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Business booms (on mats & pickles)
Unusual scenes at Haldia B2B fair

Haldia, Jan. 16: Packed soya chunks, refined sunflower oil, mats, dokra show pieces, kantha stitch saris, patachitra books of Swami Vivekananda and pickles — the list of takeaways from day II of Bengal Leads 2013 was long.

“We are holding a big B2B (business to business) exhibition at Haldia,” industries minister Partha Chatterjee had told a curtain-raiser news conference on the three-day industry summit-cum-exhibition.

The Telegraph spent several hours at Haldia’s Helipad Ground — where 67 stalls have been put up across four hangars, each measuring around 20,000sqft – today to assess whether the exhibition was achieving its target.

Most of the stalls were empty. While visitors trickled in small groups and flipped through brochures and picked up an odd item or the other at some stalls, few spoke of anything remotely connected to business.

“There has not been a single serious enquiry about trade or business since the inauguration of the meet,” said a senior official at the stall of a company that deals with petrochemicals, among other things.

“Some of the visitors are inquiring if we deal with white sugar pointing at poly-ethylene granules kept in jars. Others are inquiring if we manufacture bottles. A few want to know if we are hiring. Can you call it a B2B exhibition?” he asked.

According to him, a B2B exhibition cannot be held with participants from across a wide spectrum of industries – companies selling pickles to petrochemicals and jute bags have set up stalls.

“B2B exhibitions require assembly of several players related to one particular industry… I don’t know how the government planned such a show here in Haldia, where even people from Calcutta are not turning up,” added the person, cursing his luck for being picked up to represent the company at the fair.

Some officials at other stalls found lazing around on a January afternoon expressed similar sentiments, while some government employees at other stalls put up by various departments said that they were enjoying a paid leave as there was hardly any work.

While it may have been fun for some employees, taking up stalls, however, has been an expensive proposition.

“The organisers have charged Rs 1.16 lakh for a 3-metre-by-3-metre stall… Then, we had to spend around Rs 3 lakh to do up the stall. We have four company officials camping here for three days and that also involves an expenditure,” said a representative of a company that put up a stall to please the organisers.

The man in his early fifties said companies don’t need to be prodded to take part in B2B exhibitions or trade fairs as making a presence felt at such shows is a key element in a company’s marketing strategy.

“The expenses cannot be justified but as we have a presence in Haldia, we have to set up our stalls here,” he added, expressing helplessness.

A similar mood was gauged at the other hangar, where various technical sessions on manufacturing industry, health, north Bengal development, information technology, infrastructure, road, transport and power, tourism and skill development were held.

Unlike the B2B technical sessions in major trade fairs, where the entire gamut of one particular industry is covered and experts are invited as speakers for a comprehensive overview of the sector, most sessions at Haldia were packed with government representatives as speakers.

“There were hardly any people with specific interest in the information technology sector in the audience. There were some in the audience who looked like local people or students… But we had to speak,” said one of the speakers at the session.