MoD silent on Defexpo dates

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Keeping the global arms industry on tenterhooks, India's defence ministry has not yet announced dates for Defexpo 2018 — the full name of which is the 10th Land, Naval & Internal Homeland Security Systems Exhibition-2018. This is a major event on the calendar of corporations that sell defence equipment to India's military — the world's largest importer of weaponry.

The world over, organisers of major defence exhibitions announce their dates 4-6 months in advance. With just two months to go for February-end, when previous Defexpos were held, the defence ministry remains silent.

Exhibitors say they are already short of time to plan their displays, book exhibition space, ship equipment they will showcase - artillery guns, heavy vehicles, etc - from their home countries to India, plan the travel of VIPs like defence ministers, and book hotel accommodation and transport for the thousands of personnel who are required for participating in a defence exposition.

Last month, a top official from the Defence Exhibition Organisation (DEO), which organises Defexpo, informed defence firms that Defexpo 2018 would be held in Goa from February 21-24. But, on December 14, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, said in New Delhi that it was uncertain if the exposition would be held in February.

Since then, there is no word from the DEO. Contacted over the phone, a DEO official told Business Standard that dates would be intimated “when they are decided”. An email to the defence ministry seeking comments evoked no response.

Business Standard learns the decision is currently up before Sitharaman herself. But there are apparently “pressures” against holding it in Goa, including an army offer to provide the space to hold Defexpo 18 in New Delhi.

“India is trying hard to improve its ranking on the Ease of Doing Business Index. Well, this sort of confusion and delay is exactly the wrong way to go about it,” complains a senior official from one of the world's five biggest arms majors.

Similar confusion surrounded the last edition, which the then defence minister shifted from its traditional venue in New Delhi to his home state, Goa. Manohar Parrikar said the shift was taking place because the Pragati Maidan exhibition venue in Delhi was being refurbished. However, there were widespread allegations that Parrikar had done his home state a favour by taking big-spending defence corporations to Goa, effectively extending the tourist season there by a week.

In the event, Parrikar had to overcome heavy opposition from environmental activists in Goa over his written request (revealed through a Right to Information query) to his successor in Panjim, Chief Minister Laxmikant Parsekar, to allocate 150 acres along the coast, near Betul village, to create a permanent venue for holding defence expositions.

While Parrikar had his way, Defexpo 2016 was sharply criticised. Pointing out that a defence exposition involved creating an entire eco-system of access roads, exhibition halls, business facilities and service providers, defence journal, Force, noted after the show: “The defence minister himself admitted in his inaugural speech that trade exhibitions the world over take place in metropolitan cities. This is not a coincidence, Mr Minister. They happen in big cities because of their proximity to local industry, government organisations and infrastructural facilities, none of which exist in Goa.”

However, Parrikar, now back as chief minister of Goa, declared in June that Defexpo 2018 would again be held in Goa.
Defexpo, which is held biennially every even year, is India's premier land and naval systems show. The biennial Aero India, which is held on odd years, showcases aerospace systems. Defexpo 2018 is expected to attract 400-500 defence companies, including practically every major non-Chinese arms vendor. For now, they are all waiting for the dates.