Thursday, December 20, 2012

Zambia diary – Part 1

So… this time around, I had the chance of visiting Zambia on an extended project. People kept on asking about my connection with Africa. And I didn’t know what to answer.

Anyhow, this time, I was headed towards the commercial capital of Zambia, Chingola for a copper mining project.

I was going to this project with my colleague, Sandeep though South African Airways. Unfortunately due to our travel team, we had to follow different routes. So we had a common route From Delhi – Mumbai – Johannesburg. From Jo’burg, my flight was directly to Ndola airport; whereas my colleague had to go to Lusaka and then follow another flight to Ndola.

The capital city of Zambia is Lusaka. Chingola is about hundred minutes’ drive from Ndola airport which in itself is about an hour flight from Lusaka via those teeny tiny 30 odd seater charter planes, of the utmost dubious quality; which convulse every time winds even displays the slightest signs of a movement.

So anyhow, I got off at the Ndola airport. And I swear to god that the closets of a two timer illegal immigrant in any country would still be bigger than the “Arrival Hall”. The “Arrival Hall” had the passport stamping, baggage, security check and visitor lounge – All in a 3000 sq. ft. area. I started having my share of doubts about the country.

The journey was still not complete as I still had an hour and a half journey with my cabbie for the day, ‘Cox’. Fortunately for me, Cox turned out to be a jovial fellow with a vocabulary of 4 – 5 hindi words, seeing as a lot of Indians were working in the company where I was heading to.

Cox assisted me in withdrawing a cool million from my account (Did I just see your jaw drop? Don’t! A million Kwacha is like ten thousand rupees); get a decent vegetarian lunch and a nice SIM card for my phone. My priority was of course to get a SIM card at the earliest, seeing that I wanted to call home before anything else. And I was surprised to see that there was no need for an ID proof. So I got my SIM card and it was “happy calling home” time for me.

Now… did you read that Cox help me get a decent vegetarian food? Not only was it vegetarian, but Indian food. Imagine my surprise when the guy took me to a restaurant which had “Kadi Pakora” and “Sabji Haandi”. I was just not expecting THIS, in Zambia of all places; and that too in a town which is a 100 minutes’ drive from the nearest airport, an hour’s flight further away from the capital city.

The journey from the airport to the flats was uneventful. Like most of the Africa, the drive consisted of going via a “highway”, a two lane two way road. The sides of the roads were majorly devoid of any population of any kind, dotted intermittently with people selling local art, grocery or sofa sets. YES! You read it correctly… sofa sets. I found it equally perplexing but that’s the truth. On and off, there would be spots where sets of sofas would be placed for sale. Other than that, most of the road side was lined with scraggy bushes, wide fields and tall trees.

With the lunch packed, I went with Cox to the company flats in Chingola. I had been allotted a bachelor accommodation for the next fifteen days. I went into the flat, unpacked and checked out the facilities. The flat was a modest enough accommodation with a front lobby, a bed room with TV and AC and refrigerator and decent amenities. I decided to lie down while I waited for my colleague to arrive, as I had no means of communication with him because of him not being able to get a local number by then. That was at 5 PM. And I didn’t realize how and when I fell asleep – Fully dressed, with my legs hanging off the bed and still wearing glasses. I woke up with a start when I heard loud knocking on the window and somebody calling my name. Still groggy from the travel, it took me a minute to realize that it wasn’t a dream but somebody actually calling me out. I woke and opened the drapes to seen my colleagues frantically trying to get me to wake up in time for dinner. That was at 9 PM.

Since I had Sandeep’s room keys with me, even he couldn’t go to his room and was parked temporarily with the colleagues who were here before us and were now to begin the handover to us.

So the four of us went to the company canteen in the flats; had a nice dinner and then went to their flat – a two bed room, hall and kitchen setup. We chatted for some time, caught up with each other, and shared our tales of the journey while they told different tales from the project. We took our leave at around midnight for our respective rooms and crashed on the bed for, what I anticipated to be, a sound sleep.


Thus ended the first day in Zambia; with us looking forward to the joining formalities the next day, ID creation and gate pass access etc.

