theindialog

November 17, 2009

Power(less)

Filed under: Industry,Maharashtra — loggers @ 9:49 am

In addition to visiting an underground coal mine outside Chandrapur, we also had the opportunity to visit the more modern and less labor intensive open cast mines. Named so because they are carved out from the earth and left open to the skies, these mines can be blasted to a limit of a few tons, compared with only a 7kg blast that we experienced in the underground mine. These blasts take place once every 2-3 days as the coal mined per blast is much higher and it takes time to be removed by the trucks[1]. Licenses to operate these mines are only given to those companies who utilize the coal to generate power for the state grid.

Open Cast Mine

The Chandrapur Super Thermal Power Station (CSTPS) is one such plant that receives some of its coal supply directly from these mines, part of its daily requirement of 60,000 tons. Considered to be one of the largest power plants in Asia with an installed capacity of 2,340MW, it has also planned an expansion for additional 1,000MW of generation capability. With its (and the coal mines) location not very far from the city centre, it is not surprising that pollution levels are so dangerously high.

Chandrapur Super Thermal Power Station

Come January though, this plant could become a victim of the water shortages that have been affecting a large part of the Vidarbha region. With not enough rainfall this year, everything from farming to drinking water to power generation has been indirectly affected. However, completely shutting down this plant would amount to a power shortage catastrophe across a state that already has a deficit of 4,000MW[2]. Although private power generators such as KSK Energy and the Adani group have announced plans to install more capacity, these are not expected to be online within the next couple of years. The government is expected to tap its reserves by opening up one of its dams in order to prevent a complete shutdown, but at no point has our power deficiency been more glaring than here.


[1] These trucks can be used only on the roads around the mine, and not on public roads

 

[2] Power requirements of Maharashtra amount to 15,000MW, compared to installed capacity of 11,000MW

November 15, 2009

Red Alert

Filed under: Conversation,Maharashtra,National Security,Politics — loggers @ 11:09 pm

“The Naxal movement started out as part of a clear ideology back in 1968, but today the only thread that holds them together is violence”. These were the first words spoken by Dr. Chhering Dorje, the Superintendent of Police for Chandrapur district and a highly distinguished IPS officer. The troubles first began back in the 1980s but only since early 2008 have they been brought to light, in part due to increased media attention. Having proven to be very shrewd operators, with precise planning going into their attacks and sustainable sources of funding through the natural resources[1] they live over, this is a crisis that cannot be taken lightly.

One of the solutions that has been proposed is to bring development to the affected regions. In theory this would appear effective, but any efforts on the part of the locals themselves have been fiercely suppressed. One such case is representative of the scenario: a group of boys left their Naxal-controlled district to look for jobs elsewhere, but came back without finding employment and got shot for deserting the rebel cause. Educated and people with aspirations are dealt with particularly severely. There is also a surrender program, whereby anyone who gives up his/her arms can be integrated into mainstream society[2], but the numbers haven’t been very promising.

The Naxals have been slowly spreading their tentacles and are even present in urban centers such as Mumbai, Pune and Nashik, albeit in smaller numbers. Their approach is to create discontent and the need for an uprising in small pockets, wherever they can take advantage of economic inequalities and anti-establishment sentiments. A conversation we had with a shopkeeper in Gadchiroli put this into perspective: he was educated, but couldn’t get a job with the government (almost no private sector there) because he was not willing to give the INR 2-3 lac bribe required to seal the deal. Even though he himself resisted the urge to take up arms, the Naxals seize upon this opportunity to recruit new cadres by not only offering them an opportunity for retribution, but also a “stable job” in their hierarchy.

Arundhati Roy, in a stinging critique of the government’s close association with the big corporations, points out the injustices that they suffer from and sympathizes with the rationale behind bringing about social and economic justice. Even though we were able to hear only one side of the story, that from the pro-establishment viewpoint, the brutality with which this supposed ideological war is being fought and the terror that it has unleashed amongst the common man calls for some action. The principles behind the movement remain compelling and the government-corporate nexus needs to be broken soon, but the means need to be altered.

According to Dr. Dorje, the solution is a collective and strong political willpower. He cites the example of Andhra Pradesh for having taken a tough stance and suffered significant casualties, but succeeded in pushing them out of the state. Operation Green Hunt is the manifestation of this position of the government which is currently underway; expects significant collateral damage if this goes ahead full steam.


[1] Bamboo, teak and tendu (used for making bidis) leaves are some of resources they have access to

[2] This is similar to what has been happening with the separatist ULFA movement in Assam, with those who surrender being called SULFA.

Reliance Netconnect in Vidarbha

Filed under: Evdo.coverage,Maharashtra,Technology — loggers @ 8:48 pm

Netconnect in Nagpur:

NS_Nagpur

Netconnect worked well in Chandrapur and Amravati as well. Speeds were ~256kbps (download) in both those cities. Unfortunately, we are not carrying the Photon stick on this leg. Comparisons will be back on Leg 3(b) when we cover the southern states.

