The government of Gujarat — the power base of new Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi — pressured the plastics industry to move its Plastindia show from its longtime home in New Delhi to Gujarat.
That accusation is contained in lawsuits filed by three exhibitors angry at the organizers' decision to move the event, just a few months before its February opening, to a new trade fair complex that workers are still racing to finish — and that some believe won't be ready in time.
“There was tremendous pressure from [the] Government of Gujarat on the Managing Committee of Plastindia Foundation for shifting the venue of Plastindia, 2015, from Pragati Maidan, New Delhi, to Gandhinagar, Gujarat,” one of the lawsuits said.
The government pressure, the lawsuits allege, benefits a prominent trade show management company in Gujarat, K&D Communication Ltd., by bringing Plastindia to an exhibition center that K&D is building in the city of Gandhinagar.
The president of the Plastindia Foundation, Subhash Kadakia, however, disputes the allegations that there was government pressure influencing PIF's decision.
Kadakia defended PIF's decision, saying that the new exhibition grounds will be much more modern than the 30-year-old fairgrounds in Delhi, which he said lacks proper power connections and other infrastructure.
“You cannot call it pressure,” said Kadakia, who also is managing director of Kadakia Plastics & Chemicals Pvt. Ltd. in Mumbai. He characterized the conversations with government officials as “giving feedback to us. They requested to us, ‘Why don't you come and take a look [at Gandhinagar]?'”
There's another wrinkle in an already convoluted case: PIF put out a statement Dec. 5 saying that the Indian government has decided to close Pragati Maidan for renovations for three years.
While that would seem to render the lawsuits a moot point — eliminating any chance of keeping the 2015 show in Delhi – some executives supporting the lawsuits were suspicious of the timing.
The suits have been brought by three companies based in and around New Delhi – Aerodry Plastics Automation Pvt. Ltd.; Hitco Electricals Pvt. Ltd. and Adroit Control Engineers Pvt. Ltd.
They want the court to order the Mumbai-based PIF to keep the show in New Delhi for its 2015 edition, slated to run from Feb. 5-10.
A Dec. 11 hearing has been set in the High Court in Delhi. One lawsuit filed by the companies, a so-called writ petition, has already been withdrawn, on what they argued was procedural grounds and some PIF officials said was a vindication for them.
While there's no specific proof of government arm-twisting, the lawsuits imply that Gujarat government leaders took advantage of the aftermath of elections in May that propelled Narendra Modi from head of Gujarat's state government to prime minister of India. It was a major changing of the guard in India politics.
The lawsuits allege, for example, that senior officials in India's Ministry of Commerce organized a meeting Sept. 5 in Delhi, bringing in top PIF leaders and Gujarati state government officials, to talk about moving the show.
In that meeting, Kadakia said government officials disclosed they were considering closing the Delhi fairgrounds for renovations, a plan India's government has been discussing for several years.
That was followed by a second meeting, on Sept. 10 in Gujarat, where PIF officials met with Saurabh Patel, a senior government minister in Gujarat, to again discuss relocation.
Three days later, on Sept. 13, the PIF board voted to move the show, the lawsuits allege.
While PIF said it made that decision without government pressure, one letter written in mid-September by one of PIF's international partners suggests the opposite — that PIF was feeling the heat from politicians.
Germany's Messe Düsseldorf, which organizes the world's largest plastics show, the K Fair, wrote a letter to PIF Sept. 15, after PIF leaders earlier that day had called them to discuss their Gujarat plans.
That letter, which has previously been leaked to Plastics News, said it was a “big surprise” for Messe Düsseldorf to hear of the shift to Gujarat and appeared to express some sympathy with PIF, saying that “we do understand there must be tremendous pressure from the Government of Gujarat.”
The lawsuits say the change of venue was also a big surprise for India's plastics sector. They point to July articles in PIF's magazine circulated to the industry, where officials talked glowingly of the “great enthusiasm” for work being done to prepare for the 2015 show at New Delhi's Pragati Maidan Fairgrounds.
They said there's significant opposition to the last-minute move.
The lawsuits allege breach of contract, and say companies will have significantly reduced business opportunities and higher costs if the show moves at this late date to the Gujarat fairgrounds, known as the Mahatma Mandir Exhibition Centre in Gandhinagar, outside Ahmedabad.
Ahmedabad and Gandhinagar have only three five-star hotels, while Delhi has more than 150, they argue. The new fairgrounds are still under construction and the lawsuits question whether power, water and other infrastructure can be completed in time.
“The new venue at Gandhinagar, Gujarat, is not ready for such a vast and big show like Plastindia,” the suit said. “It is general knowledge of the professionals in the exhibition industry that a successful international exhibition would need to be prepared properly 18 months or more in advance.”
The new venue is being built by K&D Communication, an Ahmedabad-based exhibition management company that is a partner with the government of Gujarat in organizing the Vibrant Gujarat 2015 trade fair.
K&D also had been organizing its own plastics exhibition in Gandhinagar, which was originally scheduled for six days from Jan. 29 to Feb. 3, essentially competing with the six-day Plastindia.
According to the website for that exhibition, which was called India Plast, it has been postponed until 2016.
One of the lawsuits alleges that K&D Managing Director Kamlesh Gohil was invited by the Gujarat government to attend the Sept. 10 meeting to discuss moving Plastindia.
Kadakia said Plastindia will be held at the exhibition grounds that K&D is building.
“K&D is building the most modern, convenient & state-of-the-art exhibition center with an area of 102,000 square meters spread over 45 acres,” the company said in marketing materials, calling it “India's largest exhibition center” with 15 exhibition halls.
K&D's website does not mention Plastindia but says it's involved in helping to organize and market four other plastics shows next year, in Kenya, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Vietnam.
For his part, Kadakia disputed that there would be reduced business opportunities in a Gujarat location.
PIF officials argue that 60 percent of India's plastics industry is based in Gujarat, and the state has a reputation for being business.
“If you want to give some excitement to the people, you can tell them that Plastindia 2015 is fully booked,” he said. “If some people are not happy, why are so many people booking space?”
Plastindia's video walkthrough of the new exhibition site.