More in the next one!!!

Friday, August 24, 2012

The forbidden love

We all know of stories how people from different background fall in love heads over heel with each other and have to fight their family tooth and nail for this love. We know a friend or a friend’s friend who had suffered the exact same story. Some end up being together for the eternity (dead or alive) and for some it remains yet another story which never came to fruition. But how many of us know of grandfathers and grandmothers with such stories?

What really instigated me to write this story is about that the fact that we all talk about love marriages and people falling in love heads over heel like it is a recent concept. But it is not. It must not be. I am sure people would have been falling in love with each other all the time even when arranged marriages were a dictum and love marriages a heresy. And when you hear of a sixty year old recounting her falling in love, not just love but forbidden love, and marrying the man of her dreams… It is sure to be of interest to everyone.

Well this story is about such a couple who fought everyone (well not literally! This isn’t Pardes) for their love… and ended up being together. This is a post for Get Published contest at Indiblogger. An initiative between Indiblogger and HarperCollins

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Tangy Italian red pasta

Serves 4

Ingredients for pasta sauce
4-5 cloves garlic
3 Green chillies, finely chopped
50 grams Amul butter
50 ml Del monte olive oil
100 gms finely diced green and yellow capsicum
250 gms finely chopped red onion
100 gms Del monte corn
100 gms Baby corn
100 gms diced mushrooms
200 ml tomato puree
1 can tomatoes
100 gms cream cheese
1 teaspoon thyme
2 teaspoon Oregano
2 tablespoon Del monte Arrabbiata Pasta sauce
Salt to taste
 Ingredients for garlic bread
2 cloves of garlic, finely crushed
50 gms Amul butter
Bread
Ingredients for pasta
300 gms of Del monte pasta of your choice


Preparing the sauce
  • Pour olive oil in the pan
  • Add onion to the hot oil
  • After about 2 mins of cooking; add capsicum, green chillies and mushrooms to the onion
  • After 5 mins of cooking, add puree and canned tomatoes and break them roughly with ladle
  • Add pasta sauce, thyme and teaspoon of oregano to the mix. Let it simmer for 10 mins
  • Once the mix is cooked; add cheese, corn and baby corn to the mixture
  • Add salt to taste

Preparing garlic bread
  • Add garlic paste to the butter
  • Slice the loaf diagonally
  • Coat the butter-garlic mix on two sides of loaf
  • Heat the loaf on the pan till golden brown

Preparing the pasta
  • I prefer to use elbow macaroni. Though the recipe works equally well for all varieties be it penne, spaghetti, fusilli, fettuccini etc. No layered pasta though
  • Pasta takes approx. 15 mins on a boiling water to reach al-dente stage
  • You can judge when the pasta is done by taking out a piece and biting on it. If it feels firm and soft at the same time and doesn’t taste raw or floury when chewed, it is done
  • Add boiled pasta to the simmering mixture and let it cook for about five minutes

Serving
  • Place the pasta in the center of a bowl
  • Sprinkle oregano and place garlic bread on side
  • Serve piping hot

Tips
  1. Time the pasta so that it is taken off the stove just as the sauce is prepared so that you can strain it straight into the pot. Makes the infusion of flavors much more easier
  2. If you have to keep the pasta strained for some time… make sure you cool it as soon as it is taken off the heat so that the pasta doesn’t get overcooked in its own heat
  3. Add the cream cheese towards the end so that it provides a creamy smoothness to the pasta but doesn’t get cooked too much
  4. Make sure the ingredients are not cooked too much or else they won’t stand out in the pasta
  5. I personally don’t like olives. But if you don’t mind them, you can put some 6-7 pieces of coarsely chopped pitted Del Monte black olives when adding cheese to the mix



This is a post for Del Monte Blogger Recipe Carnival contest at Indiblogger - An initiative between Indiblogger and Del Monte

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Why India should be a must visit destination for all

Sometime back I was talking to a South African colleague of mine about Indian culture etc. when he suddenly said to me “So Aashish! Sell me India. Why should I visit India?” I was asked the same thing when dining with her very lovely wife, Veronica. I did the same on a team dinner when I tried to talk a couple of colleagues into coming to India, while being surrounded by a number of SA settled third generation Indians.