November 14, 2009

Women Empowerment

Filed under: Maharashtra,Small Businesses — loggers @ 1:21 pm

As we were traversing through Mr. Rohit Rathi’s cotton ginning unit in Amravati, we happened to meet his mother Mrs. Kanta Rathi. Her firm, Rukmini Creations is a handicraft manufacturing unit run by her 50 employees and a sales team. It is an ordinary story until you discover that the organization is run wholly by women. This is a heartening tale in a patriarchal society and a showcase unit for aspiring self-help groups in rural and urban India. Mrs. Rathi is the kind of entrepreneur we look for as part of our travels.

The group has been operational since 1992, a result of Mrs. Kanta Rathi’s work and her mother-in-law, Mrs. Rukmini Rathi’s encouragement (hence, the name). This makes the story even more noteworthy as this narrative is a polar opposite of the stereotypical (Indian) mother-in-law who is an oppressive figure.

Rukmini Creations specializes in the manufacturing of utility kits (jewellery bags, prayer meeting kits, saree bags etc.) for women and also makes bathroom accessory kits and tie bags, among others, for men. The designs are quintessentially Indian with paisleys and bright colors merging to create the mithai-box effect. Most of the products are exported to countries such as the UAE and South Africa, as the demand and rewards tend to be more favorable abroad. Only a small fraction is reserved for exhibitions held in India.

gents kits

Rukmini Creations' products

While on our way out, the affable Mrs. Rathi showed us her feedback book which has remarks from several dignitaries. She proudly shared her picture with the President of India, who hails from Amravati and has appreciated Rukmini Creations’ work. Not only do such encounters make for good blog posts, they represent the much needed optimism to the otherwise bleak realities of women in business in India.

Mrs. Rathi with the current President

November 13, 2009

Fuel For Our Country

Filed under: Economics,Industry,Maharashtra — loggers @ 3:58 pm

The Vidarbha region in eastern Maharashtra, along with parts of Chhattisgarh, Orissa and Jharkhand, is extremely rich in natural resources, particularly coal and iron ore. Chandrapur, known as the “Black Diamond” city, has developed around these mines and is considered to be the most polluted city the world[1] – we could attest to that unenviable tag. We noticed the roads leading up to and from the city to be terrible, mainly a result of the umpteen trucks filled with coal, iron ore and timber (the Ballarpur paper mill is nearby) that ply these roads. Had rail connectivity been able to handle the volumes generated by these industries, maybe the situation wouldn’t have been so bad.

The underground coal mine we visited has been run by Coal India since 1968, which has confirmed reserves for the next 100 years. Most of the coal mined from here is used in the local industries and power plants. The site itself doesn’t seem to have changed in the last 40 years, and the elevator that took us down 170m wasn’t for the faint-hearted. Trolleys carrying the mined coal have dedicated tracks on both sides, with a narrow walking path through the middle. Communication with other workers on the site and managers above is done through an antiquated system (probably with some divine assistance, as shown below).

in spite of gods

In spite of the gods

The manager who took us around the mine declared that the quality of the coal was comparable to that mined in some of the best Australian sites, with high calorific content. However, the mine has been running losses for a few years now, mainly due to high operating costs. This can be attributed to lower productivity rates, both in labor and capital (limited technology use), essential components of the Solow growth model. We witnessed the laggard labor productivity first hand during the hour we spent in the mine, and the manager rightly lamented that the day’s tonnage target will probably not be met, yet again.

Coal mining is a very hazardous job and as a result daily wages can reach upto Rs.1000/day (compared to Rs.120/day for other labor). Health concerns such as asthma, bronchitis and life expectancy notwithstanding, this is a “get rich quickly” occupation, which was also apparent when we spoke with a young miner who said his life would be made after a few years. Incidentally, during our train ride to Patna this had come up in conversation with Chotey, and he mentioned that some of his friends work in these mines but he didn’t want to due to the health issues involved. India’s dependence on coal as a source of power[2] and the demands we will face is no secret. For the sake of uninterrupted industrialization, there is no knee-jerk solution to substituting this fossil fuel. However, this doesn’t absolve us of our responsibility to develop clean, renewable fuels so that coal could one day join the club of “has beens”.


[1] Its ppm level is 924 micrograms, compared to a normal/healthy level of 100 worldwide

[2] Coal based power plants contribute ~63% of India’s power requirements

Sporting Ambitions

Filed under: Education,Maharashtra — loggers @ 2:27 pm

Amravati is home to one of India’s largest sports institutes, the Hanuman Vyayam Prasarak Mandal (HVPM). Founded in 1914 as a sports club, it initially served the dual purpose of uplifting the traditional system of exercise and instilling in the youth the spirit of the national freedom movement. It is now run as a public trust by members of the founding Vaidya family.

hvpm

Swimming pool at HVPM

Today spread over an area of 50 acres, the institute houses everything from an Olympic sized swimming pool to football grounds to a running track. Students from all over the country, including states as far away as Assam and Arunachal, come here to train and complete their studies. Currently supporting close to 5000 students, they are in the midst of expanding the campus to increase this figure. Over the years, the institute has produced a number of great athletes who have represented both state and country, across various disciplines such as badminton, track & field and wrestling. With regards to education opportunities, there is a degree college of physical education, college of engineering and technology and additional degree programs related to sports training available for the students.

Our parting thought: if scores of initiatives such as these spring up all over the country, where sports training and quality education are provided simultaneously, only then will we be capable of reaching the top rungs of an Olympics medals table.

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