Wah! Curiosity

The silken Mars landing of the Curiosity today is very inspiring to all those who love ideas and innovations. Why does the apple always fall to the ground? The question must have been asked several times by several children, who might have been ridiculed for asking silly questions or even thrashed talking nonsense. But when someone paid attention to that silly question and worked out an answer, he not only satisfied the curiosity of the questioner but also made precious contributions to science. What goes to the credit of America is this attitude to treat each curiosity with the seriousness it deserves and find a satisfactory answer to it. Research, tools and technology are developed in the process to find an answer. At the end it all leads to wonderful results, with zero error and makes even the most unbelievable feat like landing a 900 kg payload on the surface of the Mars. The Americans, rather the nation called the United States of America,  deserves kudos for that spirit of curiosity. They value ideas. They respect ideas. They understand the value of ideas.

The power outage in India on 30th & 31st July of 2012 affecting more than 600 million people in 23 states  contrasts painfully with the precision with which the Curiosity made the landing on the basis of the project planning of zero error. Not that it is not possible to plan projects with zero error in India. Yet the value of ideas will take long to sink. For the moment they can be ridiculed, downplayed, ignored or simply stolen. Nobody pays for good ideas, unless the person takes to entrepreneurship himself. It may not be easy to become an entrepreneur in all cases. The power sector presents one of the most potential areas for good ideas, provided people are invited to give their ideas. When I commissioned the first study to replace all electric bulbs by fluorescent tubes in a government building some 34 years ago, the results were astounding in terms of savings in power consumption and replacement costs of bulbs. The building with more than 600 rooms was better illuminated at cheaper rates. The second stage was to go in for central air conditioning, which did not materialize for several reasons, costs and hierarchy being two major ones. But if the present system of providing one 1.5 tonnes air conditioner in each room or air coolers is replaced by central air conditioning, the savings in power consumption will be equal to setting up a small power plant.

India plans to add to its generation capacity. There is hardly any attempt to economize on consumption of power. If proper attention is paid to economy in power consumption in industry, India can save enormous amounts of electricity. A small study on industrial  pumps some 26 years ago tended to spur thinking on these lines. It needs to be stressed that India was a net importer of second hand machinery till the 1980s. Even after that, getting state of the art technology and latest machinery was difficult. These machines brought with them outdated technology. In terms of power consumption, these machines consumed too much and continue to do so even today. For every unit of production, these old outdated machines consume 5 times more energy than their latest versions. We have not paid adequate attention to upgrade technology, excepting for some half-hearted  steps like import of some designs and drawings or other equipment. When a car is not certified roadworthy, it is scrapped, but no such action is taken in case of industries, which are no less than simply power guzzlers. It is time for India to take a constructive view to assess the requirements of technological upgradation and replacement of old outdated machinery by new production methods and machines. It is bound to cost heavily, but shall be much less than setting up new power plants. One should not wonder if the power savings are in the vicinity of 40000(forty thousand) MW annually. Over a period of time, it will turn out to be invaluable savings, whereas the new power plants will enjoin recurring expenditure. Only if ideas have any value.

The benefits to the consumer would be great as he would escape getting loaded with higher cost of power due to investments in new power plant, coal or gas prices which will continue to rise and cost of management. The losers will, of course, be the politician and the bureaucrat, who stand to gain in any situation of shortages. Rents for permissions to set up new facilities or importing machinery line the pockets of the politicians and bureaucrats, who prefer adding capacity rather than better utilisation of the existing installed capacity. There is more than 30% power loss in transmission, including theft. With load factor below 35%, availability is reduced. Perfect recipe for politician to make money and peddle influence. So the industry pays up to 80% of its profits to the politician for uninterrupted power supply to the production unit, which would suffer huge losses if power supply is disrupted for 8 to 18 hours, which is the norm in a shortage situation, but more for facilitating extortion of rent. The farmer is another harassed lot, who is promised uninterrupted power for a price- votes for the ruling political party. The domestic consumer suffers the worst and has to pay for the theft committed collectively by the politician, bureaucrat, industry and big farmers. Upgradation of technology in industry and farming is the answer. That needs a government. Good governments come to serve a nation only if its people are lucky.

There are many areas of innovation  in the country. The short supply of fruits and vegetables in big cities like Delhi and consequential high prices are a subject of public outrage. This even when there  is huge fertile land available in Delhi. Delhi has a number of parks, which are spread over thousands of acres of land. They are administered by the horticulture department, who employ a large number of skilled gardeners. A little change in utilisation of land can help Delhi grow enough vegetables for its consumption. It is possible to do so with the existing infrastructure and manpower and without changing the lay out of the parks a bit. On the other hand, the same water and manure that is being currently used, will yield best quality of vegetables at no extra cost. As far as fruits are concerned, the roadside trees can be of use.  Sir Lutyens successfully did it in and around India Gate. The Jamun tress planted at that time are giving quality fruits even today. However, the Jamun trees planted in the new sub city of Dwarka are of such inferior variety that its fruits go waste every year. Now that makes all the difference. That makes the difference between zero error projects and projects full of errors. All due to difference of ideas. Ideas are undoubtedly valuable. Governments, nations, societies and families must promote ideas, value them and respect them.

I will write next on my ideas about development of Chandani Chowk- the essential Delhi, the living Delhi, the personality of Delhi, the cultural identity of Delhi.

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