The packaging satyagraha: IIP's plans for India - The Noel D'Cunha Sunday Column

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. Dr Saha in conversation

27 Nov 2015 | By Noel D'Cunha

Dr NC Saha, director, Indian Institute of Packaging (IIP)

PrintWeek India (PWI): 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 approximately 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 two 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 a strong network and have visited many institutes, and surprisingly, other than the Michigan State University, which provides B Tech, M Tech and PhD in packaging, no other country has got the infrastructure and facility like ours.
PWI: 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 they have more than 200 testing equipment which are 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, is 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). Thus, that’s unique, one of its kind model.
The IIP Campus in Mumbai
PWI: What about the weaknesses?
Saha: We analysed our weaknesses. With experienced personnel superannuating 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.
PWI: How is the relationship with the government?
Saha: I must say that for IIP, the best part was easy communication and access to the government and the government too has been supportive. We requested the government for Rs 100-crore for the 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 the construction work. We have time until March 2016.

The union food processing minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal Badal,
 inaugurating the WPC, and IIP’s Dr Saha (r) 
PWI: 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 to occupy one-half of the top floor for an auditorium for convocation and the other half for an international packaging centre.
PWI: 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 depend on international companies. These companies want to demonstrate 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.
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.
PWI: You are attempting to create a new set up in Vizag. Tell us about it?
Saha: Post-independence, the packaging industry has witnessed growth in Telangana. The present state government of Andhra Pradesh is very enthusiastic about it. We identified a 10-acre plot across the IIM at Gambhiram.
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 starts, we will work in Gambhiram. 
PWI: Is IIP helping them with the leads?
Saha: IIP will give the technical support.
PWI: Who will be the stakeholders?
Saha: The manufacturers. The state is well connected, especially Vizag, which is offering lower freight cost. But they need assistance for the technical support.
PWI: You say packaging is a science, and you would have liked it to have the stature 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 about material science (50%), 25% is technology and 25% management. Engineering is missing.
In the 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.
PWI: 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 functioning of IIP and how best can IIP be utilised as a nodal point to support 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.
PWI: 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 visit airports, we do not find Indian brands. When I had a discussion with the tea exporters and the tea board in Kolkata, it came across that the domestic consumption of tea is high. In this case, we need to increase production, and instead of bulk export we should go for packed consumer exports. This will be a value-addition. Presently the bulk pack (tea and coffee) is exported to Europe. They repack it locally and get the value-addition.
PWI: 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 that are carrying dangerous goods. And we are issuing a certification called United Nations Certificate, which is purely on the quality of packages.
We export a lot of perishable items (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. But in cases where there is no particular requirement given, India should have its standards of packaging
PWI: So IIP will be a single window for all kinds of packaging materials quality certification?
Saha: For this one needs to have an advanced laboratory. IIP Mumbai Laboratory is ISO 17025 accreditated as per NABL. By 31 December 2015, all our centres will also be NABL certified.
PWI: When we talk to the people in the industry, 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 past six years, I have added people to the team and also set a succession plan, such that when one set of personnel retire, 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 programmes for upgrading the existing training or educational structure, and research.
For the first time, we have filed 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. A new trend is liquid gur.
A meeting was held with the secretary of MSME of the West Bengal government and a new mission called Vishva Bangla - a retail chain - was started. The gur's shelf life is only three hours. We analysed the critical factors that cause the product to perish. We filled the warm gur in various packaging materials. The material required had to be strong to prevent the environment effect.
We chose three options: a stand-up pouch with spout, co-extruded plastic bottle (like bottles for tomato ketchup) and multiwall collapsible plastic tube (like toothpaste) – three-layer aluminium barrier tube with induction seal that extended the shelf life from three hours to 92 days. The sale of Vishwa Bangla has gone up since then. NRIs buy the product in bulk. They launched a 200ml pack and labelled it the natural date palm by IIP and Ministry of Cottage and Micro Industry of the Government 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 among the present packaging options, the natural flavour is absent. So, we took the coconut water, which has a lot of turbidity in a glass. It has 20% bricks and is sweetened but is 100% water. If you adopt thermal process you save it, but you lose the flavour. 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 here. It is only the packaging technique and material that gives it a month’s shelf life. We will patent this soon, too.
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 the research arm becomes stronger.
PWI: 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 the past six years. I am aware of the objectives. APF promotes excellence in packaging at the Asian level, and WPC at the world level. These two excellent platforms strengthen the linkage to the international market. For example, recently we got a request from RIT, which runs a course for printing and packaging. A group of students want to come to India. Similarly, I can select Indian student to visit the US.
PWI: What is the status on rolling out the BTech and MTech courses?
Saha: First, the syllabus is ready. Second is the infrastructural facilities, which is on-going, and the final is the 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. Education is not our only motto. Education and research have 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 have to be followed.
Getting INI and handing over degrees to students is my dream. We are excited, so is our Governing Body.

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(Interview conducted by Ramu Ramanathan)