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View Point: Indian Grape Processing Board dead-Long Live IGPB

Posted: Friday, 18 March 2016 11:48


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View Point: Indian Grape Processing Board dead-Long Live IGPB

March 18: Indian Grape Processing Board (IGPB) which is currently comatose after the 5-year mandate expired last March, is breathing its last and in the process of being buried with no-one in the industry including the Ministry of Food Processing Industry under whose aegis it was created, happy about it; but stuck in the financial quagmire it might be reborn with financial help from the government which will also maintain a control over its working, writes Subhash Arora who feels it is sad and tragic as a government body is necessary to help the wine industry but blames both the industry and the government for the current situation

Currently the 15-member Board has been disbanded, the premises in Pune have been vacated and there is no office of IGPB visible or operational in the offices of the MOFPI, just a few remnants in terms of paperwork. Mr. Venkatesh Swarlu, the Joint Secretary of the Ministry who was supposed to be the eyes and ears of the Board and had reportedly led an official delegation to Paris to visit OIV on behalf of the ministry last year, has been transferred out under normal course. IGPB is in the process of winding up though the ministry is preparing a note for the cabinet with the plea to find a solution. It is unlikely to be heard in the financial corridors of the government and this may be a mere epitaph of a meaningful and visionary act of the government going awry.

A few of the Achievements

To say that the IGPB did not achieve anything concrete would be naive. Notwithstanding the amount or how the money was spent, the participation in Hong Kong, London and Prowein wine shows  helped the producers, especially the smaller ones to enter the big arena, get a taste of the world market and hopefully, realised that they had to come out of the shell and face the world by improving the quality. Who is to say that  the Indian wines improving quality since then has not been because of such participation? It was also an eye opener for a majority of the producers that export did not mean a ready-made business from thousands of small Indian restaurants waiting for mediocre Indian wines. Some of the exhibitors developed a bigger potential client base thanks to the participation by IGPB.

IGPB organised a National Conference on wine in May 2010. This was to become an annual feature but got bogged down in the internal procedures and policies and never took place again. The  Minister of MOFPI ,  Shri Subodh Kant Sahai  had then erroneously claimed that IGPB brought Indian wines to the world under the Indian flag in Hong Kong as a first. It is a documented fact that Indian Wine Academy, singularly and with its own efforts brought Indian participants, including Indage Vintners and Sula  in an international wine show under the tricolour for the first time in 2006 during Wines for Asia. He also sought to take the credit for the 5-year old UPA government making people understand the difference between wine and liquor. Since 2002 more people have been drinking more wine, but the government still treats wine and liquor on the same platform as liquo. However, it was very successful maiden effort by IGPB.

The fact that I corrected the Minister on both the points during my Presentation, could certainly not have been the reason for no repeats of a conference that ought to have been an annual feature where common problems of the industry could be brought out in the presence of invited government  officials including the excise officers (even FSSAI that proved a scourge for the imported wine market during the last 2 years) could have been a part of this Conference where cross exchange of ideas would have taken place.

IGPB and OIV membership

One of the biggest achievements by the IGPB was to steer the Indian government to join OIV in 2011. International Organisation of Vine and Wine, this Paris-based UN-type organisation has 46 members. The membership is open only to the governments and India became a member after clearance by the cabinet committee and a decree by the then President Smt. Pratibha Patil.

Although I must take credit for being a catalyst for making both OIV and MOFPI (without any consideration) come together, this became a reality thanks to the brilliant, dynamic and visionary Joint Secretary Mr. Rajeshwar Rao who was also the Vice Chairman of the Board and galvanised the concept after raising a lot of queries. He even requested the then Ambassador to France, Mr. Ranjan Mathai to check out OIV thoroughly. Mr. Rao was very ably assisted by the Director, Ms Vinod Kamal who was determined to make IGPB a success.

As it invariably happens in government, both these diligent officers were transferred out and things never got back on the same track. Besides, in the garb of democracy the organisation was metaphorically hijacked by the Nashik vested interests, according to the officers I met from time to time regularly. Farmers were inducted as members in hordes with subscription paid by the vested persons. Since the numerical majority counts according to the IGPB mandate, the Board was in the hands of individuals from the industry with vested interests and these officers confided that they felt helpless. Since there was no emotional connect with the project, they did not perhaps give their best, especially due to the inherent opposition to the concept of alcohol (wine) being promoted through IGPB.