I tried to tell them about the great cultural diversity in our land, the myriad variety of foods that we eat, the in-numerous dress languages that we have, literally millions of gods and goddesses that we look (literally) up to, a melee of cultural values living with boardroom antics.

And they seem to have been sold on that. But then I thought, am I really doing a justice to the INCREDIBLENESS THAT IN INDIA (yes in ALL CAPS!!!).

So I ran a search on the net via the Google dev (god) to search why indeed should anyone visit India. Surprisingly, while there was a lot of material on what to visit while visiting India, there wasn’t even a single post on WHY should they be visiting India in the first place?

Having failed in my attempt, I decided to make an effort at penning down a post which might act as a ready reckoner for anyone who is planning to maybe visit India. Maybe I can help tip the scales. Who knows???

So here you go Brian… My top reasons why I feel that India is a must visit for any person (though I myself cannot claim to have seen it all)

Monuments – India has a number of monuments that are a must visit for everyone. Not all of them are historical though. I am sure all would have heard about Taj Mahal (after all it figures in the list of wonders of world). India has myriad such historical monuments such as the Red Fort, Qutub Minar, Ashok Stambh etc. In addition to such monuments, we have a lot many of religious places such as Jama Masjid,Delhi; Golden Temple, Amritsar; Jagannath Puri Temple, Orissa; Akshardham Temple, Delhi and Gujarat. We have a wide variety of forts and palace such as Old Fort,Delhi ; Red Fort,Agra; Hawa Mahal,Jaipur; Jal Mahal,Jaipur; Gingee Fort,Tamil Nadu and what not.

Culture – In India, we love talking about our cultural heritage, our legacy etc… but what exactly does all that encompass? The cultural traits, the way we dress, the way we talk and sing, the way we behave among family and friends changes every so often. In music we have Hindustani Gharana music, Carnatic Music, Ghazals and Folk Music. In textile we have Chikankari, Kanjeevaram Saree, Zardozi and the like. We have several dance forms such as Bharatnatyam, Kathak, Kathakali, Kuchipudi, Manipuri, Mohiniattam, Odissi, not to mention Punjabi Bhangra and what not! Did you know that India has millions of gods and goddesses. Hinduism itself has around 330 million deities.





Food – When you hear people swear by Indian food; it’s not an exaggeration. Visiting India is a culinary delight for vegetarians and an eye opener for meat lovers. I am often asked why I don’t eat non-veg and I simply reply “because I don’t need to with so much vegetarian variety”. That’s not to say that we don’t have sufficient craving for chicken or fish. And the best food in India is the one that is sold on the myriad roadside stalls, and not within the four square walls of a fancy restaurant. On one hand we have a gazillion variety of sweet meats whereas on the other hand we have a range of spicy, taste bud tickling offerings. And worldwide, chicken tikka and tandoori chicken are the words which are just about to get added to the oxford dictionary.

Language – In the land of one billion people, not only do we have dozens of language, we have several dialects within those languages as well. And not like English the Texas way vis-à-vis English the London way. No Sir! We have languages which a person from other territory might not recognize. The languages are as different from each other as apples from orange. Did you know that at resent we have 22 official languages and 398 living languages in India. Unlike other countries, we don’t have a singular language (ofcourse Hindi  and English are our two primary languages to communicate in when we go to a different zone of the country). So when somebody asks me to speak in Indian, I am often stumped as there is no language called “Indian”.

Variety of people – Being in a place like India is as much of an experience as having visited tens of country because the people are simply so different from each other. And yet, despite all this diversity, they still manage to live in a harmony with each other.
While on one hand we have the boasty, garrulous people from Punjab who believe that showing off is the way to communicate with people; on the other hand we have the passive aggressive folks from South India who believe in simple living high thinking. On one hand we have the Bengal folks talking about communist way of life, while we have the shrewd business minded people of Gujarat where even a five year old has a business of his/her own. “Adda” (useless chitchat between friends) of one place becomes “bakar” in another and “gupshup” in yet another. “bhai” (brother) of one place undergoes a range of transformation from “bhaiyya” to “dada” to “virji” to “cheta”. Such is the wide variety that we have!

