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BHEL R&D and image building require more attention

IE BEGAN COVERING BHEL-T in 1968 when a formidable team was at the helm. These included V Krishnamurthy as General Manager, S V S Raghavan (FA & CAO), Cavination and V R Deenadayalu in the commercial department and M R Naidu, as head of production. The foundation was truly and greatly laid by these stalwarts and their mentor R S Krishnan. The unit has enjoyed good leadership over the last 45 years with the continuous stream of brilliant technocrats, engineers and managers. The growth from the turnover of around Rs 20 crore then to over Rs 15,000 crore is truly phenomenal.
We would like to point to two areas that need specific attention:

The first one relates to a more focused approach to R&D. In the 1980s, BHEL put up a 6.2 MW plant based on Integrated Classification Combined Cycle (ICCC) technology. BHEL claimed perfecting this technology that resulted in much higher combustion efficiency bringing with it handsome economies. Sadly, three decades later, the technology could not be commercialised. For several years, attempts were made to scale up the technology in association with the giant power utility NTPC. But these did not take off.

Five years ago, a plan was mooted to set up a 125 MW plant through the joint efforts of BHEL. APGENCO and the Government of India, which had agreed to fund Rs 300 crore on this project. M Ramesh of Business Line (issue dated 08 April 2013) has pointed to nil progress on this project through the last five years. The Rs 50,000 crore corporation that has consistently been earning good profits and endowed with handsome technical and financial resources, should take up such a project on its own. While the policy of the corporation to stick to knitting is understandable, it should travel to the last mile to prove the economic viability of its R&D efforts. Obviously, utilities cannot take such a risk.

I remember Siemens and other such corporations consistently spending over 10 per cent of their revenue on R&D. Indian corporations, on an average, spend less than one per cent. Though BHEL-T has reported to have spent close to 2.8 per cent on R&D last year, one of the highest for Indian corporations, still, this is too modest to graduate into the league of innovating companies in the global plane. Since globally research on combustion of coal with high ash content (close to 40 per cent on Indian coal) is not readily available, this has got to be developed indigenously.

Success in such an area is bound to take BHEL to the league of global leaders in coal combustion technology. An experiment involving an outlay of Rs 1000 crore can be spread over 4-5 years. Surely, Maharatna BHEL can well afford this.

The second area relates to the building of a strong public and brand image. In the 1970s, when the public sector was under attack by Rajaji and others, the formidable team of V Krishnamurthy and SVS Raghavan launched a massive campaign on the unique strengths and contributions of BHEL and helped build a strong image for this corporation. Over the years, this thrust has vanished.

For a Rs 50,000 crore enterprise, attention paid to corporate image building has been poor. True, such publicity may not be needed for marketing, when there was little or no competition. Today, even this situation has changed with the entry of more players into the power equipment field.

We also find it necessary to build much closer rapport with the local governments. BHEL-Tiruchi, BHEL-Ranipet and the Piping Unit that employ over 15,000 and account for a turnover close to Rs 20,000 crore are major contributors to Tamil Nadu’s economy. One notices a lack of concern on the part of the Tamil Nadu government, its MLAs and MPs, in owning and projecting the contribution of this giant corporation. Disappointingly, even the major attempt to build jointly with TANGEDCO the 2x800 MW Udangudi project did not take off. This, despite the rich contributions made by such joint ventures at Simhadri in Andhra Pradesh and Raichur in Karnataka to the great benefit of the respective state governments. The Minister of Heavy Industry, chairman and senior directors would do well to visit regional centres regularly and endeavour to project the invaluable contributions made by BHEL to the state’s growth. The senior managers heading the plants in the states should also linise closely with the policy makers at the state level.

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