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Future of Indian Chemical Industry
Z F Lashkari, President, YezPer Consultants, has highlighted the issues, which need to be addressed to establish strong foundation for bright future of Indian Chemical Industry.

Having worked for over 56 years in Chemical Industry, most of the time in India, it makes one sad to forecast the short-sighted approach of our Industry leaders and Associations who while serving their own business and catering to local issues and problems, have not explored steps to lay a foundation for this Industry whose products encompass all aspects of life for both the rich and poor, in urban and rural India briefly touching on lives of over a billion in our country. I am referring to our Chemical Industry whose turnover at around 90 billion vs global of 3 trillion is likely to remain a minor player globally if we continue as now. There are certain aspects make for pessimism and hope it spurs a pathway for our Chemical Industry to do better. What makes for lack of optimism especially when one reads of how this Industry is growing and its future? There are several issues at the back of my mind.

An industry survives or grows due to several inputs:

Unlike two-three decades ago, finance is no longer a limitation for the chemical industry. Good projects always attract finance both local and international.

Human Resources
Fact remains that Chemical Industry does not attract talent as hitherto. Several factors contribute to the same. Pride in being a part of an Industry which has an impact on Society at large. There is no excitement in working for a Chemical manufacturing company even though it is known and realised that ĄWithout Chemicals, Life is ImpossibleČ and chemicals pervade every aspect of our daily life. This to a large extent is a consequence of several factors listed below.

In last three decades has the Industry produced visionaries like D M Trivedi, Dr G P Kane, Dr Venkatraman to whom we as juniors and later as not so juniors looked up to with awe and pride. These were visionaries to whom we owe the legacy which is today India s Chemical Industry; which though has grown in terms of turnover and overseas footprints in some cases, but certainly has not been able to attract the brightest minds. While decrying as above, we also have islands of excellence, which gives one hope, if we can create more such islands we should to an extent alleviate the situation. What comes to mind are excellent teaching institutions both academic and others which have proved their existence by providing good quality of graduates.

First and foremost for Chemical Engineering and Technology is my Alma Mater - originally UDCT and now UIC, and has finally moved out of the grasps of our politicians and bureaucrats to become an independent University which held the first convocation last year. This is one Institution in India has nurtured excellence due to great Directors whose unselfish example inspired scores of young graduates, several of which made their mark in this country and overseas.

While extolling the above, we should not lose sight of the IITs dotting our educational landscape and talented graduates they nurture in several disciplines. If one looks beyond these, it is sorry to see a plethora of educational institutions started and supported by politicians which have mushroomed due to money making potential of higher education (Chetan Bhagat s book outlines modus operandi of how education has been despoiled by these politicos).

Along with academic Institutions, there are other islands of excellence Avra Laboratories and Ingeniro are to name a few. Avra Laboratories started by Dr A V Rama Rao is doing Contractual Research who after retiring as Director of Hyderabad s CSIR Laboratories, and has grown in stature worldwide, as well as growing his company.

He has shown courage and intellectual independence to make for success. Ingeniro is another such engineering company providing high standards of process engineering and has grown from four or five employees to over 150 today. There are a few others - which are not subsidiaries of overseas engineering companies but doing good work. Not unsurprisingly these are not in the limelight and hence have not fired the imagination or provided motivation for entry into an Industry which should rank equally with computer science, space research and other professional avenues available to young graduates.

I had a few years ago chaired a Committee set up by visionary Jasu Shah on how to attract and motivate science graduates to join Chemical Industry. The sad feedback from Science Teachers (in several teaching colleges) was lack of even basic knowledge of what is chemical industry doing - beyond the standard one being a dirty industry and polluting one.

Most of the college professors had a sketchy knowledge of chemicals, chemical industry and career options with which to imbued these youth, who will be around in the coming decades. Most were unaware that WITHOUT CHEMICALS, LIFE WILL BE IMPOSSIBLE.

Industry and Associations have talked about bad perception of pollution, environment damage etc which the industry is guilty of in some cases and the students have come to the conclusion that working in this industry is filthy compared to bank/office work or other avenues like call centres. An attempt was made to educate our educators, but this needs a regular and sustained effort which industry and industry associations should work towards on a sustained basis.

Research and Innovation
I cannot recollect any worthwhile output due to indigenous research either by Industry or Academic or all laboratories like those funded by Government like CSIR (each of them having scores of brilliant scientists); which has either impacted lives of our unfortunate citizens, several of which live in poverty or below poverty line; created a product or process which has been blazoned globally as product of Indian Research or Innovation which other countries envy us for creating or having very much like the Nano car or created a Nobel laureate in any of the fields of science - be it Chemistry, Physics, Medicine etc.

Those in teaching and scientists on Advisory Committees shaping government policies, Industry leaders and industry Associations are responsible and need to do something positive. It is perhaps a national character or lack of it that we seem to be satisfied by little achievements and perhaps a bit of mutual back-scratching to ensure local honours or being invited as lecturer in overseas universities are restricted to a few individuals/allies. Unsurprisingly, I have come across a recent news item which states Reliance has appointed Foster Wheeler for their p-xylene expansion. P-xylene among other petrochemicals is one where Reliance has a dominating position globally. Even now it has not built up or nurtured locally, capabilities to put up a simple project.

I was a very proud Indian to have a few years ago seen the Jamnagar Complex which covered a large canvas from crude to finished petrochemicals in facilities which were world class ?? having seen other petrochemical plants by chemical industry grants like Phillips, Dow and others at Antwerp, Geelen, Nagoya and several others ?? I felt Reliance Complex was by far outstanding. Now if Reliance has to go overseas for their expansion projects in petrochemicals, there is a need for introspection.

Foresight of Industry Associations These were founded by Acharya P C Ray and Dr P D Amin as beacons of hope for fledgling Chemical Industry which was growing in a hostile British government. The major Association - Indian Chemical Industry Association (ICMA) and other product specific satellite associations has now over 70 years of existence.

During the recent past, the activities are limited to working for individual/company problems with government, organising overseas tours which help business of participants, have global interactions with other Industry Associations, organising a global ¬Responsible Care  conference and training courses. There has been no attempt to tackle issues impacting future of Industry, viz attracting and motivating talent, ensuring R&D is focussed towards country s burning issues (some of which are listed earlier), fostering Innovation in Industry which to my mind is operating in the same way over last three-four decades.

One needs to read the monthly issues of the official Industry Magazines, as I did of Chemical News (official journal of Indian Chemical Council) recently and disappointingly in issues from July to December 2012 to glean any worthwhile Industry s effort beyond mundane (even though the masthead of the journal lists nine eminent persons on the Editorial Board) and the committee comprises several leaders of Industry.

Unsurprisingly, this brings me back to the beginning of this article that 20-30 years down the line chemical industry though spurred by some individuals like Rajubhai Shroff and others, has not taken up or half-heartedly taken up the challenge to prepare for the future from time to time.

As participants and well-wishers of the Industry we need to make a good sustained effort even now, so that down the line we have good and dedicated individuals who will be manning the industry, research and growth.