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Chandrayaan II – the last ‘minutes of terror’

ISRO Chairman, K Sivan, was cautious. He warned the Chandrayaan-II mission’s lander Vikram entering the most challenging phase of its journey as “15 minutes of terror.” Sadly, the last 2.1 km hitch did cause the hearts of 1.3 billion Indians to stop for a while. The stature of Prime Minister Narendra Modi was enhanced by his presence and his re-visit the next morning to re-assure the scientists of the nation’s appreciation of their efforts.

India’s record in space science has been one of the most gratifying ones. The country has achieved commendable success in satellite launches not merely for the country’s own needs but also in marketing these on commercial terms to other nations. This has been built on handsome cost economies. Even the cost on the Chandrayaan II mission is stated to be a fraction of such costs incurred by other leaders in the space exploration business.

The nation and the scientists should continue to strive to achieve results in this area where India has reached commendable heights.

Rafale deliveries begin …

During the recent visit of Prime Minister Modi to France, there were firm indications of delivery of Rafale jets. The first of these was received by a team of IAF officers in France on 19 September. Other deliveries will be made as per schedule under the Rs 60,000 crore contract.
The high decibels of criticism on Rafale from Rahul Gandhi to N Ram (of The Hindu) went silent after the BJP was returned to power. One may expect attempts to revive criticism on the deal after the first delivery.

The long years of neglecting modernisation and expansion of defence equipment have rendered our defence vulnerable. The old MiGs bought from Russia and the slow progress of indigenous development need a quick change. The advent of Rafale should mark the beginning of a new era in defence and air space preparedness.

A commendable initiative by TOI

The Times (TOI) Water Conclave was a commendable effort to highlight the steps required to meet the water requirements of the future. Spread over two days, the Conclave presented more than 22 specialists in eight sessions defining a sustainable road map to make Chennai water positive.

Instead of blaming it on the government for not finding the solution, it was refreshing to hear of a wide range of initiatives by NGOs and corporates. I was impressed with the session on Industry-Consumers or Conservators? Former Director, Central Leather Research Institute(CLRI), Dr B Chandrasekharan described how the focus on effluent treatment saved over 700 leather tanneries. Progressive research also led to saving precious chromium. The most exciting aspect of the effort related to the dry process of effluent treatment.

B Santhanam, Managing Director, Saint Gobain Glass India Pvt Ltd (SGIPL) graphically described the massive success in harvesting rainwater at the new float glass plant at Sriperumbudur. Soon after the commencement of production, the company experienced the Chembarambakkam lake adjacent to the plant going dry and the supply of promised water not available. Utilising the vast factory roof area in the complex, Saint Gobain embarked on harvesting rainwater.

anthanam described the plan to collect this water in a specially built pond. The water was so high in quality that fish could not survive! Enthused by the success of meeting over a third of water requirement, the company constructed another larger pond and also simultaneously embarked on planting thousands of trees as a dense forest. SGIPL is confident of meeting its entire water requirements on its own over the next couple of years. Salaam Santhanam!

Another French company, Michelin India, expanded its concerns to several villages around. Atul Renavikar, Executive Director, explained the initiatives of his company to desilt many lakes around the plant.

Brand Summit – still drawing from US experiences

The Brand Summit is a prestigious biennial event of CII. I remember the first Brand Summit held in February 1997. V Balaraman (Ponds), U Jayraj Rau (HTA), Venu Srinivasan (TVS), Srinivasan K Swamy (RK Swamy), then CII Chairman S Ananthanarayanan and their colleagues presented at the Summit some of the top business leaders from across the globe, advertising professionals cum marketers and academics from IBM, Dentsu, JWT, O&M, ORG Marg… These included Sony’s Jiro Aiko and senior global executives from P&G, Motorola, Unilever, Kotak, Coca-Cola, Colgate Palmolive, Titan’s Xerxes Desai and Adi Godrej, apart from a couple of academics. It was attended by over 400.

The delegate fee of Rs 15,000 was sold out. 22 years later that Grand Summit is still remembered for the very many brilliant presentations. For India, just opening up, there was the domination by multinational brands. In the fifth edition, held in September, Srinivasan K Swamy (R K Swamy BBDO) provided the continuity. There was a good sprinkle of leaders from multinationals, consultants, advertisement agencies and mass media.

I found an interesting continuation of the practice of drawing from the US experience in some of the presentations. Raman Narasimhan and Prakash Balasubramanian, Vice Presidents Cognizant, made an interesting presentation on transforming customer experience using AI and analytics. One witnessed a familiar pattern of illustrations of AI’s impact on the evolution of customer enrichment on American experiences.

Though the experience evoked interest on future possibilities, one is unable to relate it to any Indian branding or marketing effort on this subject. This is understandable in the context of very little R&D spend on issues that involve extensive sampling of healthcare issues or studying behavioural patterns (eg. in selecting a pair of shoes). Again, large IT companies, including TCS, Infosys or Cognizant, are predominantly serving western clientele who pay attractive fees in dollar. Over 90 per cent of the revenues of such companies still come from abroad. I suggest, like CSR spends, such companies could attempt to set apart around 25 per cent of their services for the Indian issues/products in crying need of such technological upgradation.

