From Aadhar to radiant cooling, piezoelectricity and beema bamboo, India takes many small ‘steps’
A gas-based power plant, even if in Tripura, is hardly the thing of headlines, yet in the year gone by, it symbolised what a PSU can do, and how this can change the shape of India’s neighbourhood were the government to follow through. In the mid-2000s, ONGC decided to set up gas-powered turbines in Tripura to utilise the gas production it had capped there as it could find no way to utilise it. When 11 company officials went to scout the route to send the turbines, it found the route too tough to negotiate, and with not enough room for 24-metre trailers which were to carry the 350 tonne turbines to turn—they needed a 12-metre turning radius – even after getting the government to sanction and then widen existing roads. The Indian Waterway Transport Treaty (IWTT) with Bangladesh offered a possible way out, but the port it allowed was of no help—Ashuganj was a better bet, but India had been trying to get this into the treaty for decades, to no avail.
ONGC hired a shipping company in Bangladesh to do some local liasoning, its official in charge of the Tripura project—RK Madan—built a rapport with Sheikh Hasina’s advisors and managed to get Ashuganj incorporated in the IWTT and then built 48 km of road in Bangladesh from Ashuganj to India after getting the government to accord permissions at a speed that would shame India—the turbines got transported last year and electricity production started in October. India hasn’t quite followed through on its commitment to develop Ashuganj but has nonetheless managed to transport foodgrain for the northeast using this far more efficient means of transport. India’s northeast has become a lot more accessible, and because of a PSU.
India’s biggest “PSU” achievement, as it were, of course is the Aadhar-based payments system that is finally in place. The government may or may not finally use Aadhar to tackle the really big leakages in food subsidies—indeed, it is planning the mother of all PDS systems, the Food Security Bill, despite a 40-45% leakage in the system—but our focus here is on how Aadhar has pushed the envelope when it comes to technological innovations which, needless to say, can be used elsewhere. Given the shortage of space, and the author’s cognitive limits, the explanation will have to be more than a