Will bulletproof jackets have Chinese connection?

New Delhi: As various government departments are preparing measures to reduce dependence on Chinese imports, eyes are now on the home ministry that is set to procure close to 50,000 bulletproof jackets — including some for the Indo Tibetan Border Force (ITBP) that is posted on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) and has been involved in a tussle that took place at Pangong Tso lake.

The defence ministry’s insistence on continuing with an order for 180,000 bulletproof jackets, even after it came to light that the vendor had switched the critical raw material supplier from western sources to Chinese companies last year, has led to a situation where other forces too could get similar products.

At least three tenders are coming up for submission this month — two for the ITBP and a larger order for the CRPF — for new bulletproof jackets that do not specify that Chinese material will not be allowed. As things stand, vendors responding to the tenders will have a free choice to import the main component of the jackets – High Performance Polyethylene (HPPE) – from China.

Industry sources told ET that a clarification is yet to come even as the deadline for submissions are only days away. Traditionally, such protection gear used by Indian armed forces would have raw material that was imported from western sources — a handful of companies in Europe and the US make HPPE. However, things changed with a ₹639 crore Indian Army order for new jackets in 2018, where the vendor that won the competition unilaterally changed the raw material supplier to a bunch of Chinese companies.

As first reported by ET in March 2019, a large chunk of the ₹639 crore paid by the Indian Army landed up with Chinese companies. It is believed that 40% of the jacket material, comprising fabric and boron carbide powder, are being imported from China.

During the selection process, the vendor presented jackets that contained raw material from western sources in Europe and the US but changed its suppliers after winning the contract. The Army allowed this change as the company said the change in vendors would make no difference to the product.

In a letter to the DG CRPF, the PHD Chamber of Commerce has urged the government to clarify on the matter, saying that a “very sizeable foreign exchange is diverted to Chinese companies” if the vendors import HPPE from China.

“In view of the aforesaid events with the Chinese Army, may we request you to kindly make a policy to reduce dependence on the Chinese materials substantially so that the security and safety of our fighting soldiers is not compromised in case the situation escalates,” the letter reads.

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