The Indian Pulp and Paper Technical Association (IPPTA) celebrated its Golden Jubilee in Delhi in March 2014 at a time when the industry is going through a tough time. There are concerns on the raw material front, its availability and cost as well as issues regarding the sustainability of the environment. However, the IPPTA says its ready to rise to the challenges that the Indian paper industry currently faces. To mark the occasion, the industry body recently organized a seminar at which these and other issues such as the need for state of the art technology for the industry as well as more effective advocacy were discussed.
The Paper Mart team met Mr. Neehar Aggarwal, Chief Operating Officer, Ballarpur International Graphic Paper Holdings B.V. and Vice President, IPPTA, on the sidelines of the seminar to gain a better understanding of the prospects of the paper industry in India and the challenges the industry has been facing over the last decade.
Here some excerpts from this interesting interaction.
Speaking about the role that IPPTA has been playing in promoting the growth of the India paper industry, Mr. Aggarwal said, “It’s a great honour for me to be the Vice President of this Association. IPPTA, which now has almost 2500 members, represents the entire paper industry in India. The objective of this Association is to provide the industry professionals with a platform for sharing knowledge and ideas, and benchmarking best practices. This in turn enables them to grow their own companies. Towards this end, we invite the best industry-related speakers from India and abroad to share their knowledge and ideas with us at the conferences, seminars and workshops we organise regularly. At these conferences, important topics related to the industry are discussed, especially the latest technologies for the industry.
These events serve to provide industry with valuable inputs on the way forward. Typically, we conduct an annual seminar, a regional seminar and a workshop.
This time, we plan to conduct more such programmes and events in the other big cities in order to sustain the momentum and the enthusiasm generated by the Golden Jubilee seminar. Needless to say, we will try to involve as many industry players in our programmes as possible because the intention is to broadbase our industry-related knowledge.”
Theme of the Conference
Commenting on the theme of the conference, Mr. Aggarwal said, “The Indian paper industry has undergone a radical transformation in the past two decades. The focus then was not as much on the environment as it is today. Infact in the last ten to fifteen years, factors such as environment, technology and costs have become critical. The industry itself has become extremely competitive and sustainability is the new buzzword.
Another key change is a shift in the global consumption pattern. And a lot of this change has benefited Asia and paper producers such as India. India is a large producer and consumer of paper with one of the fastest growth rates globally. However, key risks to the growth of this sector in India have emerged in recent years. The rising cost of raw materials is a key issue. Industry players say that they have witnessed a sharp spurt in cost of raw materials by as much as 50 to 60 pct. The other threat has come from the policy side, mainly from FTAs. These have the effect of removing tariff barriers and thus lowering protection levels for domestic industry.
“So the theme ‘capabilities and emerging challenges and solutions’ is quite relevant to our times. The industry has grown manifold but so have the challenges and impediments that hobble it. Today, it has also to grapple with issues of sustainability and environment protection. Key industry players also have to change perceptions as traditionally the industry is not exactly known to have been environment friendly. That has to change.
Summarising the challenges that the industry currently faces, Mr. Aggarwal said, “The rising cost of raw materials is surely a cause of concern for the industry. However, this problem can be addressed in two ways: raise the productivity of plantations and incorporate good processes and technologies in our manufacturing units. The productivity of plantations in India is much lower than that of other countries so this is an area that can clearly do with some improvement.
“We also need to invest in good process technologies so that we can conserve resources like fibre. Infact its imperative that we bring down our fibre consumption level.
The other limited resource is water. Naturally, there is a need felt to reduce water consumption. Fortunately, the Indian paper industry does have a good track record in saving water.
Energy will also always remain a scarce resource but technology can atleast help us reduce energy consumption and to that extent improve our carbon footprint.
But one of the most serious impediments that the sector faces is the cost of capital. Paper is a capital intensive industry but the high interest scenario in India has ensured that accessing capital is difficult with cost of funds getting prohibitively expensive with each passing day.”
Changes Witnessed in the Industry
Speaking about the technical changes that have occurred in the Indian paper industry in the last few years, Mr. Aggarwal said, “In the past few years, the industry has undergone a phase of rapid technological transformation and we are still seeing new technologies coming on stream. The upside to this has been that these technologies have enhanced our equipment related strength. That has resulted in increased machine speeds and machine deckles on the shop floor.
The biggest positive on this front has been the fact that while earlier it was economical to technologically upgrade large machines, now the upgradation can happen more evenly across most machines on the shop floor, thus broadbasing the quality of the upgradation.
Improving Industry’s Public Image
One of the biggest challenges of the paper industry is to fight the legacy perception that it is environment unfriendly. “The industry must make efforts to shed its negative image. In fact, one of the aims of this conference is to effectively communicate to our stakeholders that the paper industry is sustainable.
I am hopeful that the conferences, seminars and workshops we organise will go a long way towards improving the industry’s public standing on this front. Today, the industry balances competitiveness with sustainability. We use waste paper, which is sustainable. As an industry, we have drastically cut back on our water consumption. Infact the water that comes out of our paper mills is used by farmers for irrigation. More importantly, through the social farm forestry initiatives, the industry plants more trees than it cuts. So, paper today is a sustainable and environmentally friendly industry”, signed off Mr. Aggarwal.