In Conversation With LC GOYAL Chairman And MD, India Trade Promotion Organisation

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The redevelopment of Pragati Maidan is a project of national importance and envisages setting up of a world class iconic state of the art International Exhibition and Convention Centre (IECC) with latest modern architectural design.

According to the direction of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in December 2015, a comprehensive revamp plan of Pragati Maidan – called the Integrated Exhibition-cum-Convention Centre (IECC) project – was conceptualised by the India Trade Promotion Organisation (ITPO). The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs approved it in January 2017 for implementation in a mission mode. The scale and size of the IECC project – with an estimated cost of Rs 2,698 crore – is enormous. It has a total built-up area of 4.2 million sq. ft, comprising an iconic, world-class convention centre that can accommodate 7,000 people in a single format, six modern exhibition halls with an exhibition area of 1.5 lakh sqm and plenty of underground parking facilities and good infrastructure connectivity to encourage use of public transportation, but also allow roads to decongest fast.

The exhibition and convention centre is located 18 km from the international airport and only 2.5 km from the main business area of Connaught Place. The redevelopment of the 50-year-old exhibition centre, Pragati Maidan Complex, is about to finish. Even though the old complex was India’s leading exhibition centre, the introduction of the new and modern world class Integrated-Exhibition-cum-Convention-Centre, IECC, will make it even better. The plan also envisages monetisation of 3.70 acres of land at Pragati Maidan by allowing a third party to set up a 5-star hotel.

The convention centre is the masterpiece of the project. It will be a 36.4-m-tall structure on a raised platform with elliptical façade, modern architecture and unique artworks with inspiration from Parliament House and Rashtrapati Bhawan, with a huge front plaza that, inter alia, includes a 7,000-sqm water body with a laser musical fountain It also includes a comprehensive traffic decongestion plan including an underground tunnel passing through Pragati Maidan, and making Mathura Road signal free, with a basement parking facilities for 4800 vehicles.

On the occasion of his renewed term extension, Exhibition Showcase spoke to Mr. L. C. Goyal, CMD of ITPO. Mr. Goyal has been at the helm of affairs since the beginning of this mammoth project.

L. C. Goyal is a member of the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) belonging to 1979 batch, Kerala cadre and presently Chairman and Managing Director (CMD) of India Trade Promotion Organization, a miniratna Public sector undertaking (PSU). In his long career, he has held many key senior management positions at the Center as well in the Government of Kerala. Speaking to Exhibition Showcase, Mr. LC Goyal said, “I remain committed to making the new Pragati Maidan as a benchmark for exhibitions and conventions in Asia. We have already started physical exhibitions in four newly built exhibition halls. Pragati Maidan 2.0 will be a world class venue & the entire project is expected to be completed by August 2022. I am willing to extend all my support to the industry to come out of the Covid induced current difficult situation. In an exclusive interview, he spoke in detail on the latest developments of the revamp of Pragati Maidan in its 2.0 avatar.

ES. Many congratulations on your extension as the CMD of ITPO. What would be your key priorities in the coming one year?

LC Goyal. First priority is to complete this entire project within the stipulated time. Certain segments of the project like 4 exhibition halls and entire traffic component of the project are ready for a formal launch within 3-4 months. However, the entire IECC project is now scheduled to be completed by August 2022. Another priority is to make sure that our industry comes out of these stressful conditions and reboots itself in terms of physical events, exhibitions and conventions

ES. What are the latest developments of the revamp of PragatiMaidan? Please share the timeline of construction.

LC Goyal. Four exhibition halls comprising exhibition area of 50000sq. mts. are ready and we have applied for various mandatory completion certificates. Another component is traffic decongestion plan. This unique initiative, first-of-its-kind, would go a long way in ensuring comprehensive traffic solutions to decongest traffic in and around Pragati Maidan and also providing huge relief to the general public. The site will have 6 underpasses and a main tunnel for smooth movement of traffic in the region. Serving as the focal point of this traffic intervention is a 1.1 km tunnel, which will run across Pragati Maidan, starting from Purana Qila Road up to Ring Road. One of the biggest beneficiaries of this six-lane tunnel will be the Mathura Road, which is dotted with frequent traffic signals. It will also reduce significantly the vehicular pollution levels in this area. The Pragati Maidan tunnel and four underpasses near Delhi Public School, Mathura Road, Kaka Nagar and Bhairon Marg are likely to be opened by November, 2021.

The tunnel is passing beneath seven relevant tracks, so it required a lot of coordination with different departments like Railways etc. The work on traffic management in and around the place has been going on simultaneously with the project. Main tunnel is 95% complete, four underpasses are 99% complete and other two will be completed in another few weeks. This intervention was absolutely necessary. But for this intervention in terms of traffic decongestion, the IECC project would not have made much sense. And right in the beginning, I had asserted this. The above-mentioned components are ready to be launched in three-four months. The rest of the project is to be completed by August 2022. The third leg of this complex will be building of a 5- star Hotel which has been delayed due to the pandemic. Hopefully, it will come up in another 5-6 years.

ES. Earlier Pragati Maidan was known for trade fairs and exhibitions, but now with PragatiMaidan 2.0 coming up, can we say that it will become a MICE hub?

