India’s nuclear firm diversifies, faces staff crunch

September 30th, 2008 - 2:53 pm ICT by IANS  

Bangalore, Sep 30 (IANS) As the doors of India’s nuclear market are being opened to global suppliers, an Indian public sector company, expressly set up to produce nuclear power, is ironically shedding its brand image. The Nuclear Power Corp of India Ltd (NPCIL) in Mumbai has said in its latest annual report that “business sense has propelled” the company into diversifying into wind, hydel and solar thermal power plants.

The move points to a drastic departure from the government owned company’s stated mission: “To develop nuclear power technology and produce nuclear power… to meet the increasing electricity needs of the country.”

In January 2007, the NPCIL set up a 10 MW wind power farm in Kudangulam in Tamil Nadu and said it intends to double the installed capacity of wind mills “within the next six months”.

The NPCIL has also entered into hydel power development. It formed a joint venture with Tehri Hydroelectric Development Corp in Uttarakhand. It is now working on two pumped storage schemes at Malshej Ghat (600MW) and Humbar (400MW) in Maharashtra.

The NPCIL report says it has signed an agreement with the Bharat Heavy Electricals Ltd for a joint venture to make 700 MW turbo generators. It was also “actively engaged” in the study of solar thermal power plants, and it will soon be preparing a proposal.

According to the annual report, the diversification was in keeping with the company’s “responsibility toward generating clean energy”.

However, NPCIL sources said that diversification is a precaution in the event of a shortfall of nuclear engineers arising from their possible migration to foreign companies who will be setting up shops in India.

The flight of trained manpower from the company’s top cadres to greener pastures can potentially jeopardise its ongoing and planned projects, the sources said.

“We have seen this happening in IT (after 1991 liberalisation) and pharmacy sector (after patents reform in 2005) and it cannot be different in our field,” the source said on condition of anonymity.

According to P.K. Iyengar, a former chairman of the Indian Atomic Energy Commission, the India-US nuclear deal has thrown “a good opportunity for experienced technical personnel in the near future”.

“Commercial interests would welcome the deal and look for opportunities to become fat salaried managers in the private sector and play second fiddle to foreign interests,” Iyengar told IANS.

The NPCIL was conscious of the potential impact of the nuclear deal on its depleting human resource.

“Human resource management has been a focal point in the wake of increased opportunities for growth in the nuclear power programme,” said Shreyans Kumar Jain, the company chairman.

Although the overall attrition rate of 3 percent at NPCIL seems small, the loss of “trained and licensed manpower from key segments” is regarded with deep concern, Jain said in his statement published in the report.

The report said that due to the rapidly growing opportunities and attractive pay package, attrition of experienced professionals of NPCIL had gone up.

Even retired NPCIL engineers are in great demand from the private sector. V.K. Chaturvedi, a former chairman of NPCIL, is now a director with Reliance.

To reduce the attrition rate, NPCIL has introduced a number of incentives like modified housing policy, award system, special allowances besides medical facilities for family even after retirement, fringe benefits like uniforms, newspapers and magazines and scholarships for staff children.

“The NPCIL is going out of its way to bond with its employees because we believe satisfied employees will form a committed work force,” the report said.

But the small fringe benefits may not be enough to retain the talented workforce, said a senior engineer in NPCIL’s Kaiga nuclear power plant.

“Honestly, if I get a break I will leave,” he said citing the example of a senior employee from the reactor division at the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) who recently joined Larson & Toubro that offered him Rs.2.2 million ($50,000) a year.

As on March 2008, NPCIL had 3,270 scientific and 5,690 technical people out of a total staff of 11,924. The primary source of manpower has been the BARC training school set up in 1957 by late Homi Bhabha.

But the annual intake of trainees has been declining from around 300 three decades ago. Out of 120 trainees from the 46th batch, nearly 15-20 people have resigned.

The deal will also see NPCIL transforming itself from being a driver to a conductor.

The NPCIL is currently operating 17 reactors and building five more - all except two designed by Indians.

Once the Russians, the French and the Americans bring their own designs, technology and equipment, NPCIL’s role will be limited to that a sub-contractor under the supervision of the foreign suppliers, a NPCIL source said.

Meanwhile, Iyengar says that while the migration of trained personnel is an issue, the nuclear deal itself is “not clean”.

“The US Senate has legalised all the conditions we voiced as undesirable,” he said. “It is to be seen how the (Indian) government will answer questions that may be raised in public.”

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