IIP’s Saha: Lord of the Indian Packaging Ring

Prof N C Saha, director of the Indian Institute of Packaging is on the go. Rightfully so. As Saha says to Ramu Ramanathan, “I think awareness was missing in the country especially among the consumer and the manufacturer. This has changed. The retail concept has enabled a boom in the Indian packaging industry.”

07 Jan 2014 | By Ramu Ramanathan

Ramu Ramanathan (RR): Kudos sir. The ministry of commerce has sanctioned the Indian Institute of Packaging a sum of Rs 70 crore. How do you plan to utilise it?
N C Saha: Earlier the institution used to get a sum to the tune of Rs 8 to 10 crore in the Five Year Plan, but now with more perseverance and presentations to the government, we have been sanctioned Rs 70 crore in this Five Year Plan (2012–2017). This Rs 70 crore will be purely on the scheme basis. One scheme is the B Tech course. Infrastructure development, the establishment of the Bengaluru institute, the IPC, etc., will be the other schemes to be covered under the sanctioned fund.
RR: Is there a fear that a change in the government at the Centre in 2014, will be detrimental to IIP’s work...
N C Saha: Not really.  We are an educational institute that works for the industry. Even when there has been an economic slowdown, the packaging industry has not been affected. A major share of packaging is used for food products, which is about 65%, and the remaining 35% percent is for pharmaceuticals and cosmetics. Increase in population will mean increase in packaging, directly or indirectly. Today, packaging is the only sector which is growing at the rate of 13–15% and boasts of an annual turnover of $24.6 billion. So I think that the schemes that are cleared by the Planning Commission should not have any hurdles, whichever government is in power.
RR: Why is IIP answerable to the ministry of commerce and not the HRD ministry?
N C Saha: When the institution was started, the mandate was to promote the export markets. We are not just an institution under the ministry of Human Resource Development (HRD) but we also have a moral responsibility to promote the export markets. In the laboratory, we do have facilities for the testing of packages of dangerous goods. As per the international laws, we carry out tests of  packages of dangerous goods for export as per IMDG and ICAO regulation act and based on the performance, a test report and an UN certificate are issued. The UN certificate becomes mandatory for export. IIP acts as a facilitator for the export promotion. Under the ministry of commerce, there are more than 10 commodity boards which are responsible for promotion of exports. These commodity boards are spices board, tea board, APEDA (Agri exports) etc. I am the board member in few of the commodity boards where I need to recommend the innovative packaging option for export of goods. These commodity boards have got different export promotion schemes under which the exportable packages required to be tested in the laboratory of the Institute to assess their export worthiness. 
RR: China has a separate ministry dedicated to print–packaging. Why can’t India have an exclusive board for packaging exports?
N C Saha: As compared to other countries, the amount of exports we do for packaging materials and packaging machineries is not sufficient to allocate a separate ministry for packaging. Our share of exports of packaging materials and packaging machines as compared to the overall global exports is very small. Perhaps that’s the reason, the government has not thought of a separate body for export council for packaging. We do export a lot of  packaging materials and packaging machinery. However, India does export lot of fresh grapes in packaged form which are covered as Agri export. Similarly, the packaging machineries are being exported under the export of engineering goods. 
RR: Yet we see new opportunities arising, like that of meat exports and grape and mango exports; plus a domestic requirement for flowers? Will this boost packaging?
N C Saha: Speaking of meat exports, the quality of Indian flesh meat exports is growing considerably. Due to this fact, the Ministry of Food Processing, Government of India has formed a commodity board called as National Poultry and Meat Processing Board. Since this is an emerging sector, we thought that in our packaging conference in Delhi in January 2014, there should be a session dedicated to meat packaging. However, the export of fresh and processed meat is covered by APEDA. India exports meat to UAE and European countries. We are supporting APEDA through our research on the packaging by introducing modern packaging technology like Modified Atmosphere Packaging (MAP) to increase the shelf life of fresh meat. As far as the flower market is concerned, domestic sales have gone up as compared to the export sales. The Indian flower exporters are not getting a good price in the international market as consumption of flowers in India has gone up and hence the sales.
RR: Is IIP’s prime focus only on the export markets?
N C Saha: No. IIP has got two mandates. One is to promote the export markets and the other is to upgrade the standards of packaging at a national level. At IIP, our responsibility is to formulate packaging standards  at the national, as well as international level.
RR: Environmental activists claim plastics are harmful to the environment and should be banned. What is your view?
N C Saha: Some claim that, plastic clogs the drainage and is not recyclable. But when a metal container is thrown, it will also clog the drainage, but the point is metal packaging wastes are picked up by the rag pickers hence we don’t see the problem with metal. With plastics, the rag pickers refuse to pick it up because it has no-resale value. So my suggestion is, the responsibility of cleaning up plastic should be taken by the brand owners who are the last users of the packaging material. The brand owners should be responsible to collect the packaging solid waste material through NGOs and ensure that materials are recycled to develop other goods which may not be useful for packaging applications. 
RR: What is happening with the metal and flexible packaging industry in terms of growth?
N C Saha: Metal industry is not growing so much because of the cost. But there are many advantages associated with it, it is recyclable, it is the only packaging material where food can be preserved for a longer time. But nowadays people don’t want to store their food for a longer time because of eat and throw trend that has come up. Flexible industry is growing at a rate 25% on an average. The availability is an advantage and it can be tailor made according to the cost. Paper and corrugated boards are growing at a rate of 12%. This is because they cannot be supplemented and availability of wood is scarce.
RR: You took over as the director of IIP in 2009? How has the journey been?