Delhi – I am including this point specifically because of the fact that I am a bit partial towards my city.... and the fact that it is indeed awesome!!! For those of you who feel that “Slumdog Millionaire” was a reflection on how India is, or are still stuck in India as being the land of snake charmers; a visit to Delhi, the mecca of modern India is a must visit. Being in Delhi is no less than being in the heart of New York or Beijing or Tokyo. You have all the major MNCs of the world with facilities that may surpass even the best of the best.

Natural beauty – The natural beauty of India is at par its global counterparts.
In the northern part of the country we have the valleys of Kashmir dubbed as ‘the Paradise on earth’, for its beautiful valleys, lakes, rivers, peaks and its people and for which Jahangir once said “Its pleasure meadows and enchanting cascades are beyond all description. These are running streams and fountains beyond count. Wherever, the eye reaches, there are vendure and running water. The red rose, the violet and narcissus grow of themselves in the field”. In the south, we have the serene backwaters of Kerala and its majestic beauty which are guaranteed to sooth even the most turbulent of hearts.

Spiritual enthusiasts abode – I feel like the word “spiritual tourism” has been defined with India in mind.Off lately, the spiritual tourism industry seen a tremendous growth especially after the popularization of yoga and traditional Indian remedies and medicines in the western culture.
India offers something for every religion from Hindu to Muslim, from Sikh to Christian to Buddhist. Places like Varanasi, Haridwar, Golden temple are the ideal destination for spiritual seekers. Four “dhams” and nine “devi” of Himachal are a must see for everyone. Ancient Indian scriptures quote such cures and remedies and solutions which are increasingly finding their way in the modern lives now that people are trying to live more in tune with nature. Several western countries have tried and failed at getting patents over traditional use items in India such as turmeric for its medicinal property, Basmati rice etc.

Well that was my 2 cents on this topic. In no way that I believe that I have done justice to the wonder that is India as this is but a mere glimpse of what India has to offer to all. Do let me know as to what you think of this meager attempt to mine to summarize India. All bouquets and brickbats are welcome!!!

Some interesting links here:
  1. 10 Must See India Destination
  2. Must Visit India
  3. 10 Must-See Places in India
  4. Tourism in India – Must Visits
  5. India's Famous Monuments
  6. Languages of India
  7. Indian Languages Map
  8. 20 Reasons Why You Should Visit India
  9. Why to Visit India 

Images courtesy: culturextourism.com, voiceculture.org, allhindugodgoddess.blogspot.com, inventindia.in, wikimedia.org, travel.kashmironline.net, indialine.com, indiamart.com, indianetzone.com, lonelyplanet.com, flickr.com, blog.mapsofindia.com, blog.knowledge-must.com, indianfoodforever.com, southindianfoods.in, restaurantsinnoida.com, weirdasianews.com, go4indya.blogspot.com, bharatonline.com, rahuleink.wordpress.com, thehindu.com, instablogs.com, connaught-place.com

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Book Review: Revolution 2020

When I start reading any book written in the Chetan Bhagat genre, I always maintain a low expectation level. YES that is what I term as the new breed of “writing” by authors passed out of good (or even not so good) colleges; who are intent on inflicting their version of the love story they had on the unsuspecting public in general. Needless to say, I followed the same with R2020 (That’s right… they have a acronym already and widely used in the book itself). I wasn’t disappointed. The book exactly matched the low expectations I had set for it; and in fact was a couple of nanometers above the lowest bar I could set.

Like all of the previous books, this books also begins in the present and ends in the present with the 95% of the 296 pages in past. This is a story about 3 friends Gopal, Raghav and Aarti. And their love triangle. 

The story is set in the backdrop of engineering entrance exams in Varanasi. Gopal is poor, Raghav is middle class and Aarti is from a well-off (army! Nothing less) background. Gopal and Ragahv are preparing for engineering entrance exams and Aarti is their classmate.

