numbered over 3,000 before the lockdown,” Rangaraj said. “Since the relaxations to allow industrial production from April 23, we could bring back only 1,200 workers. The situation is dire. Workers depend on factory wages, but international orders have dried up.”
Srinivas Asranna, president of the Peenya Industrial Association, said garment factories in the area produce nearly 1.25 lakh PPEs of the 4.5 lakh manufactured in the country daily.
“We have about 300 garment factories in the industrial area,” Asranna said. “Before the lockdown, we did not have a single factory engaged in PPE manufacturing. Now, about 50% of the companies here do that. They are the primary source of the city’s contribution to the nationwide manufacturing figures.”
But Asranna felt PPE making will not be a permanent solution for the industry. “There needs to be innovation,” he added.
Rajeev Krishna, founder of ATechTron in Bommasandra, which has orders from the Central government for PPE manufacturing as per an April 24 notification, cautioned that increased manufacturing would result in a glut.
“The existing nationwide demand is two lakh kits, but we are producing in excess. The demand has come down sharply,” he said.
The cost of ASTM F 1670 (equivalent to ISO 16603 Class 5) PPE kits, which had initially been fixed at a price of Rs 725, has already dropped to between Rs 630 to Rs 400 per kit. Krishna said blocking exports has also exacerbated things.
While ASTM F 1670 PPE kits are design-standardised by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), a manufacturer pointed out that nearly 45 to 50% of kits made in the city are of lesser grade.
“They can only be used by people for general protection,” a manufacturer said. Rangaraj saw a silver lining in the cloud.
“Before the pandemic struck, India had virtually no manufacturing of N95 masks or PPE kits. Now, look at how things have changed,” he said.