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Taking baby steps towards reusable space shuttle

ISRO achieved an important milestone with the successful testing of a reusable launch vehicle that will deliver spacecrafts into orbit and return to the earth’s surface

Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), since its inception in 1972, has been experimenting with various fields associated with space sciences and rocket technologies. The key focus of the organisation is to ensure that India derives maximum benefits from its space programmes for its socio-economic development. As the country is essentially an agricultural economy, the emphasis of Indian space programmes is more towards receiving meteorological inputs, tracking various weather systems from Indian monsoon to movement of tropical storms, getting correct and relevant information for land and water resources management and knowing more about forest and other resources. Also, for all these years, India has been launching satellites for communications purposes and recently established its own regional navigational system.

Apart from focussing on core areas like meteorology, remote sensing, communication and navigation, ISRO focusses on areas with long-term scientific, technological and strategic relevance. To understand more about the planetary system, India has successfully undertaken missions to moon and Mars. Similarly, to know more about galaxies, the country has launched an astronomical satellite. Apart from this, India is keen on developing systems which would allow reducing the cost for launching satellites, to have the capability to launch satellites on demand and to prepare themselves for human missions to space. In order to develop this capability, India has taken a first step towards developing a Reusable Launch Vehicle (RLV) technology.

On May 23, 2016, ISRO successfully launched the Reusable Launch Vehicle-Technology Demonstrator (RLV-TD). This launch could be considered a step in the direction of launching a winged body, a spacecraft with delta wings, in future. It is the first step towards realising the dream of developing an indigenous space shuttle. It may take around 10 years more to have a usable and operational space shuttle. The RLV — 6.5 m long — was launched by ISRO using a ninetonne Solid Rocket Motor (SRM) which burnt slowly for accommodating the vertical lifting f this winged body. It took five years for the team of 600 scientists at the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre in Thiruvananthapuram to build this body that weighed around 1.75 tonnes. It is to be noted that normal space shuttles are around 55 m long and weigh more than 2,030 tonnes.

Indian RLV was flown up to 70 km and made to fall in the ocean (land on a virtual runway in the Bay of Bengal) on its return. Theoretically, such vehicles should land on runways and for any fully developed space shuttle, a 5 km long runway is required. ISRO had three main objectives for this RLV launch: to test the characterisation of the aero-thermo dynamics of hypersonic flights; to test the autonomous mission management of hypersonic vehicles; and to test the necessary re-entry technology for the vehicles. All these objectives were achieved. During this test, ISRO tested guiding and navigational techniques and collected information that would assist them to design future missions.

ISRO is expected to move in a systematic fashion for actual realisation of this idea. They are expected to conduct tests like LEX (Landing Experiment), REX (Return Flight Experiment) and SPEX (Scramjet Propulsion Experiment) in the coming few years. Also, a separate runway, along with a standby runway at a different location, would be required to be built.

Like all other ISRO programmes, this one also appears to be well thought of and ISRO would move in a systematic fashion to realise this dream. However, the time period for realisation of this programme is too long. It may take more than a decade to have an operational RLV available. The question is, can India afford to wait? Today, privatization of space is happening in a big way. There are a few private players who have support of agencies like NASA and European Space Agency, and are making quick inroad in the space sector.

The global demand for launching of satellites is rapidly increasing. ISRO has made remarkable progress in the area and launched 74 satellites on commercial terms for various countries. Now, India is proposing to increase the frequency of the launches by having more Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) missions. However, this would cater only partially. It is important to have RLV technology in place at the earliest. For this purpose, the Government would be required to increase the budget of ISRO and the organisation needs to engage international partners and develop a model for active participation of domestic industry.

Eye in the sky

Astrosat satellite mission endeavours

for a detailed understanding of our universe

To help scientists intensify space exploration efforts by studying distant celestial objects and conduct deeper analysis of star systems, India launched its maiden dedicated multi-wavelength space observatory, Astrosat, on September 28 from Satish Dhawan Space Centre on board a PSLV-XL vehicle.

After the success of satellite-borne Indian X-ray Astronomy Experiment, launched in 1996, Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) initiated the development of Astrosat as a full-fledged astronomy satellite in 2004. The mission took 11 years of dedicated research and aims to gather fresh data on the evolution of the universe. “This will herald a new era in astronomical research. Astrosat marks a new era in astronomical research. So far, scientists were dependent on data relayed by platforms manned by NASA or European Space Agency. Now, India has its own eye in the sky to study radiation bands in space that tell us about what is going on out there,” said K Kasturirangan who had initiated the Astrostat project as ISRO chairman.

Astrosat had a liftoff mass of around 1,513 kg and was launched into a 650 km orbit inclined at an angle of 6 degree to the equator by PSLV-C30. After injection into the orbit, the two solar panels of Astrosat automatically get deployed in quick succession. The spacecraft control centre at Mission Operations Complex of ISRO Telemetry, Tracking and Command Network (ISTRAC) at Bengaluru will manage the satellite during its mission life. The `180 crore Astrosat will spew data gathered by five instruments on board. While the primary strength of Astrosat is in observing high energy events and objects through its strong X-ray toolkit, the instruments aboard Astrosat can observe a wider spectrum - from visible light to the ultraviolet and X-ray bands. This has been a limitation in most other telescopes set up in space by NASA also. The Astrosat telescope is not only more powerful but capable of gathering data within the X-ray bands - making it a perfect multi-tasker.