Reckless and inefficient spending of funds

The money was spent recklessly according to one of the transitory officials in MOFPI. The granted amount of Rs, 750 million was spent perhaps before the 5-year mandated period (only an internal assessment or RTI would confirm that). But another factor that spoilt the party was the wine producers. With the top 2-3 producers not wishing to be an active part of the ‘circus’ as one of them confided in me once, the fund contribution by the industry that was to be 15% (or was it 50%?!), was not even Rs. 4 million during this period. In all fairness the industry was going through financial crisis.

The finance department of the government has a bone to pick with that. These non supporters of IGPB believe that if the industry does not contribute its share, why the government should give them the democracy and a free hand that has made it a failure to start with. And there’s the rub. The All India Wine Producers Association never actively supported the Board but its newly elected President Yatin Patil claims they intend to take up with the MOFPI and follow up with the Ministry soon since they are currently busy with the harvest. By the time they finish the crushing, the train would have left the platform and the IGPB would have been given an unceremonious burial. In any case, the ministry is in no mood to go the industry right now.

Imperative Need for the Board

Ironically, most stakeholders feel the need for the Board to help the Indian wine industry, like most wine producing countries do through a separate Board- ProChile, ICEX, German Wine Institute, California Wine Institute, and National Wine Board of Georgia are just a few examples. And we have not even stopped to look back at the help that the grape and raisins industry could use to expand and creative jobs for farmers. ‘India is one of the top five eating grape producers in the world. It’s number nine in the total grape production,’ says Jean-Marie Aurand, the Director General of OIV, who was on an official courtesy visit a week ago and met the officials of the MOFPI besides meeting several ministries and visiting Sula Vineyards where Rajeev and a few producers met him.

He added, ‘OIV has treasure of information and knowledge in this area which can be very useful but India has not become as active as we would like them to. We hope in future they will be willing to interact more with our members.’ OIV has several non wine making counties as its members because they grow eating grapes and value OIV as a knowledge resource. The members meet every April for two weeks in Paris to discuss the latest technical issues in grapes and wine. Till now there has been no representation confirmed from India. Since members of the industry are also allowed to join in the proceedings provided they are sent by the government, it would have been easy to have some wineries send their viticulturists or winemakers at their expense. IGPB would have been able to provide that leadership.

Rajeev Samant, the founder Director and CEO of the leading producer Sula Vineyards travelled to Delhi at least on two occasions and met the Minister of FPI, Mrs. Harsimran Kaur Badal along with Jagdish Holkar the then Chairman of IGPB to convince her about the necessity of continuing the Board. He emphasised to delWine,’ Yes there is definitely a need for a National Wine Board. India has been blessed with the conditions to make good wine, the world’s #1 single agri-processed product. There are huge health benefits for the country if people drink wine instead of spirits. The EU gives One Billion Euros a year to their wine and vineyards industries. India gives ZERO. At a time when the PM is pushing Make in India as well as rural employment here is an industry which has HUGE potential in both regards.’ 

He is not willing to discuss the status of IGPB though. ‘I don’t want to comment on the state of affairs with IGPB and swirling rumours. I have presented the simple facts. We worked closely with MOFPI to put together a presentation for the cabinet. I have no further information on its progress.’

Our information is that the Minister Ms Badal has been pushing for the survival of the Board. Known to be a supporter of grapes and wine production even in her own state of Punjab, she has not found enough support from the industry to make the finance department understand the need to continue with the Board. Unless something miraculous happens during the next couple of weeks, the decision to wrap up the IGPB will most likely be taken by the cabinet.

Post the burial

Then the talks will start again on how to form the alternative Board, if at all and how it will be organised. It took the government over 2 years to decide on the name of the previous Board since there was no consensus. There was stiff opposition to using ‘Wine’ in the name though Karnataka Wine Board has been successfully working years before IGPB was constituted. There are already talks by Jagdish Holkar, former Chairman of IGPB to approach the Maharashtra Government to form Maharashtra Wine Board where his experience with years at IGPB might be quite useful as the Chairman of that newly formed Board.

In the meanwhile, the first priority is to pay the annual subscription of € 14,000 to OIV.  Considered very small amount by European standards, the finance department of the government is apparently looking with a magnifying glass to look for the ROI or the wisdom in continuing with the annual expenditure of Rs.900, 000! It would be most shameful and embarrassing to the nation and make us a laughing stock in the world if they renege on the payment that is due by March 31. However, our sources inform that the payment will definitely be made before the due date.

Let us await the verdict of the Ministry on the revival of the Board and the conditions under which they would be willing to relent or to give it the new shape.

Jai Ho!

Subhash Arora

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