World-class facility created by handicrafts body EPCH holds a few lessons
India Expo Centre & Mart (IECM), Greater Noida—the new venue for auto expo, handicrafts fair and international conferences—offers an inclusive development model for India. This model shows world-class infrastructure and facilities can be created in India without wasting taxpayers money and through persuasion.
The seeds of India’s largest and world-class integrated exhibition centre were sown in 1996, by the Export Promotion Council for Handicrafts (EPCH) and the ministry of textiles.
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EPCH used to conduct international handicrafts fairs at Delhi’s Pragati Maidan. The intention was to draw buyers from around the world to India’s handicrafts. But there was a hitch. Pragati Maidan was more “sarkari” than business friendly. Ladies scurried back to their hotels to use wash rooms; they never came back to the Maidan.
Gentlemen rushed back to their hotels for snacking, and took the next flight out of India. EPCH realised that it needs an expo centre of international standards to attract foreign buyers.
It found the expo-cum-marts in Dallas and Atlanta as an ideal model. When the idea was “shared” with exporters, they were ready to invest, since they could have their own permanent marts at the expo. In the marts, they could stock samples and entertain foreign buyers. They can also take part in fairs for free. Foreign buyers would also find this convenient, as they could meet multiple sellers in the same complex.
Thus began the search for land in the national capital region. Delhi offered two acres in Dwarka and Gurgaon five acres, but Greater Noida offered 58 acres to clinch the deal. A special purpose vehicle was floated to develop the expo centre, with EPCH and the Greater Noida Industrial Development Authority (GNIDA) as shareholders. EPCH, being a non-profitable company, later divested its entire stake to its member exporters. The whole complex was set up for around R450 crore, and the central government’s contribution in this was a princely R12 crore.
The complex, spanning 17 lakh sq ft, has 900 marts and eight exhibition halls. Conceived as a B2B place, the complex fully wifi-enabled and air-conditioned, with 16 MW power backup, along with parking space for 4,000 cars.
The complex has become an attractive MICE (meetings, incentives, conferencing & exhibitions) destination. India now bids for international conferences on the strength this complex, and has snatched some meets from the developed countries. Note that before accepting a bid, international event organisers would often visit the place, check out hotels in the area, ride on the Metro, and drive around the locality and to the airport. Greater Noida’s golf course, Formula 1 track and closeness to Taj Mahal all add to the expo’s attraction.
The EPCH experiment holds several lessons. One, the government doesn’t have to spend in billions to make India world-class. In this case, exporters saw long-term value in the project and invested in it, though no returns could be expected in the short term.
Two, the whole project was executed through a process of extensive consultation with all stakeholders, especially the investing community.
Three, landholders can come together under a single institution—like GNIDA in this case—and become shareholders in a project.
Four, the project would not have come up so easily but for the organisational skills of a professional called Rakesh Kumar, executive director of EPCH and chairman of IECM. An unassuming and friendly person, Kumar is a much-liked soul at the expo centre. Imagine a snooty bureaucrat coordinating a project like this—which involves a ministry, land authority, some 1250 exporters, and (one assumes) vested interests of all hues. The lesson is, a ministry only has to present the idea and the big picture, persuasive professionals will take care of the rest.
Five, world-class facilities can succeed only if the eco-system is also world-class.
Six, and more important, IECM exporters basically sell products made by rural craftsmen. What better way for industry-rural interface and rural job creation than this?.Shouldn’t skills development efforts aim at imparting handicrafts skills to the rural populace to generate livelihood opportunities in their habitat than herding them into urban slums?