N C Saha: When I took stock of the Institute’s situation to evaluate its progress since the inception 47 years ago, I realised that the Institute has not grown to its length and breadth. Considering, the packaging sector, which roughly has 23,000 packaging companies including converters and each company requires at least one technical person. With the infrastructural facilities available at IIP-Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata and Hyderabad (established in 2006) we weren’t able to provide enough number of technical persons to the industry. So there was a requirement of a two-year packaging course in other parts of the country besides Mumbai and Delhi. Hence, in 2010 we started the Post Graduate Diploma Programme in Packaging in Kolkata and in 2011 at Hyderabad.
RR: Since you have been at the helm, IIP has been active in Tier-II cities. Tell us about it.
N C Saha: Post the establishment of five branches, I realised that for an institution to run in the metro cities, it should have a professional look. We upgraded the classrooms and laboratories and had the institutes revamped. Secondly, what I felt was, being a part of the packaging industry and having 1,000 plus members; IIP has always grown in a captive manner. Though in the past the institute used to do a number of programmes under the MSME ministry, it wasn’t effective enough to spread awareness about the need for packaging. Out of the 24,000 packaging companies, 90% come under MSME and these are in the form of clusters in B- and C-classified cities. So with the assistance of the Ministry of Food Processing, we visited the smaller cities and organised several programmes. In 2010, we had our first programme in Guwahati and in Agartala. And in the subsequent year, we did a series of 15 successful programmes. By the end of 2012, we finished conducting programmes in almost every nook and corner of the country.
RR: What is the status of IIP’s Bengaluru centre?
N C Saha: The government of Karnataka approached us with a request to open a centre in Bengaluru and granted a four-acre plot at Sompura Industrial Estate. This will be the sixth centre for IIP and is expected to be operational by the end of 2015.
RR: Has IIP been forging partnerships with international packaging associations?
N C Saha: IIP is the founder member of the Asian Packaging Federation, which has participation from 13 Asian countries, and we are a member of World Packaging Organisation (WPO), which has 52 member countries. In 2010, with the assistance from WPO, IIP took the initiative of organising residential training programmes for overseas students; IIP being the first in the world to take such an initiative. For three consecutive years, from 2010 to 2012, WPO has sponsored our training programmes.
RR: What is the nature of these student exchange programmes?
N C Saha: The global packaging education initiative is sponsored by the WPO.  The 52 countries under the WPO recommend their students from the industry. The course is totally free of cost, but the candidate has to bear the travel, boarding and lodging cost. It is a 15-day programme, which includes theory lectures, practicals and project presentations based on the packaging industry.
RR: You also hold the office of secretary general of Asian Packaging Federation. What were the initiatives you undertook at APF?
N C Saha: With the APF, what I felt was that the Asian packaging organisations are not really beating the drum to promote packaging. I took the initiative and started a news magazine, the APF news bulletin, which was launched in 2010. The news bulletin highlights all the promotional activities undertaken by the member countries. Along with this, I organised residential training programmes in countries like Jakarta in Indonesia, Dhaka in Bangladesh and in India as well, all sponsored by APF, as a step towards packaging education. The ministry of external affairs has a scheme called Indo-African forum summit. So we started organising residential training programmes for the African continent. So far, we have completed four programmes.
RR: We have heard about IIP’s steps to promote research in packaging. What is the update on this front?
N C Saha: Earlier, the institute had only three departments: testing, training and consultancy services. So what I thought was, to be classified as an institute, research has to be the strength. So I introduced the R&D department, under which we currently have four projects in the pipeline all sponsored by the Government of India. As a part of research, under the Ministry of Food Processing Industry, we are conducting a research for Modified Atmospheric Packaging (MAP) of meat products to enhance the shelf life of meat in association with IIT-Bombay. The research projects also include upgradation of technical specifications for the packaging of fruits and vegetables and study on the packaging of egg powder. We are also involved in research on the mid-day meal scheme. Our focus is to understand how hygienically the food is being served and develop alternate package to facilitate waste management.
RR: What is IIP doing on the international front apart from IndiaPack?
N C Saha:  In 2011, IIP opened up an India pavilion with the funding of the Indian government for the Indian exhibitors at the InterPack exhibition in Dusseldorf, Germany. In InterPack 2014, there will be an India pavilion in two different halls of 468 sq/m area, one for Indian packaging machinery manufacturers and the other for Indian packaging materials manufacturers.
RR: You had mentioned about IIP’s vision document. Please elaborate.
N C Saha:  As I said earlier, 90% of the industries are small scale industries and there are no national trade bodies like to nurture these industries to understand the global screnario or to facilitate in mergers and acquisitions by global players. So IIP has proposed to the government to open up a new department – International Packaging Centre (IPC) – that will assist the MSMEs to collaborate with overseas packaging industries and associations. IIP will act as a catalyst and create a platform between these two. There are many packaging organisations scattered in the corners of the globe, like ISTA (International Safe Transit Association), IAPRI (International Association of Packaging Research Institute). Within IPC, we  will have a kiosk of these international organisations and create connectivity amongst the global packaging organisations.
RR: What about a degree course in packaging?
N C Saha:  The second proposal is that, in the entire Asia-Pacific region there is no degree course in packaging and packaging is being considered as a supplementary course in the current education scenario. So IIP has submitted a proposal to the government to start a BTech in packaging and management course. As you know, for the past 30 years, IIP has been conducting the PGD (post graduate diploma) in packaging. This course is neither recognised by  any University nor AICTE; it is completely a vocational course. But it is very much accepted by the industry and all the students are placed in FMCG companies in India and abroad. With the BTech course, the research-oriented students can avoid going to US or UK for their master’s degree and Ph.D. Our main agenda is to transform the institution into a deemed university, which will make a revolution in the country for packaging education. The course is expected to start by 2016.

