New Delhi: Piyush Goyal cuts short speech at fair’s inaugural ceremony amid exhibitors’ protests

When asked about the protest, ITPO Chairman and Managing Director L C Goyal told PTI that the exhibitors have raised some genuine issues.

New Delhi: A section of exhibitors protesting against poor amenities at the renovated Pragati Maidan in the national capital stalled the inaugural ceremony of AAHAR food and hospitality fair on Tuesday, forcing Union minister Piyush Goyal to cut short his speech midway.

The Commerce and Industry Minister was the chief guest at the grand inauguration ceremony of the fair, which gives platform to brands in food and hospitality industry to showcase their products. He is also in charge of Food and Consumer Affairs, and Textiles Ministries.

But as he rose to make his speech, some exhibitors started heckling and shouting slogans against the alleged poor facilities at the Pragati Maidan – the age-old exhibition venue in the heart of the national capital.

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They complained of improper air conditioning, irregular power supply, unclean premises and non-functional lifts and escalators.

As they targeted India Trade Promotion Organisation (ITPO), which manages the venue, Goyal said he was issuing directions for finding a solution to the problems faced by them.

The organiser too jumped in to try and pacify the exhibitors but they continued with their protests.

“If there are any problems or issues, please have a discussion (with authorities),” Goyal said from the dias. “I am directing that a solution to the problems being enlisted be found.”

Ironically, Goyal started his speech praising ITPO, congratulating it “for quickly getting work in place” saying the 36th AAHAR – The International Food & Hospitality Fair is being held after a gap of one year due to the coronavirus pandemic. The fair is being held from April 26-30.

With the exhibitors continuing sloganeering despite requests by the organisers to maintain decorum, Goyal cut short his speech and disembarked from the dias.

Thereafter, he listened to the agitating exhibitors and tried to pacify them. With the exhibitors not relenting, the minister gave instructions to the officials and left the venue after around 15-20 minutes.

Goyal urged the exhibitors to discuss their grievances to resolve the issue.

The exhibitors, however, wanted him to take a round of the exhibition area to get a first hand feel of the conditions. They told him that the lift/escalators were not functioning while the electricity supply was erratic as a result of which air conditioners were not working.

They also complained about unkempt halls, cleanliness and drinking water issues saying these would project a very wrong image about the country as international exhibitors were also participating in the fair. The visitors also requested the minister to visit the stalls to get a first hand experience.

While acknowledging their grouse, Goyal, however, told the exhibitors that businessmen must not behave in such a manner and assured that the matter will be sorted out.

After listening to the complaints and discussing the matter with ITPO officials, the minister left the venue.

When asked about the protest, ITPO Chairman and Managing Director L C Goyal told PTI that the exhibitors have raised some genuine issues.

“We are assessing the situation and there is no problem which cannot be solved,” he said, adding ITPO is prepared to refund fee for the first day.

“If some of the exhibitors decide to withdraw, we will give them full refund,” the ITPO CMD said.

Before the protest broke out, the minister in his speech said the fair is being held after a gap of one year due to the pandemic.

“We lost a year because of COVID. I would like to congratulate ITPO for quickly getting work in place. This is one programme that all of us look forward to,” he said.

The event is “one of the most awaited B2B events in the food and hospitality industry, and truly reflects the undying spirit and resilience of the Indian businesses, people of India who have all worked collective to overcome COVID and get the economy back in shape,” he noted.

Just as he pointed out that a large part of the event is being held in the new complex at Pragati Maidan, the exhibitors started shouting slogans against ITPO.

An exhibitor, Prabhjot Singh Ahuja who claimed he was injured after slipping on the floor at the venue, said the exhibition halls were in a hazardous condition.

“There are lot of broken glasses scattered on the floor. My hand got cut due to the glasses. Also, there is no electricity,” he said.

Another exhibitor, Hardeep Singh from Ludhiana said the lifts and escalators were not working and many of the toilets were closed and those which were open were in bad condition as they have not been cleaned.

“We have lost our today’s business. ITPO is overcharging for every facility,” he said.

A visitor who came to visit the stalls after buying a ticket for Rs 300 was also seen protesting at the inauguration hall. An ITPO official refunded him the ticket amount.

Later in the day, the inauguration of a pavilion at the fair by Union Food Processing Industries Minister Pashupati Kumar Paras was postponed. The inaugural of the Food Processing Industries Ministry’s pavilion was scheduled to take place at 3 pm.

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