Sunday, 29 November 2015

Pragati Maidan available for Defexpo, says ITPO

Discontent grows at MoD plan to shift Defexpo and Aero India to Goa

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 29th Nov 15

As opposition mounts in Goa to Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar’s plan to shift India’s two biggest defence exhibitions --- Defexpo and Aero India --- to that state, it now emerges the controversial decision to move to Goa is based on a flawed premise.

The defence ministry had said Defexpo 2016 was shifting to Goa because the Indian Trade Promotion Organisation (ITPO) would be renovating Pragati Maidan next February, when the Defexpo was scheduled.

Yet, ITPO officials contacted by Business Standard confirm that Pragati Maidan would be available in February, if the defence ministry reconsiders its plan to shift.

“We are keen that the defence ministry holds Defexpo in Pragati Maidan, rather than Goa. It is our most prestigious exhibition, and our grounds and facilities will be available to them as usual,” says RP Dhusia, Deputy General Manager (Civil), ITPO.

Besides its prestige, Defexpo is also ITPO’s biggest revenue earner. Meenakshi Singh, who handles marketing for ITPO, said Defexpo 2014 earned Rs 13 crore for ITPO, more than 10 per cent of its annual revenue of Rs 125 crore.

Dhusia says ITPO has had long-standing plans to renovate Pragati Maidan, which the defence ministry is aware of. However, no work is imminent since the government has never accorded financial sanctions.

While the defence ministry has cited renovation of Pragati Maidan as the reason to move Defexpo to Goa, no rationale has been offered for also shifting Aero India --- which was held in Bengaluru on odd years, while Delhi hosts Defexpo on even years.

The decision to shift Aero India has stirred up a hornet’s nest in Goa, with civil society bodies alleging that this was part of a major land scam. They have credibly argued that the need for a new runway for Aero India would trigger further land acquisition.

Business Standard has reported (November 23, “Land acquisition cloud on Manohar Parrikar”) that Goa NGOs like United Goans Foundation (UGF) have launched a popular movement to block the state government’s transfer to the defence ministry of 150 acres that Panjim had earlier acquired from the Naqueri-Betul panchayat for the Goa Industrial Development Corporation (GIDC), citing the need for job creation.

Goan suspicions are further inflamed by contradictory statements from Chief Minister Laxmikant Parsekar, who is widely regarded as a political placeholder, who allows his predecessor, Manohar Parrikar, to pull the strings from backstage.

Goa newspaper, Herald, quoted Parsekar as promising that the defence ministry would only use the land only temporarily, for the duration of Defexpo and Aero India. However, documents obtained by the Naqueri-Betul panchayat through the Right to Information (RTI) act, suggest Parsekar was not being truthful.

The documents, which Business Standard possesses, include a personal letter from Parrikar to Parsekar dated June 12, asking for “allotment of about 150 acres of land on the coastline which can accommodate 10,000 Ft (feet) Runway along the coast so that a permanent venue for conduct of Aero Show and Defexpo can be set up (sic).”

The GIDC noting sheet on which Parrikar’s request was quickly granted, explicitly sanctions “a permanent venue for conduct of Aero Show and Defexpo…”

In an editorial, Herald has lamented, “(J)ust one letter by the Defence Minister asking for land… was treated not as a request but an order by the Parsekar government.”

In addition to the discontent in Goa and the ITPO, arms corporations planning to exhibit in Defexpo complain bitterly about the ad hoc decision-making. “It takes a year of planning and crores of rupees to participate in a major exhibition. First it was decided to move Defexpo from Delhi to Goa. Then, because making Goa ready would take time, it was postponed from February 17-20 to March-end.”

Pragati Maidan, a 123-acre complex in the heart of Delhi with more than 61,290 square feet of covered exhibition area in 16 display halls and 10,000 square metres of open display area, offers a far better option say international exhibitors than the empty land in Goa, on which the DEO plans to set up a tented show.

The defence ministry did not respond to Business Standard’s written request for comments.

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