LC Goyal. The redevelopment of Pragati Maidan as a modern, up-to- date centre for holding global conferences and exhibitions, will include creation of a modern Convention Centre with a seating capacity of 7,000 persons. The convention centre will include 26 meeting rooms of different seating capacities, special areas for high-level and international dignitaries. Convention Centre is the master-piece of the entire project. It has a grand architectural design with beautiful columns. It has unique Indian artworks. It’s going to be unique in terms of both internal and external facade. The convention centre is to be serviced by entry and exit points from Mathura Road, Purana Quila Road and Bhagwan Das Road. There are huge convention facilities. Mega conferences, both domestic and international, will be held there. Pragati Maidan 2.0 will be not only be known as an exhibition venue, but also as a landmark. Pragati Maidan 2.0 will be a world class MICE complex.

ES. You have built the project brick-by-brick. You were dealing with so many different agencies regarding this project. What were some major challenges that came your way?

LC Goyal. This has been a difficult journey indeed – full of challenges and hurdles given its sensitive location But the challenges have made the journey very exciting too. The main challenges included getting vacated the pavilions occupied by state governments and central ministries, demolition of the Hall of Nations and the Nehru Pavilion, seeking statutory clearances, defending as many as 14 cases (including those at the National Green Tribunal) against the project, resolving intricate issues relating to shifting of utilities by multiple agencies, finding funds for the traffic decongestion component, handling procedural delays in securing approvals for the project as well as for monetisation of land for the hotel.

The timelines for the IECC project and traffic decongestion interventions have undergone revisions, mainly due to unanticipated factors such as long construction bans in the NCR due to poor air quality in the winters of 2018-19 and 2019- 20, followed by the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. But all issues have been handled successfully. In the next few months, shape of the project will be more pronounced. It will be a historic day when this entire project will be launched.

ES. Due to pandemic and challenges, has the budget estimation also gone up?

LC Goyal. No. This is an EPC project. It means design, engineering, procurement and construction. Being an EPC project, there is no cost escalation. Covid has only delayed the project. There is no cost escalation unless I have expanded the scope of the project, which I have done in some cases to meet the requirements of G-20 and that of exhibition industry.

ES. How competent has your team been during these times to help you to lead this project?

LC Goyal. The main interface with contractor/vendor is through the Project Management Consultant i.e. PMC. They only have invited bids, selected the vendor and made agreement with the vendor. The vendor interfaces with them. As far as ITPO’s role is concerned, I monitor the project every ten days along with the stakeholders and other agencies involved with the project. When I monitor and review the project, my team is with me. I prefer a small team and hands on approach. We have been able to closely monitor the project through a small engineering set in ITPO.

It is primarily PMC that is to make sure that the contract is followed, specifications and quality are maintained, formalities ensured, and no slippages are there in the completion timelines unless valid reasons are there. At my level, I do not take more than 48 hours to do what is required of me concerning this project. All the decisions are taken timely and effectively.

ES. Your project will have huge implications for the growth of Indian exhibition as well as convention industry. Do you plan to have a team to bid in foreign countries to attract conventions and major events in India and in PragatiMaidan?

LC Goyal. That is true. This project is a huge resource and should not go under- utilised. We have to strengthen our marketing strategies here. I have taken steps to strengthen my marketing division. We might look for outside expertise to help us guide in this complex process, both in India and abroad.

ES. ITPO comes under the Ministry of Commerce and MICE comes under Ministry of Tourism. Do you plan to have any synergy with Ministry of Tourism to charter the growth story ahead?

LC Goyal. There is no structured mechanism as of now. True, we need to work in synergy. There have been some proposals in this direction, which may be revived at the appropriate time.

ES. This project is going to add muscle to ITPO’s standing on the global stage. What implications do you foresee this project will have on the Indian exhibition industry?

LC Goyal. The revamped Pragati Maidan will be a unique landmark enriching the skyline of Capital city and an iconic symbol of new India. The exhibition and convention industry in India and globally is upbeat and excited about the upcoming state of-the-art complex. Over the years, it will be useful to evaluate the vital role the new Pragati Maidan would have played in the country’s economic progress and its growing stature as an emerging global superpower.

ES. This pandemic has brought a lot of strife to the industry. The organisers and service providers have been adversely affected. How does ITPO plan to support the industry in these tough times?

LC Goyal. ITPO has announced several relief measures for cancellation/re-schedulement of events due to the COVID-19 pandemic. I have done away with all the penalties. Organisers may reschedule events without any penalty being levied provided the request is conveyed to ITPO at least 15 days prior to the start of the tenancy. ITPO has always stood with industry in these difficult times and has issued a list of concessions/ relaxations to the event organisers during the financial year 2021-22. Last month also we have come up with more extensive concessions. We have given 20% discount till December end. We are there for the industry. Industry should come and tell me what they want. If industry is not capable to use this resource, then it is of no use. We have to work together and ensure that exhibition and convention industry comes out of this difficult time. Industry has the resilience and strength to bounce back. The idea is to make sure that events are held and more importantly, industry should come back to pre-Covid levels.