The packaging satyagraha: From new cities, to patents

For India to become a dominant force in packaging, a lot more needs to be done. Dr N C Saha, the director of Indian Institute of Packaging knows this. In conversation with Ramu Ramanathan

09 Oct 2015 | By Ramu Ramanathan

Ramu Ramanathan (RR): The Indian packaging industry is poised to be the fourth largest, globally. We are given to understand that IIP has plans to invest Rs 70 crore for its future growth. Please elaborate?
NC Saha (Saha): Since 1966, the Institute was governed by the Government of India, Ministry of Commerce. Grants of approxmately Rs 60 lakhs per annum were received from the government. It remained so for the next 25 years.
After 1996, we received funds for capital investment, which was Rs 2-crore for five years. We used that for upgrading our labs.
Thereafter, we did a SWOT analysis.
As I see it, the strengths of our Institute are excellent. I can say this because I have travelled to many countries, have strong network and visited many Institutes and surprisingly, other than Michigan State University, which provides B Tech, M Tech and PhD in packaging, no other country has got infrastructure and facility like ours.
RR: What are the strengths?
Saha: When you consider the size of the Institute and its spread, we count ourselves to be the biggest Institute working on one subject – packaging. Our infrastructure is our biggest strength. If you visit our laboratories, you will see it has more than 200 testing equipment which is supported by the ministry. With this as a big strength, we have to cultivate our resources and create business for the industry’s benefit.
The third strength I realised, was that IIP is the only Institute under the government with a partnership model. This means, the Government is funding and the industry is helping (through moral support not monetary). And so, that’s a kind of unique, one of its kind model.
RR: What about the weaknesses?
Saha: We analysed our weaknesses. With experienced personnel super-annuating and lack of a systematic recruitment process, manpower was becoming a concern. We prepared a vision document and presented it to the Governing Board. We asked for filling up of posts on priority, because we needed personnel to act on the vision document. In the last six years we have recruited 48 new people, which included professors, associate professors, lecturers and technical persons at the entry level. The recruitment of personnel at the entry level was the maximum, because it was difficult to hire people with good experience and knowledge.
RR: How is the relationship with the goverment?
Saha: I must say that for IIP the best part was easy communication and access with the government and the government too has been supportive. We requested the government for Rs 100-crore for the Institute for infrastructure over a period of five years for all IIP centres. And so, as per the master plan, the Mumbai IIP centre has an area of 10.56 acre of which 40% was utilised. We will have five blocks for housing laboratory, hostel, administration, education and research.
For the Kolkata centre’s expansion, We have completed 50% of construction work. We have time till March, 2016.
RR: In one of our earlier conversations, you had mentioned two things. One is the packaging buyers’ gallery and an international convention centre. What’s the status on these two?
Saha: The academic block has a space of 70,000 sq/ft. The intention is occupy one half of the top floor for an auditorium for convocation and the other half for an international packaging centre.
RR: Any allocation of space for academics?
Saha: Industries are moving ahead with joint ventures. There are foreign companies who want to sell machines, because India does not have the infrastructure to build such presses. So we are depending on international companies. These companies want to show/demo to sell their machines.
We have made arrangements for the same.
On the ground floor there is space to install a machine for six months. We will provide electricity and manpower.
Besides, there will be a food court, meeting arena and matchmaking rooms. That’s the idea. Our target is to complete the project by March 2016. The grand finale of the Golden Jubilee year of IIP is on 14 May, 2016. If all goes well, we will invite the President of India for the inauguration.
RR: You are attempting to create a new set up in Vizag. tell us about it?
Saha: Post-independence, all the packaging industry growth has happened in Telangana. The present state government of Andhra Pradesh is very enthusiastic about it. We identified one place called Gambhiram, with an area of 10-acre and located opposite the IIM.
Further, we have received a letter from the Andhra Pradesh Industrial Infrastructure Development Corporation. They have identified a 100-acre land in a place called T Sirsapalli for packaging. The state government of Andhra Pradesh wants IIP to be a part of it.
For now, for starts, we will work in Gambhira. We have requested the state government to participate in the Indiapack exhibition and put up a pavilion so that the industrial visitors will have an opportunity to understand the investment opportunity in Andhra Pradesh.
RR: Is IIP helping them with the leads?
Saha: IIP will give the technical support.
RR:  Who will be the stake holders?
Saha: Manufacturers, because the state has good sea connection, especially Vizag which is offering lower freight cost. But they need someone to push for the technical support.
RR: What are the highlights of the World Packaging Congress (WPC) which kicks off on 9 October?
Saha: At the WPC our main interest is to disseminate latest trends and technologies in the packaging industry. The topics chosen are not repetitive and those which are doable; which is readily available; and can be started in India. In India, today, whether in laminates or paper or boards, we have got a huge base in the packaging industry. In fact we have surplus production.
However these very few companies who can claim to be experts in packaging materials.
In the Make in India session, I want to highlight to the international experts that we are a country which has huge production base. Why don’t you consider us as a hub of resource? We should be a sourcing country for packaging materials. If we are a source, our production will go up.
RR: You say, packaging is a science and you would have liked it to have the stature of of physics and chemistry. Is it possible?
Saha: For the existing syllabus for PGDP, we did a review. In the present syllabus we are talking more on material science (50%), 25% is technology and 25% management.  Engineering is missing.
