New Delhi, Jan 11 (PTI) Squeezed into half its normal 40,000 sq metres, the ongoing World Book Fair at Pragati Maidan here is suffering a visible space crunch with fewer stalls packed into a venue resembling a construction site.

High-rise scaffoldings interrupt the viewing and labourers scurry about doing their work as visitors roam around the fair.

Organised by the National Book Trust (NBT) in association with the India Trade Promotion Organisation (ITPO), the fair is being held amid renovation and construction at Pragati Maidan.

The number of publishers participating has come down from 800 to 600 and the stalls from more than 2,500 to about 1,350.

The exhibition centre, which was inaugurated in 1972 by then prime minister Indira Gandhi, is being re-built into an Integrated Exhibition-cum-Convention Centre (IECC). The mega project, according to the ITPO, is expected to be completed by September 2019.

“I am coming to this fair after a gap of two-three years. Think I could have easily skipped this one too. It seems as if you are in a construction site that also happens to sell books. This is a World Book Fair. What is the impression we are giving publishers from other countries taking part?” asked 40-year-old Shivani Kalsotra.

According to an NBT official, the World Book Fair, usually spread over 40,000 sq metres, was this year allotted only 23,000 sq metres.

“Even last year, we got only 32,000 sq metres of area for the book fair because of the construction. The halls we got then were the same as we have now but the three hangars were not possible this time,” the official said.

Publishers added that some participants did not get the location they wanted.

“The World Book Fair is definitely smaller this year with quite a few publishers giving the fair a skip… the fair area has been reduced due to the ongoing construction at Pragati Maidan that did result in some exhibitors not getting the stall location of their choice.

“This could’ve been one of the reasons for a few exhibitors not participating this year,” Meenakshi Singh, Head (Marketing) Bloomsbury India, told PTI.

While Bloomsbury was lucky to get 12 stalls, what they got last year, others like Penguin, Hatchette, Oxford University Press (OUP) and Pentagon Press managed with fewer stalls than previously.

“Last year, we had 26-28 stalls. This time we managed only 16,” said Iti Khurana, OUP publicity manager.

NBT officials said they tried their best to “accommodate” more publishers.

“We understand that some publishers this year might not have got the desired number of stalls. But that was only done to ensure that more publishers get the opportunity to participate in the fair,” an official said.

“No individual exhibitor, under the same name, was allowed to book more than 16 stalls at one place. Also, like earlier, all stalls were booked through a computerised draw of lots system,” she added.

The lack of space has also meant a drop in attractions such as book launches and panel discussions.

“We wanted to launch our two books here but we didn’t get the booking at the Author’s Corner,” said Khurana.

The Author’s Corner has been reduced to two from four last year — one for English and one for Hindi.

“Pragati Maidan is now a decrepit structure and the renovation that should have been done in an year or two max has already taken four-five years, and no end in sight.

“It’s all very well to talk of pitching for a part in the global economy but it is ludicrous that we do not have a first rate exhibition and fair complex,” said Thomas Abraham, managing director, Hachette India.

Visitors also complained that the dust and pollution was affecting the quality of food on offer.

“The importance of a clean environment near food stalls is being neglected here and that is an issue of concern,” said Amruta Jain, a concerned customer.

The book fair comes to a close on January 13.

This is published unedited from the PTI feed.