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Construction work playing spoilsport at IITF: Afghan exhibitors

By Vishav
New Delhi, Nov 17 (IANS) After a bad experience last year due to demonetisation, Afghan exhibitors — usually one of the hot favourites at the India International Trade Fair (IITF) — say they are looking at a second bad year in a row due to the construction work underway in a part of the Pragati Maidan venue.

However, they are hopeful of things improving once the trade fair is opened to the general public after the business days are over on Friday.

Offering a wide range of dry fruits, rugs and carpets and semi-precious stone jewelery, the Afghanistan pavilion wore a somewhat deserted look on the third day of the trade fair with fewer enquiries than is usually is the case. The exhibitors, while upset with the turnout, hoped for things to improve in the coming days as the weekend approaches.

Kabul-based dry-fruit merchant Siddiqullah said he faced a lot of inconvenience last time due to demonetisation — and this year looked no better so far.

“Last year it was demonetisation. If we accepted old currency, it was very difficult to exchange it in the banks. New notes were not available with customers. So we had to accept old notes and then we got them exchanged at a heavy commission at the banks,” he told IANS.

“Even this year is bad because ITPO (India Trade Promotion Organisation) is doing some construction here. So people are finding it inconvenient to come,” he added.

Siddiqullah said that earlier, the international pavilions were more visible and accessible from some gates “which have been closed this year due to the construction work, making it a long walk to reach our pavilion”.

“The space for the exhibition has also been reduced because of which there seems to lesser footfall so far,” he added.

The IITF last year was held over 100,000 square meters with around 7,000 exhibitors. This year, it is happening in half the area with around 3,000 participants.

The ITPO is redeveloping the fairground by constructing a modern integrated Exhibition-cum-Convention Centre (IECC) that it says will accommodate around 15,000 participants when completed in 2019.

Another merchant, who identified himself as Shabeer Ali, said the new ticketing system had also made things a little difficult, affecting the number of people coming to the fair.

“With no tickets available at the entry gates, many people turn back,” he said.

This year, with no sales at the entry gates, visitors will have to get their tickets in advance either online or at various metro stations, except at Pragati Maidan Station, an ITPO spokesperson said.

“We have made these changes for the convenience of visitors as well as to promote the Digital India push,” he said.

Fraidoon Faryadi, who has also come from Kabul with dry-fruits, said that despite demonetisation, there was relatively better crowd last year compared to this time.

“Despite the problem of new and old currency, at least people were coming. Lots of people came here.

“While this year there is no currency problem, some buildings have been demolished. This has reduced the number of exhibitors as well and so people who used to come for some Chinese goods or restaurants which were there, they are perhaps skipping this time,” he said.

“Even during business days last year, more people came. Lets see if things get better when the days for the public start,” he added.

According to ITPO, the expected footfall this year is not more than half of that of last year.

“Last year, our footfall was 14 lakh. This time, since the fair is in half the area, we are expecting 60,000 daily on an average over 10 days. First four days are for business,” a spokesperson had said earlier this week.

Faryadi said Afghani dry-fruits are famous across the world and are very popular with Indians as well.

“The dry-fruits from Afghanistan are famous all over the world. We have so many kinds like raisins, almonds, walnuts, dry apricots and dry blueberries. Our dry-fruits are the best in the world because Afghanistan has very good weather during all four seasons. Being a mountainous country, our soil is also very good.

“These are conditions ideal for growing these dry fruits. That’s why Afghani dry fruits are best in the world,” he said adding that ‘satarbai’ almonds from Afghanistan “have 95 per cent vitamin E” while the best US almonds “have only seven per cent”.

Abdul Qadir, who sells hand-made carpets, is optimistic and says that even though the footfall has been low during the first few days, it usually improves as the event progresses.

“While we haven’t sold a lot of carpets so far, we hope to get more customers over the weekend,” Qadir told IANS.

Explaining what makes Afghani carpets so special, he said: “All our carpets are hand-made and we use pure wool and natural colours. You can use these carpets for as long as 70 to 80 years,” he said.

Fraidoon Faryadi said Afghani dry-fruits are famous across the world and are very popular with Indians as well.

“The dry fruits from Afghanistan are famous all over the world. We have so many kinds of raisins, almonds, walnuts, dry apricots and dry blueberries. Our dry fruits are best in the world because Afghanistan has very good weather during all four seasons. Being a mountainous country, our soil is also very good.

“These are conditions ideal for growing these dry fruits. That’s why Afghani dry fruits are best in the world,” he said adding that ‘satarbai’ almonds from Afghanistan “have 95 per cent vitamin E” while the best almonds of the United States of America “have only seven per cent”.

(Vishav can be contacted at [email protected]

–IANS
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