In last 30 years, we have produced more than 3000 packaging professionals, of which 90% are working in user industry. There are 20,000+ converting companies who require packaging engineers but our students do not comply due to lack of engineering subjects.
We are now focusing on BTech course and have replicated the IIT syllabus model. So our new four-year packaging syllabus would be 25% engineering, 25% science, 25% technology, 15% management and 10% packaging design. Our idea is to groom true packaging professionals.
RR: Can IIP create a cell which looks at certification? For startups, entrepreneurs?
Saha: The Ministry of Commerce has recently constituted a committee called Standing Advisory Committee for IIP. The objective is to review the function of IIP and how best IIP can be utilised as a nodal point to give support to the industry. The whole focus is how to promote exports. They have connected IIP to 33 export promotion bodies. It’s a ten year project, where we will formulate packaging standards for the exportable commodities.
RR: How? Please explain.
Saha: For example, we export 70% tea in bulk packages in multi wall packages. We are a tea producing country but when we go to airports we do not find Indian brands. When I had a discussion with the tea exporters and tea board in Kolkata, I found that the domestic consumption is high. In which case why can’t we increase production. And instead of bulk export we should go for consumer packed exports. This will be a value addition. Presently the bulk pack (tea and coffee) is exported to Europe. They repack it and get the value addition.
RR: What about certification?
Saha: For certification, IIP has already been appointed by the Ministry of Surface Transport and Civil Aviation to test and check bulk packages which are carrying dangerous goods. And we are issuing a certification called United Nations Certificate, which is purely on quality certificate on packages.
We export a lot of veggies, mango, chikoo, etc for which we are making standards. Interestingly, when we started discussing with various boards on this, nobody had the packaging standard for exports. In many cases the exporters depend upon the buyer’s requirement, in the manner they want it. But in cases where there is no particular requirement given, India should have their own standards of packaging.
RR: So IIP will be a single window for all kinds of packaging materials quality certification. 
Saha: For this you need to have that kind of advanced laboratory. IIP Mumbai Laboratory is ISO 17025 accreditated as per NABL. By 31 December, 2015 all our centres will also be NABL certified.
RR: When we talk to industry people they say Dr Saha is a progressive forward looking man but does he have a team at IIP? That is the criticism we hear.
Saha: In the last six years, I have added people and also followed a succession plan, such that when one set of personnel retires, another set will be ready to take over. In another three years, we will build a strong technical team.
Under the SAC committee, we are emphasising on three areas – export promotion – to formulate standards; BTech and MTech programs for upgrading the training or educational program; and research.
For the first time, we have applied for a patent. There is a product in West Bengal called Jaggery, which we get from sugarcane. In West Bengal (WB) there is a fruit available called palm. From the palm you make the ‘gur’ and it is called nullen gur. It is available in West Bengal from November to March. Normally it is sold in solid form. New trend is liquid gur. A meeting was held with secretary of MSME of the West Bengal government has started a new mission called Vishva Bangla, which is a retail chain. The product (gur) shelf life is only three hours. We analysed the critical factors that stales the product. We filled the warm gur in various packaging materials. The material should be strong to prevent the affect on environment.
We had chosen three options – stand-up pouch with spout, coextruted plastic bottle (like tomato ketch-up) and multiwall collapsible plastic tube (like toothpaste) – three-layer aluminium barrier tube with induction seal which extended the shelf life from three hours to 92 days. The sale of Vishwa Bangla has gone up, many NRIs buy the product in dozens. They launched 200ml labelling it as natural date palm by IIP and Ministry of cottage and micro industry of govt of west Bengal. This is our first patent.
Second, we started collaborative projects sponsored by the Ministry of Food Processing working on products like coconut water wherein amongst present packaging options, the natural flavour is absent. So, We took coconut water in a glass. It has lot of turbidity. It has 20% bricks, is sweetened but 100% water. If you adopt thermal process you save it, but you lose the flavor. There are other technologies like ultra filtration. But we have adapted a suction technology which will suck the water and fill it in pressure. No processing is involved, only packaging and it gives a month’s shelf life. We will patent it soon. I believe, the Institute should have a collaboration with seven to eight research Institutes. We are signing MOUs with IIT Delhi, Mumbai, BHU, and CFTRI. We are spreading IIP’s reach so that research becomes stronger.
RR: You are wearing many hats, at APF, WPC and World Star. What is India’s role in this and how is it feeding into IIP
Saha: I have been with them for last six years. I am aware of the objectives. APF promotes excellence in packaging at the Asian level, and WPC at world level. These two excellent platforms strengthen the linkage to the international market. For example, recently we got request from RIT which runs a course for printing and packaging. One group of students wants to come to India. Similarly I can select Indian student to visit US.
RR: What is the status on rolling out of BTech and MTech courses?
Saha: First is syllabus, which is ready. Second is infrastructural facilities, which is going on and finally recognition. IIP is a government Institute and hence to award a degree, we have to apply for recognition under any one of the options under the UGC Act. Private, state and deemed university. We can apply for deemed university but IIP was also created for export promotion activities.The moment you become a deemed university, you are emphasising only on education. Therefore only education is not our motto. Education and research has to act as a hardware and formulation of standards as a software.
The only option, therefore, is getting the status of Institute of National Importance (INI) and for which the requisite procedures will have to be followed.
Getting INI and handing over degrees to students are my dreams. We are excited, so is our Governing Body.