Inevitably, timelines had to be redrawn, given the lockdown and uncertain workforce. But a determined effort to keep to its best possible recovery, CMD L C Goyal, who is a former Home Secretary in the Government of India, says the project is back on track. Halls are open for business as per the GOI November guidelines and SOPs. Destination India brings you the highlights of the recovery in progress, with exhibition business presently in complete disarray:

The redevelopment plan of Pragati Maidan complex was a landmark which you have carried out as a one man crusade. First, it was the NGT ban on construction and then the national lockdown! How have these two affected your time lines?

This is at a critical stage. I take great pride in driving this landmark project that involves 42 lakh sq. feet built up area comprising an iconic Convention Centre (53,399 sq. mtr.) with a 7000 pax seating in a single format, 6 modern exhibition Halls (1,51,687 sqm.), basement parking (1,68,305 sqm.) for 4800 ECUs and the attendant surrounding infrastructure.  I was very keen and asserted that comprehensive traffic decongestion interventions must be simultaneously taken up. Making Mathura Road signal free from W-point to DPS with altogether 6 underpasses and a tunnel road connectivity India Gate to Ring Road cutting across Mathura Road and Pragati Maidan was in itself a landmark for the city!  Normally, any such project adds to the traffic in the vicinity but this is the  first of its kind project that would ease traffic considerably in and around Pragati Maidan.  

Yes, the timelines for different segments of the project have been impacted by construction bans in view of the air quality in the winters of 2018-19 and 2019-20, among other factors.  The year 2019-20 has been particularly a bad year and the project has altogether lost 8 to 9 months of productive work.  This double whammy has caused a severe setback to the project.   

At what stage are we now, with regard to getting back in business, in terms of your – pavilions/halls, the conference halls, and the surrounding infrastructure within the complex and outside such as roads and underpasses.

The overall project is now scheduled to be completed by the end of October, 2021 with exhibition hall A6 going another 2-3 months beyond.  The Exhibition Hall A3-A5 complex with the surrounding infrastructure is likely to be action ready by the end of January 2021 with Exhibition Hall A1 and A2 to be delivered by June, 2021 and October, 2021 respectively. Every effort is being made to adhere to these timelines.  Fortunately, there has been no ban on construction so far during this winter season, otherwise that would have further pushed the timelines. 

How is your prestigious hotel project developing? What is the update on this in light of all the general delays.

I must concede that the hotel project has not taken off, essentially in view of the poor response from the market.  I was quite confident that the revised RFP issued by us in February this year would elicit adequate response but the expectation went awry in view of the Covid-19 situation and the heavy toll that the Covid-19 has taken on the hotel and hospitality industry. The hospitality industry will take at least 2-3 years to emerge out of this setback and look at any opportunities for brown-field or green-field projects. In this situation, I am thinking of fine-tuning our RFP further and going again to the market in a few months time.  The idea is to operationalise the hotel at Pragati Maidan as early as possible. 

When do we assume we will be action ready as Pragati Maidan 2.0? 

Pragati Maidan 2.0 will be completed in all respects and will be ready for use on or before March, 2022.  This I am stating keeping in view any further contingencies that might arise.

In view of the current COVID restrictions, this entire business of exhibitions is witnessing choppy waters. One cannot say exactly when the position will ease. However, is there any prediction you see going ahead – you are a former Home Secretary to the government, and have a keen ear to the ground – even if it is limited overs cricket to start with, when do you see some revenues coming back?

The pandemic Covid-19 has severely impacted the exhibition industry given its very nature and format like no other sector.  While the Covid restrictions have been eased within India and across the globe, the exhibition industry will take some more time to reboot itself and start holding events/exhibitions.  My own sense is that events will begin to be held from April, 2021 onwards and the position should significantly improve by the time we close 2021-22.  The government has already allowed B2B events to be held with an SoP from the month of November, 2020 onwards. I am hopeful that even B2C events would also be allowed a couple of months later.  We are ready to hold B2B events at Pragati Maidan with full compliance of the protocol/SOP, and have notified the same to the exhibition and convention industry. 

All this must have had a setback to your financial planning? How are you managing your finances and business back, overall?

As I said, the pandemic has taken a very heavy toll on the exhibition industry.  Pragati Maidan has been among the worst hit.  All events and exhibitions scheduled during the current fiscal and some even within the first few months of the next fiscal have all been cancelled or rescheduled. As a result, ITPO has lost heavily in terms of its revenues during the current year. This has compelled us to think seriously in terms of pruning our expenditure and incentivizing industry to hold events at Pragati Maidan at the earliest.  I am hopeful that the year 2021-22 would bring back the business, together with  the fanfare that goes along with it, to Pragati Maidan.