To cut the story short – Gopal loves Aarti and doesn’t hesitate to tell her so. Aarti loves Gopal as “A friend” (sic!) and probably has a secret crush on Raghav and later confesses it to him. Raghav in turn also begins to love Aarti but has already set his priorities, none of which feature Aarti. Aarti then cheats on Raghav with Gopal. But a self introspection leads Gopal on a guilt trip and he arranges a charade so that Aarti thinks he is cheating on her and goes back to Raghav. Simple… isn’t it?

Add to the ongoing masala of corruption, private players in education and the Coaching Center phenomenon that the nation is already gripped in; and you got yourself a potboiler.

Tons of material has already been written about the pedestrian form of language that Chetan uses, so I won’t delve on it. However, on reading it, I kept on getting the feeling that the book has been written with the ultimate objective of getting someone to bring it to the big screen. So it is more of a screenplay than a work of literature.

Pros:
  • Thankfully, the story was a slightly bit more interesting than some of the other “books” out there.
  • Fast paced
  • All the ingredients of a pot boiler are there – Love, Sex, Revenge, Corruption (A new one these days)
 Cons:
  • Incidentally, some of the dialogues sound well when said in Hindi but turn absolutely ridiculous when translated verbatim to English.
  • One thing I really hated was the “Chetan sir, one drink? I can tell people I had a drink with ‘the’ Chetan Bhagat” bit. Talk about narcissism.
  • I didn’t like the three characters: Gopal was an insecure miser who always kept on comparing himself to Raghav; Raghav was an insanely naïve writer who wouldn’t take a hint even if it danced naked in the from of his eyes; and Aarti who had the looks but ditched Gopal for Raghav when the former couldn’t clear entrance exams and came back to him when he became the director.

All the grammatical oddities apart, this is a book which I will place as below ‘2 States’ and ‘5 Point’ but above ‘One Night’ and way way way above ‘3 Mistakes’. Incidentally, a series or One, Two, Three, Four and Five.

I will give the book a rating of 3/5. A book you can read for one time but would be better if you borrow it from someone so that if you don’t like it, you don’t feel like having been cheated out of 140 bucks.

Image Courtesy: http://www.chetanbhagat.com/books/revolution-2020/

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Johannesburg Diary 2 - Stereotypes in a casino

 In my trip to South Africa, I had the chance of visiting several casinos. Before you make any assumptions, let me clarify that we visited casinos due to the fact that A) It was a novelty to us; B) Every nook and cranny had it; and C) In a place which practically closes down at dusk, casinos seemed to be the only mode of “entertainment”.

And that’s not all; the casinos that I went to had spas, four star restaurants of all cuisines, cinema halls, swimming pools and various other attractions for the entire family. So even if you don’t want to play in the casinos, there would gazillion other things that you just might find equally interesting. How about that Prada bag that you were ogling at? Why not a game of golf? Maybe even catch a movie!

But what takes the cake is the Casino itself. The moment you walk in to a casino, you are welcome by a variety of sounds ranging from ding-ding-ding and ding-dong-ding of the slot machines to the “biiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiig win” of a person winning something on machine; to kachink 
sound when pulling the lever of a slot machine to the dealer saying “No more bets please”. There is melee of people roaming around playing on slot machines and roulette tables and poker and what not. Even if you don’t like being in a casino, the very presence of so much human emotions around makes it kind of an infectious thing to be. To see people win and lose; smile and cry.


And being in that atmosphere did give a lot of insight into an environment which I was entirely unfamiliar with. It gave me a lot of “masala” and a good understanding of the human behavior in such an environment.

So without further ado… here we go!




The thinker: A very rare variety, this person would look at the roulette table, calculate the probability of a number appearing on the basis of its position on the spinning wheel, numbers gone by and number of times that number has appeared previously. A slight variation in this is that frail, elderly gentleman that you see standing behind you who has a neatly ruled sheet with him on which he scribbles god-knows-what and wins bet after bet.

