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Agra can sit atop the footwear pinnacle if the Centre puts the right foot forward

Time India’s hub replaces Guangdong as the footwear capital of the world

Agra can sit atop the footwear pinnacle if the Centre puts the right foot forward

As India, currently holding chairmanship of the coveted G-20, geats ready to host the powerful body's summit later this year, Agra sees a huge opportunity to become the footwear capital of the world replacing China's Guangdong. Those who closely watch the Indian footwear industry opine that given the fact that Agra will hosting a series of programmes related to the summit and delegates from major countries would be in town to especially visit Taj Mahal, they can also have a direct interaction with numerous stakeholders from the footwear industry.

It goes without saying that any discussion on Indian footwear industry will be incomplete without the topic revolving around Agra's remarkable expertise in the domain. Almost 40 per cent of Agra's population is involved with the booming footwear industry. Not surprisingly, the industry is pinning hopes on British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak. If one is wondering how he can take forward Agra's industry, then one should remember that Great Britain is a huge market for its footwear. Agra can cash in on Britain's economic recovery, particularly considering that Sunak will be attending the G-20 summit.

Apart from Agra, the other major footwear production hubs in the country are Chennai, Ranipet and Ambur (all in Tamil Nadu), Mumbai, Kanpur, Jalandhar, Delhi, Karnal, Ludhiana, Sonepat, Faridabad, Pune, Kolkata, Calicut and Ernakulum. About 1.10 million persons are engaged in the footwear manufacturing industry.

According to Chairman of Agra Footwear Manufacturers and Exporters Chamber (AFMEC), Puran Dawar, "Britain can perhaps come out of its economic depression under Sunak, which, in turn, could boost our industry."

Ravish Kumar, Director of Ruddaro International, the leading footwear export company of Agra for over 75 years, chips in, "Agra footwear currently attracts a duty of 4.5 per cent for entering Britain, which could be removed if India and UK come to a mutual trade pact."

Elaborating further, he adds, "The proposed Free Trade Agreement (FTA) will facilitate an easier trade between the two countries."

At present, the annual export to the UK from Agra is around Rs. 600 crore, which could shoot up to Rs. 1,000 crore, thanks to FTA. It must be remembered that the footwear sector is a very significant segment in India's overall leather industry; rather it is the engine of growth for the entire leather industry. India is the second largest producer of footwear after China, accounting for 13 per cent of global footwear production of 16 billion pairs. India produces 2065 million pairs of different categories (leather footwear - 909 million pairs, leather shoe uppers - 100 million pairs and non-leather footwear - 1056 million pairs). The country exports about 115 million pairs, which implies that nearly 95 per cent of its production caters to the domestic demand. Taken under any yardstick, the numbers are mindboggling.

Says Ravish Kumar, "Footwear exported from India are dress shoes, casuals, moccasins, sport shoes, horrachies, sandals, ballerinas, boots, sandals and chappals made of rubber, plastic and other materials. The Union government has permitted 100 per cent FDI through the automatic route for the footwear sector."

If Indian cities that are into footwear production have to grow further, then the onus is on the Centre and respective state governments to build world-class vocational institutes offering various undergraduate, post-graduate, diploma and certificate courses in footwear design, manufacturing, management and technology. For the records, the Agra-headquartered Central Footwear Training Institute (CFTI) tops when it comes to producing industry-ready professionals. A Central government undertaking, functioning under the aegis of the Ministry of MSME, CFTI is one of the oldest institutes in the genre. Since inception in 1963, it has been serving the cause of human resources for footwear and allied industry with long and short term courses and need-based training programmes at its campus in Sikandra. However, concerns are being expressed that it lacks quality faculty. In the circumstances, it is inevitable that efforts have to be made to ensure that the likes of CFTI boast of accomplished faculty.

There cannot be any doubts job creation is arguably one of the most important parameters to judge how successful a government has been in envisaging and implementing its economic policies. The micro, small and medium enterprises sector is one of the major employment generators across sectors, while footwear segment is no exception. Well, endowed with the potential that needs to be tapped, India can increase production and exports by times in the near future. About 7,000 small industries units are connected with the footwear sector, which holds great significance to the economy and foreign exchange earnings. Nearly 40 per cent employed in the sector are women and for every 1000 pairs that are produced and sold, 425 jobs are secured.

The stakeholders adopt a quality control order so that imports could be limited and good-quality exports may be achieved. Strong global branding through road shows, e-platforms and global JVs will help the sector leave its footprints on the international market.

While prospects for India's leather industry have been bolstered by a gradual decline in production in the western European countries, Indian has to go in for substantial capacity enhancement in order to seize the opportunity that waits on a platter. Amid this optimism it is rather unfortunate that India's export share is just around two to three per cent. It has to be increased to greater levels and that can be achieved to a significant extent by Agra's footwear industry. The G-20 summit can mark the springboard.

(The author is Delhi-based senior journalist and writer. He is author of Gandhi's Delhi which has brought to the forth many hidden facts about Mahatma Gandhi)

Vivek Shukla
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