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Making a Difference, Transforming Lives
Manage India features three organizations that are making people’s lives better with sustainable solutions, and contributing to national goals

By Panchalee Thakur and Geetha Rao
As economies around the world slow down and organizations experience a drop in business, there is renewed focus on looking beyond the immediate profit motive and building sustainable competitive advantage through responsible management of resources and creating long-term business impact. Organizations in the public and social sectors recognize the need to create sustainable solutions that deliver wide social impact and contribute to national objectives of social and economic mobility. Sustainability can truly be the key to some of the country’s long-standing problems.

PMI India Project Management National Conference 2012 will provide a forum for experts from the industry, government, academia, and the social sector to exchange ideas and discuss the key challenges that face the country and the emerging trends around sustainable solutions for projects in India. The conference will explore how organizations have used project management to plan, design, execute, and manage their projects and achieved sustainable competitive advantage. In this issue of Manage India, we focus on three large projects in south India that have embraced the sustainability approach.

Chennai’s infrastructure has been facing the same growth pains as most metropolises in the country. One of the main challenges had been around water supply. The reservoirs that had for years quenched the city’s thirst were fast becoming insufficient. Over extraction of groundwater had led to drying up of aquifers and drop in the quality of water drawn out. Poor rainfall added to the woes. The options before the Tamil Nadu Water Supply and Drainage Board (TWADB) and the Chennai Municipal Water Supply and Sewerage Board (CMWSSB) were limited. After several surveys and much deliberation, the authorities decided on a long-term sustainable solution to manage Chennai’s water stress, along with that of the rest of the state. That solution, rainwater harvesting, has today shown excellent results.

A surface level recharge structure in Chennai that stores rainwater and lets it percolate underground.
It has been reported that since the start of the rainwater harvesting project in Chennai in 2004, there has been a 50 percent rise in the groundwater levels in the city. The groundwaer level has gone up 3-6 meters in certain areas and there has been a noticeable improvement in the quality of water. Credit for the success of this state government led initiative goes partly to the project management that the state agencies have followed.

The solution
The state government of Tamil Nadu knew implementing rainwater harvesting would not be an easy task. “Rainwater harvesting is a low cost and simple technology that can be adopted by anyone from the rural villager, the urban resident of a highrise apartment, to an industrial complex. But in its apparent simplicity lies the complexity. The challenge is in implementing measures across the state to make each citizen, group, and organization to adopt rainwater harvesting,” a CMWSSB report said. Rainwater is stored and used in three ways: rooftop collection for direct use, rooftop collection for groundwater recharge, and surface runoff for groundwater recharge.

Rainwater harvesting in the state has been implemented in:

The government made it mandatory for all government offices, schools, and hospitals to implement rainwater harvesting. Building regulations were amended to make it mandatory to provide such structures in all new buildings. A new building must have rainwater harvesting structure to receive approval, get its property tax assessed, or receive water and sewer connections.

The project approach

Identify, study, monitor: TWADB conducted a study to identify groundwater recharge areas with the help of remote sensing and GIS. Recharge maps were generated for all the 385 administrative blocks in the state. Between 2001 and 2012, 9532 “sustainability structures” were constructed across the state. The efficacy of these structures are being monitoring through observation wells located close to the structures. The analysis shows a rise in water levels to the tune of 0.8-4 m in these locations.

Phase-wise launch: The project was launched as a people’s movement. A high decibel campaign started with declarations and announcements straight from the chief minister. In the first phase, the government passed an ordinance in 2003 that made rainwater harvesting mandatory for all buildings in the state with strict penalty for violation of the rule. In the second phase, the program was extended to open public places where recharge structures would be constructed.

Communicate, educate, engage: The government launched a multi-pronged campaign to inform, educate, and get people’s involvement in the project. At the first level, the chief minister personally wrote to over 15,000 elected representatives appealing to them to join the movement. At the next level, a mass media campaign was launched to reach out to citizens through print and broadcast media, the Internet, and roadshows. There were seminars and workshops to sensitize target groups, such as local government officials and women’s self-help groups. There are also permanent centers, both online and in local government office premises, to disseminate information.

Motivate, take stock, reward: The TWADB took the help of polytechnic and engineering students to conduct door-todoor campaigns. In Chennai, 55,000 students took part and across the state over 25,000 young people were empanelled. Public rallies involving schoolchildren and voluntary workers created a buzz across the state. There were rewards to be won by schoolchildren and schools for effective motivation efforts.

This project management approach has paid well. The approach of “lead by example” by senior state officials helped in garnering support. One of the first buildings to implement the scheme was the chief minister’s official residence in Chennai. The people’s movement to conserve water through rainwater harvesting has taken root in the state.

It’s an operation of a mammoth scale. Feeding 13.4 lakh (1.34 million) schoolchildren across 9 states and 19 locations, using steam-based boiler cauldrons which cook 110 kg of rice in 45 minutes, 30 cookers in a kitchen which slosh out 36,000 liters of sambar in five hours, an automated oil sprinkler for applying ghee on the 40,000 rotis that the chapati machine turns out every hour—the Akshaya Patra Foundation is a juggernaut of a project, a true test of project management.