The aggressive bet(ter): This person is now so habituated to the games and the betting and all that the small wins (or most likely the losses) do not faze him at all. So, in roulette table where everyone would be betting 10 each on the multiple numbers inside, this person would put up 500 on any random number. They are hooked to playing for the sake of it and not for the wins or losses. They often overlap with “The Hopper” (See below).

The passive bet(ter): He likes to just sit around in the casinos and would much rather observe others playing the game than involve themselves in it. Off and on they might play a game but only when they feel like the odds are in their favor of winning. Their overall sum involved too doesn’t go to a high level.

The Hopper: You can easily guess by the name that this one hops. Well.. not physically like a grasshopper but hops between the table from one table to the other table. Putting a tener on one and collecting 100 from the second table while losing some at the third. A distinguishing feature of people in this category is that they are rarely anxious or flustered. Those who prefer to venture into the tedious waters of “hopper”ism are amongst the most calm and collected individuals; regardless of their winning or losing in the game. An anxious hopper is a losing hopper and, thus, a rarity.

The anxious one: In contrast to the hopper covered above, this genre of casino players is anxious to the extreme. And their anxiousness has got nothing to do with their winning or losing. They get anxious just by playing and even more so when they are not. And it is at this point that they are bound to get irritated at each and every incident happening around them. At one table, there was an old gentleman who somehow had developed the belief me being in his proximity was somehow, in a twisted way, leading him to lose. So whenever I would approach the table, his face would be nothing short of that mask you see in Scream. At one time, he actually said “Shit! You are back!!!”

The one with ATM card: This is what the Casinos live for. These people are the bread and butter for Casino industry. These are the boon that every casino ever hopes for. At the very outset, let me warn you. It is ALWAYS foolish to take your card(s) to the casino. Not because somebody might rob but because you yourself might rob yourself of all the money that you have by repeated betting. So essentially what these people do is that they keep on betting, low or high, on the games. As soon as they run out of money in their wallet; and in their shoes; and in their secret pocket inside their trousers; and god-only-knows-what-places; they run off to the ATM to get fresh money to bet! A point to note here is that GENERALLY these are also the people who rake in big moolahs. It is a different thing altogether that they might have lost twice that amount already before winning some.

The guesser: Frankly I found this category of the people to be the most fun to be around. Now this category has two further sub-genres: Mr Theory and Mr. New-game-each-day. Mr. Theory would keep on formulating one theory after the other to explain the outcome of a game so that one might have a winning combination… eventually. Some of the theories I hear were “66% Theory”, “2nd dozen Theory” and “Odds make me even Theory”. Needless to say that, while successful at times, these were theories nonetheless as otherwise Casinos would have gone bankrupt long time back and as we all know that doesn’t happen… except perhaps in some random casino heist Hollywood movie. Mr. New-game-each-day is a very fickle character. He likes to hop from one slot to another; from one game to the other; from one strategy a day to some other the next day. 

The I-Couldn’t-Care-Less-About-Casino-But-I-Will-Bet-Anyways: The compulsive gambler. There is always one in a casino. In a day, they will easily spend a hundred times any normal person, forget where they bet and their winning be given to them by a random casino staff who happened to spot them somewhere. They are often the high rollers with swanky shades and a drink in one hand.

The one at home: And then there is a peculiar variety of casino goers who have a unique attraction for the casino. The ones that you see as frequently as 5’O clock in the morning as midnight. These are the ones which practically, in some cases inside their car parked overnight at casino, live in the casino itself. They are the ones which may not even be a high spender. They however sustain the casino in a small, every day way. They keep on playing different slot machines and tables; making multiple small bets throughout the day; winning some and then losing some. The casinos, on their part, sustain them by providing an odd meal and drink to them on the tables so that continue to play their games. Kind of a symbiotic relationship!

Sometimes the sight and sound that you will be greeted with, when entering a casino, might be overwhelming. But worry not! I am sure you will enjoy yourself!!!

PS: One phrase displayed prominently in all the casinos was “Winners know when to stop” (Read more here). I always felt it should have been “Losers should know when to quit”. :D





PPS: One word of advice to anyone planning to go visit a Casino. SOMEONE has to lose in order for someone else to win. Because there is now way that the casino is losing, since the odds always favor casino.

