CLPL kicks off breakthrough project with anti-mine shoes

By Suresh Perera
As the first shoe factory established at Mattakkuliya by the British in 1942 to make boots and accessories for British troops, Ceylon Leather Products Limited (CLPL) has broken new ground in its 61-year history to emerge as the only local manufacturer of highly-specialised anti-mine shoes for the Sri Lankan armed forces and foreign Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) involved in de-mining operations in the North-East.

Acclaimed as a major breakthrough, designing and developing anti-mine shoes for the first time in Sri Lanka, has revolutionised this challenging sphere. And for CLPL, the local company behind the feat, the singular honour translates into an accomplishment measured in terms of its contribution towards a delicate process to save innocent civilian lives exposed to vast extents of deadly minefields.

Priced at Rs. 2,500 per pair, CLPL supplies 500 pairs of de-mining shoes per month to the military and to NGOs. The imported equivalent costs Rs. 10,000 per pair.

"An anti-mine shoe is akin to a mini armoured car for personnel engaged in de-mining", says Sisira K. Perera, the company’s General Manager, Human Resources Development and Production.

CLPL, the successor to the former state-owned Leather Products Corporation, was acquired by S. A. Perera & Co. Ltd., following its privatization in 1991. The company manufactures DI shoes and a range of top quality leather products.

Explaining the production process, Perera said the rubber sole of the anti-mine shoes can withstand a pressure of 3500 Pounds per Square Inch (PSI) caused by the explosion of an anti-personnel blast type mine. Each shoe contains two V shaped steel plates and a flat one on top. The V shaped steel plate on the sole deflects the pressure of the explosion.

After the rubber compound is made and moulded, the steel plates are rubberised before to metal bonding is done. There is an air gap between the two V shaped steel plates. The bottom of the shoe is flat and stable for the user to walk easily and comfortably. Each pair of mine shoes weigh less than 5 kilograms (each shoe weighing approximately two and a half kilos) and they are worn over the user’s combat boots, he explained.

Perera recalled with gratitude the technical assistance extended by Maj. Gen. Ananda Suriyabandara (Retd.) of the Electrical and Mechanical Engineering Corps of the Sri Lanka Army to develop the anti-mine shoes.

In the event of a de-miner accidentally stepping on an anti-personnel mine or a ‘Johnny batta’, a crude version churned out by the LTTE, the impact of the blast hurls him, but his feet escapes injury.

"Even the Indian de-miners working for the Milinda Moragoda Institute purchase their requirements from us as we are the only local supplier specialised in this sphere", said Reggie N. Jayasena, CLPL’s Marketing Manager.

He said that foreign organisations including the Danish Demining Group and the Swiss Foundation for Mine Action handling de-mining activities in Sri Lanka procure their requirements entirely from CLPL.

Manufacturing de-mining shoes is time-consuming as it is a highly-specialised and technically-advanced job, Jayasena observed.

In addition to anti-mine shoes, and extra protection steel toe cap shoes for the navy, the company also manufactures shoes, boots and belts for the police and armed forces and specially designed safety shoes for the industrial sector, Perera noted.

With growing emphasis on industrial safety, there is a big demand for CLPL’s safety shoes and some of the top companies, including Shell Gas, Colombo Dockyard, DIMO, Toyota Lanka and Petroleum are among the major buyers, he said.

"The steel toe cap shoes are so sturdy that they can stand the weight of a double-decker bus. The steel toe caps are imported from Holland", he added.

CLPL has the biggest tannery in Sri Lanka which was established in 1970.

"We export leather products to Italy, Japan, Korea and Hong Kong among other countries", the company’s Chief Executive Officer, Vasantha Gomez said.

He said that DI will be unveiling a new range of ladies’ and children’s footwear in the near future as part of a vigorous campaign to boost local sales.

He said DI products are more upmarket because genuine leather is used, but sales are improving despite the price difference.

"CLPL is the only company in Sri Lanka which has the competency to manufacture leather", Gomez said.