RR: The IIP alumni has a formidable presence among students…
N C Saha:  IIP alumni was officially formalised as a body in 2002. After 2010, to open up the alumni presence, we conducted a democratic voting system wherein the students elect an alumni president. Now we have presidents of IIP Alumni at different chapters who volunteer during each IIP event and participate, and are considered to be the ambassador of the Institute. At times, the senior alumni members also conduct guest lectures for the students. I being the chairman of the IIP Alumni association advice them for their active participation in the Institute’s activities.
RR: Do you find the print-packaging industry becoming younger?
N C Saha: What I see in the industry is, majority of the industry owners are from the second or third generations, and when it comes to third generation, as a young entrepreneur, they look for young talent.
RR: What are you envisaging about the growth of the packaging industry in India in the next 10 years?
N C Saha:  If the government is stable, then the packaging industry in India has a high growth potential. According to a McKinsey report, the middle-class population in India is bound to grow by 10 times. Since the maximum consumption of food products is by the middle class and hence there will be a definite increase of packaging market. 
(Anand Srinivasan and Rushikesh Aravkar co-ordinated and conceptualised this interview and photo shoot)

Five things about Saha

When not working: He listens to classical music.Especially Bhimsen Joshi and Kishori Amonkar.
Likes: Classical dance and paintings. His cabin is adorned by the modernist work created by his daughter.

Favourite destination: Goa and Bali.
Message for the industry: Emphasise quality and keep doing innovations.
Mantra in life: One should always think positive. One thing I hate listening to is “not possible”.

Saha’s Achievements
Holding the position of director and principal executive officer of Indian Institute of Packaging.
Holds the position of secretary general of Asian Packaging Federation (APF).
Board member of World Packaging Organisation (WPO).
Chairman of nine sectional committees of Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) for the formulation of national standards on packaging.
Member of different commities under Government of India like APEDA, spices board, MPEDA, GST, Indian Centre for Plastics and Environment, MOFPI, Ministry of Forest and Environments, Weights and Measures Act, National Horticultural Board etc.
Graduate in Agricultural Engineering and post graduate in food technology from CFTRI, Mysore.
Advance course in packaging technology from school of packaging, Michigan State University, USA.
Management programme from University of Tehran, Iran.
Awarded PhD degree in business administration. 
Two years industrial experience and 26 years experience in packaging at Indian Institute of Packaging
Published more than 250 articles on packaging in different national and international magazines.
He is the editor of bi-monthly magazine, Packaging India.
He has made more than 500 presentations in India and abroad in many national and international conferences. 
Published books on “food packaging” for the Indira Gandhi National Open University, IGNOU.
He has also worked as “domain expert” under mission reach project implemented by TIFAC, Ministry of Science and Technology, Government of India.
Factfile of  the Indian packaging industry
India is the fourth largest economy in terms of purchasing power parity (PPP)
Indian economy is emerging with an annual growth rate of around 6% of GDP
McKinsey report says that there will be growth of the middle class population in India from the current 50 million to 583 million i.e. almost a ten fold increase by 2025
The annual growth rate of Indian packaging industry is about 15%; almost three times more than the growth rate of the world packaging sector
Total worth of the Indian packaging industry is Rs 1,230 billion (USD 24.6 billion)
The average growth rate of the Indian packaging industry is 15%. With plastic packaging growing at 20-25%, rigid containers at 15%, PET bottles at 25%, tubes etc at 10-12%