PPPS: I will try and get some images for each of the stereotypes. Just feels like it will add a lot of zing to the content. Feel free to comment in case you know where I can find some.

Disclaimer: This is a collection of various observations that I made across my trips. This is in no way a reflection on anyone and any resemblance to real people or events is purely coincidental. Read the earlier post on Johannesburg here.

Images Courtesy: bartonsclub93.com, diamondcasinosavannah.com, grassodefense.com, eurocasino888.n, onlinecasinomasters.com, visualeditors.com

This is an entry for the "Around the World with Expedia" blogging contest with Expedia and Indiblogger. If you like it please vote for me here

Monday, January 16, 2012

Coal – Opportunities and Challenges in India


A research by KPMG in 2007 suggested that the rapidly growing Indian economy would require an investment of around USD 120 to 150 billion, from 2007 to 2012, in the energy sector. Research from McKinsey Global Institute reveals that the global energy needs are set to increase at a pace of around 2.2% till 2022. This is a clear indication that the energy sector would be looking for a high level of the investment. For this, however, strong private sector participation would be required to complement the public sector, set standard for performances, and bring in newer technologies. Private players have been showing interest in development of captive coal mining, oil and gas exploration. It can be deemed from their interest that they would be equally interested if the coal sector was to become an open market as well. It is also expected that once the INDO-US nuclear deal is finalised, the private players may be set to enter the nuclear sector as well.

Furthermore, there is an inclination towards market mechanism for greater transparency. This change, though, would have to be gradual seeing as already the supply is continuously lagging behind the demand. To this extent, both public sector companies as well as private players are competing abroad for energy blocks.

Opportunities also exist in the supporting energy transport infrastructure such as ports, railways, pipelines and power transmission networks. These segments need significant investment and are witnessing private participation. However, for private players to be interested in entering the sector, tariff reforms are needed to phase out subsidies and bring efficiency in the power sector. Also, the government would need to come out of its mentality to support the government enterprises over private players, regardless of the fact how sub-standard the government organizations may be performing. Thus, the government should take a back seat and not the driver’s seat and let the free market take the reins.


Coal

India is well-endowed with coal. However, 71% of its oil needs are met by crude imports. Rural India is predominantly dependent on traditional fuel sources like firewood, animal dung and biomass, estimated at around 143 Mtoe per annum or approximately 44% of total primary energy use.

The majority of India’s energy requirements are met by coal; which is largely mined in the Eastern and the Central regions of the country. In 2008-09, the total coal production in the country was around 400 - 450 MMT with major customers in the steel, power and cement sectors.

The graph shows a trend between the domestic coal production and the demand. This is an indication of how the demand is always exceeding the supply, thereby resulting in a continuous, never ending demand for the product and availability of a market ready to lap up any and all output. 

Key Issues Facing the Sector

·         The biggest problem facing this sector are the issues associated with land acquisition. Coal being a commodity which is found only in certain areas of the country, the locals of the area and their politicians often find themselves having a leverage with which they blackmail coal companies to agree on their terms and conditions. Government aided companies like Coal India Limited (CIL) often have to bow to these demands and this leads to inefficiencies in the mining and office operations as the people recruited under these terms are often not qualified enough and are not willing to work their dues.
·         Unavailability of a proper solution to deal with fly ash generated at coal stations results in high pollution levels
·         Indian coal mining is plagued with low levels of employee productivity
·         With the coal sector being directly or indirectly related with the political decisions in the country, there is a huge level of interference with the operations. Good decisions are often neglected in the face of political concerns.

