Clothing the roads
Though India is one of the leading textile producing countries in the world, its presence in technical textiles is negligible. So far the contribution of the Indian textile industry towards technical textiles is restricted to a few low technology and less sophisticated items like tarpaulin, industrial filter cloth, bolting cloth, textiles for luggage, beltings and others. India also has presence in manufacturing of textiles for strategic applications for national security like parachutes and other defence textiles, textiles for space and missile applications. There are various reasons for our backwardness in this category of textile.
There is no regulatory legislation for mandatory use of technical textiles like fire retardant fabrics in high-rise buildings, public places like exhibitions and cinema halls.
A few years ago fire broke out in a cinema hall in Delhi causing death and loss of life. The use of technical textiles in such buildings, say in seats, can prevent such loss. Similarly, there is no environmental legislation for the use of geotextiles and geomembrances in waste containment for hazardous wastes, as well as for industrial and municipal effluent treatment facilities. In the western world technical developments are well supported by regulatory framework, thus making the usage of such products mandatory.
Technical textiles and marketing aspects thereof were highly complex. Indian entrepreneurs in textiles had so far not faced this complex situation and, therefore, might have apprehensions about success in such ventures. This may be another reason for slow growth for this sector in the country.
Some of the raw materials, machinery and equipment required for manufacturing technical textiles are locally available, most of them have to be imported and, therefore, requiring huge capital towards project cost. High performance fibres like polybutydene terephthalate (PBT), polybenzinidozole (PBI), aramid, polytetrafluoro ethylene (PTFE) and basalt have to be imported.
Technical textiles being at an evolving stage in India, generation of world class technology for product development and establishing specific global markets, with adequate volumes, required huge working capital for a minimum period of five years, before entrepreneurs could expect fruits of high value-addition, usually associated with technical textiles. Besides, market development would require sustained promotional efforts, which needed substantial investment as well as lead-time. Thus, only entrepreneurs with deep pockets can think of venturing into this virgin business.
To develop and use technical textiles like geotextiles, geosynthetics on constructional activities like roads, highways, governmental agencies like PWD, CPWD, MES, Surface Transport Ministry had not yet evaluated and introduced such efficient and cheaper material in the country, unlike developed countries, leading to lack of demand.
|Unlike conventional textiles used traditionally for clothing or furnishing fabrics, technical textiles may be used by various industries in high-tech and high-performance applications. Technical textiles are nothing but textiles which are used for non-wearable and non-household applications. Technical textiles are value-added products, which are defined as textile materials and products manufactured primarily for their technical performance and functional properties, rather than their aesthetic or decorative characteristics.
Geotextiles, automotive textiles, agro-textiles, medical textiles, protective textiles, sports textiles are the examples of technical textiles. User industries cover wide range of fields like agriculture, automobile, aviation, chemical, civil engineering construction, medical, environmental protection, packaging, printing and many more. As a result, technical textiles have been replacing conventional materials used in above areas with low cost, better efficacy and many added feature, which was not possible earlier.
Today, value-added technical textiles account for more than 40 per cent of total textile manufacturing activities of many developed countries. Asia is fast becoming the powerhouse, both of production and end-use consumption, for technical textiles. According to Arvind Poddar, President, the Federation of All India Textile Manufacturers Association, "The world trade in technical textiles is over $50 billion per annum and it is growing at an accelerated pace. India has almost no presence in this segment. It is therefore, necessary to undertake aggressive efforts to popularise technical textiles in our country".
Sanjeev Rungta, Director, Zenith Fibres Ltd, says, "In almost all the developed countries, the use of geotextiles is virtually mandatory in the construction of roads, bridges, laying of railway tracks and canals, while in India we have not initiated this modern method to avoid development of faults in all these areas due to soil erosion." As a result, entrepreneurs have an uphill task of introducing technical textiles to the end-users in the Indian market.
There is large scope for using geotextiles in road construction. Geotextile is used for various purposes and one of them is separation. The subsoil and concrete have to be separated so that water percolates and it does not damage the upper layer. Other is filtration, whatever water is there it is filtered out and thirdly to strengthening the road.
According to Dr. M.K. Bardhan, Director, Sasmira, "All roads can use geotextiles and if geotextiles are used the life of the road increases by 2-3 times." He adds that western countries and Japan extensively use (geotextiles). But in India there is resistance to change, they are not sure what is the technology involved, how to use it and how to get the maximum out of it.
The use of geotextiles in roads and construction does not increase the cost substantially, it may go up by just 2-3 per cent. At the same time life of the road is almost doubled while maintenance cost brought down substantially.
But the awareness about geotextiles in construction is increasing. In most of the flyovers constructed in Mumbai geotextiles have been extensively used. Geotextile is also used in Konkan Railway's tunnels and even the gorges where the railway passes through use geotextiles. In many cases, geotextiles are used to avoid chances of landslides. In many places jute based geotextile can be used where land stabilisation will take place by vegetation and jute by itself will be neutralized with the environment.
The awareness is coming though slowly. However, government support by way of regulatory framework, tax incentives and provision of funds out of Textile Upgradation Fund may go a long way in promoting this industry. India already has a strong textile base and it may not take much time to make her presence felt in technical textile in the international market.
[2 May 2005]