Akshaya Patra Foundation, an initiative by International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), started in 2000 with a mid-day meal program for under-privileged schools in Bangalore by feeding 1,500 children in five schools. It has grown with the partnership of the Government of India and various state governments, and with public donations. The program has helped bring down the drop-out rate among schoolchildren across the country, besides improving nutritional levels.

Boxes of cooked food waiting to be delivered in Bangalore. In a day, vans take 24 routes and travel 50-60 km each to distribute mid-day meals in Bangalore schools.
Like any huge project, this initiative has faced challenges, struggled to meet deadlines (it must deliver every day, traffic or not), and worked constantly at handling costs even as inflation reared its ugly head, ensuring quality, refining processes, and staying tuned into innovation.

Vamshi Prabhu, head, central strategic sourcing, Akshaya Patra Foundation, said the organization has applied project management techniques in strategic outsourcing and procurement, though not in a studied manner. “We realize what project management can achieve. We are now looking at employing people with project management experience,” Mr. Vamshi added.

The main challenge is that it deals with food. “Food has a short shelf life and is vulnerable to contamination. Food safety is a very big issue,” said Mr. Chanchalapathi Dasa, vice chairman, Akshaya Patra Foundation. The other concerns are quality, taste, nutrition; cost of a meal; logistics; and operational expenditure.

“We work on a very small budget. The government pays us Rs. 4-4.50 per meal. Our real cost is Rs. 6-6.50,” he said. So how do they manage?

Buy-Stock-Consume Later
“We procure dals, oils, spices, and potatoes centrally,” he said. The program requires 5,000 tonnes of potatoes yearly. It buys potatoes when the rates are low and keeps them in cold storage until consumption. Spices are bought seasonally, at the right time and place – chillies from Guntur in Andhra Pradesh and turmeric in Rajasthan. “So, we save up to 10–12 percent,” he said

Mr. Vamshi added, “We try substitution to manage costs – mix 30 percent of white lobia or moong dal with 70 with toor dal. Lobia adds thickness and taste. We also use horsegram and green gram.” Also use tomato brix (paste) instead of tomatoes; they use 3,500 tonnes of tomatoes per year. 28 brix equal 7 kg of tomatoes – there’s considerable savings there.

Benchmark and Buy
The foundation will collaborate on benchmarking with Thomson Reuters, so vegetables can be bought at the lowest price. “We spend Rs. 50 lakh on vegetables per month, that’s saving Rs. 5 lakh per month,” explained Mr. Vamshi.

Buy in Season
This year, the foundation bought 40-45 tonnes of turmeric in season, during winter. The price now is 44 percent higher. So, it saved Rs. 10 lakh. The team has a savings target of Rs. 3.5 crore this year. A small inhouse organization of professionals in agricultural economics watches the market and advises the team when to buy.

Human Resource Optimization
The second area is manpower optimization—checking how many people are required to make chapatis. If there are 100,000 children, 200,000 chapatis must be made. If 4,000 vessels must be washed per kitchen, how many people are required? Standardization of roles and optimizing can control staff costs.

For route optimization, the team worked with Bangalore’s premier management school, the Indian Institute of Management and brought down the number of van routes from 28 to 24.

“We are in talks with Transport Corporation of India about outsourcing of vehicles. We have piloted outsourcing in Orissa and Gujarat and are awaiting results. We have been promised a cost reduction of 5 percent this year, and 1-2 percent year on year,” he said.

Food Safety
12 of the 14 kitchens are ISO: 22000 certified. The foundation conducts continuous training on safe handling of food. To avoid contamination at the raw material stage, only vendors of high integrity are selected.

Employee Motivation
Nearly 80 percent of employees are blue collar; children of employees who do well in studies receive scholarships for further studies. It currently pays Rs. 60,000 a year for an employee’s daughter’s coaching to enter the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology. She had secured the ninth Karnataka rank in the 10th school leaving examination.

The Cooking to Consumption process is 4-6 hours long. Cooking for the first batch of rice starts at 6 am and the boilers start at 4 am. The food is packed at 9 am and delivered between 9 am and 12 pm. It means handling a large quantity in a very short time. So, steam generators are used at 102 degrees Centigrade to accelerate the cooking. They may up costs, but it all evens out.

New Technologies/Green Initiatives to Beat Costs
Earlier, the kitchens used LPG and diesel as fuel. Now, it’s briquettes made of agriwaste, paddy husk and coconut shell. Instead of cold water at 20-25 degrees Centigrade for cooking, it is now solar heated to 40 degrees the previous day. The steam generated is used for pressurized cauldrons, much like pressure cookers.

Beating Traffic
Usually, a kitchen feeds 100,000, but in Delhi, the traffic is bad. The answer is a cluster of kitchens, each catering to 10,000. This pilot project will use cycle rickshaws with 20 containers each to distribute food. In Orissa and Rajasthan, there are kitchens in schools. Cooking then takes only two hours.

