Interview: Prof Saha of the Indian Institute of Packaging

What sector outpaces even the packaging industry? The Indian packaging industry.

Prof SahaBut its 15% annual growth counts only as a good start for Professor NC Saha, currently laying the runway for Asia’s future packaging take-off at the Indian Institute of Packaging (IIP), the Asian Packaging Federation (APF), and the World Packaging Organisation (WPO).

In India, for instance, Prof Saha is nurturing growth through boosting education, research, and commercial guidance.

“We are planning to start on 16 March 2017 a four-year bachelor’s degree course,” he told Packaging MEA.

“We are planning to take 60 students through joint entrance examination and there will be subjects across the gamut of packaging comprising five disciplines: food packaging, formal packaging, chemical packaging, industrial graphic design printing.”

Prof Saha’s own background reflects India’s current reliance on international training, which followed his early experience as an agricultural engineer.

“I studied at the United States School of Packaging, did my advanced study in packaging and recently finished my PhD in packaging management,” he said.

“I joined the IIP in 1985… I was head of the Delhi IIP Centre for almost 18 years and in 2009 I took on the position of director of IIP.”

Set up in 1966 by India’s Ministry of Commerce with the goal of boosting exports, the IPP has grown with packaging’s emergence as an industry.

“At that time [1966], nobody could think about the importance of packaging,” said Prof Saha. Yet he added that the government had recognised that, “if you really want to increase the Indian export market, there is a need for packaging”.

“That was the key message that was given to the government of India and it remains the same even now after 50 years,” he said.

“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. Under the Ministry of Commerce, there are more than 10 commodity boards which are responsible for promotion of exports…

These commodity boards have got different export promotion schemes under which packages are tested in the laboratory of the institute to assess their export worthiness.”

Along with the positions of director of director and principal executive officer at the IPP, Prof Saha is also a WPO board member, a chairman of nine sectional committees of the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) for formulating national packaging standards, and secretary general of the APF.

Within India, his current efforts to promote the packaging sector extend from establishing a degree course to building research resources and helping companies export. Over the five years from 2012 to 2017, the IIP has been granted INR700m (USD10.6m) by the Ministry of Commerce for specific schemes such as setting up the institute’s sixth centre, in Bengalaru.

To be able to deliver degrees, the IPP is aiming to become a national institute through an act of parliament, but it has already established postgraduate diploma programmes.

“When I took over as its head, I realised that the institute had not grown to its length and breadth,” said Prof Saha.

“The packaging sector has roughly 23,000 companies, including converters, and each requires at least one technical person. With the infrastructural facilities available at Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata, and Hyderabad we weren’t able to provide enough technical people. So there was a requirement for 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 in Hyderabad.”

In 2010, with the assistance of the WPO, IIP also started running residential training courses for overseas students.

“The global packaging education initiative is sponsored by the WPO,” said Prof Saha.

“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.”

Through his role in the APF, Prof Saha is carrying out similar Asia-wide initiatives.

“With the APF, what I felt was that  the Asian packaging organisations are not really beating the drum to promote packaging,” he said.

“I took the initiative and started a news magazine, the AFP 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 in places like Jakarta in Indonesia, Dhaka in Bangladesh and in India as well, all sponsored by APF, as a step towards packaging education.”

Such efforts are also be extended to other continents, he added.

“The Ministry of External Affairs has a scheme called the Indo-African forum summit, so we started organising residential training programmes for the African continent. So far, we have completed four programmes.”

Meanwhile, Prof Saha is steering the IIP’s expansion into research and development.

“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,” he said.

“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 IIP-Bombay. The research projects also include upgrading technical specifications for the packaging of fruits and vegetables and study into 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.”

In the meantime, the country’s packaging industry is surging ahead, with a total worth of IRN1.2bn and blistering rates of expansion: for plastic packaging 20-25%, rigid containers 15%, PET bottle 25%, tubes 10-12%.

Which Prof Saha sees as far less than its potential. “As I said earlier, 90% of the industries are small-scale industries and there are no national trade bodies to nurture these companies to understand the global scenarios or to facilitate mergers and acquisitions by global players,” he said.

To plug this gap, the IIP is proposing that the government set up an International Packaging Centre (IPC) to assist small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to collaborate with overseas packaging industries and associations.

“Within the IPC we will have a kiosk of these international organisations and create connectivity among the global packaging organisations,” he said.

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