The ROCA revolution

K E Ranganathan, Managing Director of ROCA Bathroom Products, the global leader in such products, had a rib-tickling laughter session on the evolution of sanitaryware. With a still low level of penetration, the product has huge potential, especially with the Swachch Bharat initiative. Ranganathan pointed to the efforts at a substantial reduction in water consumption from the earlier 10 litre per flush to just 3 litres today. US, Europe and other developed countries have succeeded in introducing artificial intelligence and a vast range of electronic gadgets to automatically wash the bottom. Ranganathan pointed to such sophisticated devices are now available in India. Only they’re expensive! He referred to the Armani designed sanitaryware costing at Rs 28 lakh! You would have heard of the recent theft of a golden potty from Blenheim Palace in the UK.

With the field dominated by multinationals like ROCA, is there scope for low-cost sanitaryware and fittings that could reach the masses? Can research be directed in attending simple electronic devices that are cost-effective and can be fitted to low-cost sanitaryware?

ROCA acquired the century-old business of Parryware from the Murugappas in 2008. I repeat a suggestion I made earlier: of sanitaryware manufacturers led by ROCA to set up as part of their CSR initiatives, public conveniences in select parts of the city and maintain these as public service. It could serve as models for quality hygiene.

One needs to just look at the horrible state of such public toilets.

TN CM woos foreign investors

TN Chief Minister E K Palaniswami deserves to be complimented for his initiative to woo investments from the UK, USA and Dubai. IE has been pointing to chief ministers of Tamil Nadu indifferent to this right from 1967. The Tamils have spread across the globe and occupy prestigious positions in a variety of occupations – as academics, research scientists, professionals, business leaders…. Their expertise, experience and vast knowledge on current and emerging issues should be tapped continuously.

In my visits abroad, I noticed an increasing disconnect between the Tamil diaspora and policymakers of the state. The chief minister and his team that comprised of other ministers and senior bureaucrats did succeed in establishing vital contacts with a cross section of the diaspora and through them prospective investors. The exposure of the policymakers to the current state of development of technologies and civic administration issues, urbanisation and infrastructure development would help in conceiving such projects for their own state.

Narendra Modi and Chandrababu Naidu as state chief ministers had done commendable work in drawing the best out of the Indian diaspora. Such visits do expand the knowledge horizons and kindle desire to adopt systems and technologies seen. Unlike his predecessors MGR, Karunanidhi or Jayalalithaa, Chief Minister Palaniswami doesn’t carry the baggage of charisma and disdain for meeting business leaders. He is humble, approachable and his interests are wide. He could expand on this and undertake more frequent interactions with business leaders and investors.

Increasing CSR spend…

At the day-long event on CSR Convergence 2019 organised by the ICT Academy. Dr T V Somanathan, Additional Chief Secretary, Govt of Tamil Nadu, made a well-researched presentation on the evolution of the concept of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and provided several illustrations on the application of the idea. Chairman, ICT, N Lakshminarayanan, pointed to the growth in CSR spend, especially after the government made it mandatory. From Rs 10,066 crore in 2015, CSR spend had shot up to Rs 15,097 crore in 2018 and is still growing. The total spends in four years aggregate Rs 53,000 crore. After the initial hiccups, the process is getting more refined.

The initial flows were directed towards education and skill development, healthcare and sanitation, rural development projects and empowerment of weaker sections, and women. The government’s ambitious new policies like the Swachch Bharat are proving to be drawing an increasing share of CSR spend.

ICT Academy’s book A Few Good Men documenting the experience of nine prominent public men in different vocations, written by V Pattabhi Ram, was released by Dr Santhosh Babu, Principal Secretary, IT, Government of Tamil Nadu.

Increasing resort to technology and management by NGOs

There was another interesting presentation on CSR initiatives presented by TVS Motors’ Venu Srinivasan at CII’s V Srinivasan Memorial Lecture. In a comprehensive presentation, Venu explained the evolution of social service initially confined to limited fields of education or public health, registering massive expansion after CSR was made mandatory. The Srinivasan Services Trust [SST] is engaged in a vast range of social amelioration work in around 5000 villages. Venu pointed to the increasing sophistication of designing, structuring and implementing large projects by taking recourse to the advances in management and technology. He provided the examples of the Akshaya Patra, Wipro, Tata Trust… and commended them and pointed to the lessons that could be learned. Venu stressed the importance of dovetailing the CSR work to several government initiatives. SST ensures better liaison with the government by appointing a senior retired civil servant as the Chief Executive.

The meeting also presented Chetna Gala Sinha, Founder, Mann Deshi Bank. She shared the success stories of women in rural India who transformed their lives and also supported the communities by demonstrating leadership and courage.


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