Some steps which can be adopted to improve the performance of Coal sector could be:
·         Since majority of coal in India is mined by Coal India Limited (CIL); it is imperative that for the performance of coal sector to improve, CIL would have to improve upon its mining costs, which are way higher than those of leading coal exporters like Australia, Indonesia and South Africa.
·         Mining is often done at areas which are very far away from the place of ultimate use. Hence, the produced coal has to be transported over huge distances by a variety of means and different conditions. Since India does not have that well developed Supply Chain Management system, any bottlenecks in logistic infrastructure, such as ports and railways, have huge effects in the performance of the coal sector. Hence, Indian Railways would have to make an effort to augment its capacity to ensure ease of transportation from the coal producing regions to the demand centres. Furthermore, ports would need to be developed to handle the shipping vessels of large sizes to achieve efficiencies in the transportation.
·         The way to the successful future for the coal industry lies in developing newer technologies which would help increase the mining efficiencies, improve the environment friendliness of the mining operations and increase the chances for commercial exploration of Coal Bed Methane (CBM) as a source of natural gas.

The Indian Opportunity

Recognition of private investment requirements for the sector has opened up immense investment opportunities in coal and related sectors. Furthermore, with the entry of private players in the open coal market the Public players would have to acknowledge the need to improve operational efficiency. This would help decrease the operation costs of coal mining and make the existing players competitive.

Captive mining across different user industries is an immediate opportunity for private investors. Several coal fields have been identified for captive allocation. Additionally, there is a huge scope in other aspects of coal mining value chain including coal washeries, transportation and associated logistics. Yet more opportunities can be observed in the yet to be explored areas of Carbon Credits. With the millions of tonnage of coal being extracted every year and development of CBM extraction processes, the companies can gain millions per year with carbon credits.

Since coal operations are heavily depended on transportation and logistics, these segments would require extensive investment for an optimal “Coal Supply Chain”. While the Indian Railways would have to make a conscious effort to increase the load capacity of the cargo trains, they would also have to make an effort that the trains are available as per the requirements for coal transportation. Similarly, the sea ports need to be renovated as the existing ports cannot handle large consignments. There is a huge queue at the ports. Even then, there are several large sized tankers which simply cannot be served at the existing ports. This, in effect, increases the transportation costs for the importers and exporters.

Future Energy Requirements and Supply Options

Given the present growth rate of 5% in coal production, India’s extractable reserves would be exhausted in 45 years. Hence, all the more need to look at alternative options for fuels. Recently, numerous experiments have been done to retrieve Coal Bed Methane, conversion of coal to gasoline and other fuels such as those by Naphtha. There are efforts being carried out to incorporate nuclear technology in the quest to meet the growing energy requirements.

Several companies are making an effort to incorporate the renewable sources of energy such as wind and solar power. And this trend is expected to grow in the near future.

Till that time, however, there are several steps that may be taken to optimise the usage of energy, such as:
·         Employ energy conserving devices for both commercial and residential purposes.
·         R&D should be carried out to devise standards to reduce fuel consumption in automobiles.
·         Development of Natural Gas sources and renewable energy sources for power generation

A key fact that the Government of India should remember that currently the commercial coal sector, being a public sector, is dominated by the problems often associated with Public Sector Undertakings such as lower employee productivity, overstaffing both in and out of mines, lack of incentive for people to work. One possible reason for the same could be the fact that with most of the coal mining being nationalised, there is no incentive for the people to perform beyond the bare minimum expected of them. To this extent, lesson should be learnt from telecom sector where after the entry of private players, even the public players have increased their operational efficiencies, the customer complaints have declined and the like. Once the sector is exposed to market mechanisms and private participations, the sector will witness higher efficiencies, not only because of the competitive policies but also because of the technical and R&D competence that such a step would bring. 
Yet another thing that government should look into is to streamline the policy framework so that the entire coal block allocation process is facilitative for private players as well. It is imperative that the government implements these steps with sufficient political will so that these issues do not remain unaddressed. Furthermore, government also needs to take action to cut down on losses due to theft and pilferage, especially as most of the mining operations nowadays are plagued by coal mafia.
As it happens, India has amongst the largest reserves of coal in the world and the producer and consumer as well. It is an emerging market in the world and a conscious effort needs to be made that the country gets the benefits that it deserves. 

References
  • Integrated Energy Policy, 2006
  • KPMG India Energy Conclave, 2007 
  • McKinsey Quarterly, 2007 Number 1
  • Planning Commission of India
  • Preparing For Fundamental Shift In Energy, BCG 
  • Energy and efficiency - The changing power climate, PWC 2007