Handling Glitches
If there are glitches with the steam boilers, standby boilers take over. Or the menu is altered, with two instead of three items. If the electricity fails, there are diesel generators. If vehicles break down, there are 2-3 vehicles on the ready. If 50 percent of the food is already distributed, autorickshaws complete the distribution.

Apart from supervisors, a vigilance team follows the food vans on scooters. In places like Bangalore, there’s GPS. Since there are scheduled stops, the vigilance team knows within minutes if there’s an unnecessary stop. The GPS is connected to the diesel tank to check pilferage.

A dustbin analysis tells the foundation what food items students did not like, such a beetroot, ladies finger, and soya granules. So, now it uses soya powder.

Reviews are conducted regularly: How many milestones have been met or not met? Are deliveries on time? Was the quality and quantity of food good?


The Indian National Centre for Ocean Information Sciences (INCOIS) in Hyderabad, set up in 2010, conducts real-time oceanic weather condition studies and transmits these reports to the authorities concerned. Its Indian Tsunami Early Warning Centre is considered one of the best in the world in terms of capabilities. INCOIS has been delivering accurate and timely reports on the state of the ocean to administrative authorities in coastal areas to enable effective disaster management. Its scientific projects have helped create a safe and sustainable environment for fishing communities to live in.

Mr. Sateesh C. Shenoi, director, INCOIS, said, “When an earthquake occurs, the Americans and Japanese may issue a warning for the Indian ocean. But we need more specific information for disaster management. We have developed a methodology by which we can make location-wise forecasts, whether it’s for Visakhapatnam, Andaman and Nicobar, Kolkata, or Chennai.”

The control room at INCOIS that processes real-time data and monitors weather trends.
INCOIS demonstrated its strengths on 11 April 2012 when an earthquake of 8.6 magnitude struck near Indonesia. INCOIS helped allay fears of a tsunami and sent out accurate and timely information to disaster management teams around coastal areas in India. While other meteorological centers gave out bulletins on the possibilities of a tsunami in the Indian Ocean, INCOIS advised only the eastern coast of India to be put on high alert and only three islands of Andaman and Nicobar Islands be evacuated. It put out a map of places under alert warning with no fear of a tsunami. “Now other countries are following our method. In 2011, UNESCO declared our centre the Regional Tsunami Service Provider for the Indian Ocean,” Mr. Shenoi added.

In India, the earthquake was felt at 2.08 pm and the first INCOIS bulletin went out at 2.15 pm. It gave information on the magnitude, location, and the potential for a tsunami. Six bulletins had gone out that day. The timely and accurate reports ensured there was no panic. It gave disaster management teams sufficient time to draw up their plans.

“Project management is crucial for us. Most of us at INCOIS have either attended courses or taken inhouse training in project management to manage our projects efficiently,” explained Mr. Shenoi.

Project management helps ensure the data that INCOIS collects and the information it sends out is timely and is of high quality. INCOIS receives real-time data from tsunami buoys placed in the ocean, which is processed using mathematical modelling techniques. The results are put on a Geographic Information System (GIS) map and threat areas marked. “The mathematical model helps us forecast what time a wave will hit Indian shores. In the next five years, we plan to improve this further and offer district-wise information in Tamil Nadu. If there’s a 2-meter wave, say, on Marina beach in Chennai, we want to predict flooding in localities around it. We are also working on improving the resolution of GIS maps so that our forecasting abilities improve,” Dr Shenoi explained.

Real-time information gathering needs to be backed up by speedy communication capabilities. INCOIS is constantly working on improving the speed at which it sends out alerts and warnings. “Earlier, we had to inform the control room at the Ministry of Home Affairs in New Delhi before sending out any information. But this system gave room for misinformation and rumors. Now we have established a process by which we inform both the disaster management teams and the home ministry simultaneously,” he added. Alerts and warnings go out to district collectors in the coastal districts on their mobile numbers, control room numbers, fax numbers, and email IDs.

Since the time INCOIS started its operations, it has been able to significantly impact the lives of people in coastal areas. Its project on Potential Fishing Zone advisories has made fishing a more profitable and safer occupation than before. INCOIS uses satellite data to derive potential fishing locations and generate advisories to fishermen. It uses data from six Indian satellites, and US and European satellites for daily advisories. The number of fishermen who use this service has gone up rapidly. Now about two lakh are benefiting from fishing advisories issued on the INCOIS website, sent to mobile phones, faxes and landlines, or flashed on electronic display boards installed in fishing harbors. INCOIS takes the help of social organizations that work with people in coastal areas to reach out to fishing communities.

The key to the success of a project lies in meticulous planning. “Our projects are based on requirements that come from the Government of India. We draw up our targets, come up with our hypotheses, discuss a plan of action, and start building a project. Our target is always to use improvised information for India rather than take data from other countries so that we can pin-point advisories for specific areas. Once a project starts, we conduct periodic reviews to check progress and take corrective action whenever required. Reviews of scientific projects are important, whether it’s at the group head level or the level of a committee of experts,” says Dr. Shenoi.

These organizations realize the importance of project management and are using it to run their projects efficiently. Project management has helped in controlling time, cost, and quality, and earned them the confidence and support of stakeholders to grow the project over time.

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