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AIEI: The First Few Years in Delhi

16 Sep 2020

The Association of Indian Engineering Industry (AIEI) had to literally hit the ground running in Delhi. Its initial hunt for office space took it through a rather circuitous route to the what would become a distinguishing feature and pride for the Association: Trade Fairs.

Having called off its 1975 exhibition, the Trade Fair Authority of India (TFAI) offered it office space in Pragati Maidan to AIEI but with a rider: it would have to organise an international engineering exhibition within the next three months. 

AIEI took up the challenge. Analysing the Asia’72 Fair, AIEI realised that while it attracted huge crowds, the exhibition did not promote or serve business. It, therefore, created a new format which would create business opportunities as well, thus attracting industry as well as Government.

This change in format was driven also by the changing business environment. Industrial growth was reviving, the stagnation in the economy due to the drought of the preceding years and the oil shock had bottomed out, and the Green Revolution had triggered demand for manufactured goods.

The time was ripe to hold an exhibition which would focus on generating business for the engineering industry.

AIEI was baptised by fire: in three months it had to work out the details, sell the exhibition space and promote it to make it a success. With almost no resources or experience, the team swung into action with everyone chipping in: captains of industry worked arm-in-arm with the AIEI team, even decorating the stage and lifting flower pots.

The Indian Engineering Trade Fair in 1975 was inaugurated by President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed and concluded by the Industry Minister.

By a stroke of luck, it coincided with an ESCAP meeting and many delegates dropped into IETF, adding a new dimension to the footfalls it attracted. Not only that, GL Bansal, who headed the FICCI Secretariat from 1945 to 1974, also attended IETF, curious to see the new exhibition in town which was making waves. 

IETF generated trade queries of Rs. 440 million, with Rs. 140 million related to exports. It also made a noticeable profit, much to the delight of AIEI.

It was a spectacular success. 

In a way, it set the blueprint for the operating style of the Association: carpe diem!

AIEI thus pioneered organising Trade Fairs amongst Associations, a practice that other Associations soon followed.

Recognising the money-generating potential of such events, the cash-strapped AIEI decided to capitalise on it.

IETF was expanded and special ‘Industry Days’ introduced, all of which made it hugely popular. The 1979 edition of IETF had Industry Days focussed on eleven selected sectors including consultancy services, automobile and ancillary industries, defense production and electronics. A status report would be prepared and shared with Government officials and the press; a much-awaited document for both. It helped further strengthen the credibility and impact of IETF and the Association, so much so that in 1981, the then Government requested the Association to extend its duration by 4 days to make it possible for a visiting foreign dignitary attend it!

Trade Fairs – both national and international – are an integral part of CII’s operations now, and most of them are held with the Government as partners. Many have an exhibition and a conference component and serve as an excellent platform for diverse stakeholders to deliberate on issues while showcasing and seeing the best in the sector.

Another path-breaking initiative for its time was taking a delegation abroad at a time when foreign exchange regulations and the complex regulations of the central bank made it almost impossible. 

AIEI was the first Association to do so. 

The first international mission was to Africa, covering Kenya, Zambia, Egypt and Libya. The Mission reported booking orders of Rs. 10 million and generating enquiries to the tune of Rs. 200 million, a commendable feat. Soon after, international missions became a regular feature. In 1976, a Mission went to Iran, Iraq and Kuwait.

Another first for the Association was the opening of an international office in Dammam in Saudi Arabia in June 1977. Paris, Toronto and Moscow as well as London offices followed. Around this time, AIEI had also made inroads into the UK: in 1976 it met a British Delegation. Impressed with AIEI, one of its members connected AIEI to the Confederation of British Industry (CBI). AIEI and the CBI were appointed as nodal agencies for industrial cooperation between the two countries by the Indo British Economic Committee, and by 1979, a representative of the AIEI was stationed in its London office to work with CBI.

With these moves, AIEI successfully established its credentials as an Association successfully expanding Indian industry’s global footprint and promoting exports. This stood it in good stead with the Government, which at that time was promoting exports.

AIEI thus became a valuable partner to the Government, and in 1977, for the first time, a Prime Minister, Morarji Desai, addressed the Annual Session of AIEI. 

Not only had AIEI moved places in the business and political circles of Delhi, the office had also re-located from Pragati Maidan to Jorbagh, considered a tony neighbourhood in New Delhi, which it occupied till 1986.

AIEI had found its feet in Delhi and was also creating ripples of change to usher in significant development of Indian industry and India.

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