Till date, the Hubble Space Telescope, a NASA-ESA joint venture, has been the biggest space observatory in the world. Astrosat may only be one-tenth in size compared to Hubble but it makes India only the fourth country (after USA, Russia and Japan) to have an operational space observatory for astronomical observations of its own.

Masters of the universe

The world’s largest high-altitude and second largest gamma ray telescope, installed in Hanle region of Ladakh, offers a unique insight into extreme phenomena of the universe

Indian scientists have another reason to cheer about – the country has indigenously developed the world’s largest high-altitude and second-largest gamma ray telescope. The giant 45 m high and 180 tonne telescope will enable scientists to closely study exotic objects like super nova remnants, active galactic nuclei and pulsars as also offer a unique insight into extreme phenomena of the universe. It will help scientists gain vital information on universe’s origin and cosmic rays that bombard space.

At present, the world’s largest gamma ray telescope with a diameter of 28 m, built by a consortium of European nations, is operational in Namibia. The `45 crore mammoth Indian gamma ray telescope, installed in Hanle region of Ladakh, has been built indigenously by Electronics Corporation of India Ltd in Hyderabad with designs supplied by Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) and will be operational by early 2016. Once complete, the Major Atmospheric Cherenkov Experiment (MACE) will be the fourth gamma ray telescope globally. The other two gamma ray telescopes are in Spain and the US.

The telescope, fitted with over 1,300 specialised diamond-turned mirrors, can capture gamma rays that hit the earth’s atmosphere from space more than 100 million light years away. These rays, in turn, are captured by a 1088-pixel camera located at the structure’s tip to enable Indian scientists to study super nova rays, pulsar energy flashes and other unidentified sources of such energy in space. The diamond-turned mirrors have been developed in India for the first time and will prove beneficial in strategic applications like defence and space sectors. Meanwhile, the high resolution camera will help application in sectors like healthcare.

The MACE Telescope consists of a large area tessellated light collector of 356 sq m, made up of 356 indigenously manufactured mirror panels. A high resolution imaging camera weighing about 1,200 kilos for detection and characterisation of the atmospheric Cherenkov events forms the focal plane instrumentation of the telescope. The telescope is supported on six wheels which move on a 27m diameter track. It has an integrated imaging camera that contains 1,088 photo multiplier based pixels and all signal processing and data acquisition electronics. The camera communicates the acquired data to the computer system in the control room over optical fiber. Key features of the telescope include safe and secure operation remotely from anywhere in the world. With this, India will join the elite scientific community working in field of gamma ray study.

When sky is the limit...

Dr Tessy Thomas has sky-rocketed to unparalleled success in the field of missile technology

She gets up at 6 am, goes for a walk, watches TV serials and cooks. In her spare time, she plays badminton and chess and one of her favourite hobbies is gardening. Sounds like the life of any ordinary Indian woman? But Dr Tessy Thomas is definitely extraordinary. She spends 10-12 hours in office, working on some of the most powerful weapons of mass destruction. Popularly known as agniputri (daughter of fire), she was the project director for 5,000 km range Agni V in 2009, based at the Advanced Systems Laboratory, Hyderabad. Dr Thomas was associate project director for the 3,000 km range Agni III missile and project director for Agni IV.

Her childhood fascination for math and science charted her future course of action with a school trip to Thumba Rocket Launching Station in Thiruvananthapuram serving as the perfect inspiration. She completed B Tech in Electrical Engineering and followed it up with M Tech in Guided Missiles and a course sponsored by Defence Research & Development  Organisation (DRDO). In 1988, she joined DRDO and was posted at Hyderabad-based DRDO Lab, working with the navigation and guidance groups. “Then on, it has been a career of inspiration, opportunity and scientific support from colleagues and senior. As a result, I became a designer for long-range missile systems,” she says.

At present, Dr Thomas is director, Advanced Systems Laboratory, DRDO. As part of the Agni missile team, she was involved in modelling and simulation of missile systems. “During the initial phase of my career, I participated in all technical reviews which helped me understand the system better,” says Dr Thomas who has been with DRDO for the past 27 years. “I have had moments of  agony and ecstasy. Working with DRDO has given me both opportunities and courage to handle any problem,” she says. Inspired  by Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam’s and goal-oriented approach, she keeps a firm hold on life, taking both successes and failures in her stride. “He introduced openness and teamwork and has been a role model for all of us at DRDO,” says Dr Thomas.

Despite her demanding career, she has managed to find the right worklife balance. “In life comes a phase where one needs to strike a balance between career and home. Once we overcome it successfully, life gets easier and happier,” shares Dr Thomas. While family support has played a major role in her success, she admits facing difficult times on personal front when her son was in school and husband posted out of station. “But we all managed. Tejas, my son, has been understanding and cooperative. He completed his engineering recently,” she says.

Among other recognitions, she recently won the Y Nayudamma Memorial Award 2014 for her contribution in the field of missile technology.


India’s first Mars mission, a low-budget project, marks country’s foray into an elite club of space powers

In 2013, India became the first Asian country and the fourth nation in the world to leap into the interplanetary space with its `4,500 million exploratory mission to Mars, about 400 million km (250 million miles) from earth. So far, only Russia, the US and the European Space Agency have undertaken such missions to Mars.

The 1,337 kg Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) was launched on November 5 by Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) from Sriharikota off the Bay of Bengal, about 80 km from Chennai, onboard a 350-tonne rocket. The Mangalyaan, or Mars craft, was fine tuned on December 11 in the interplanetary space to stay on course on way to Mars. The spacecraft was 2.9-million km away from the earth when the trajectory correction was carried, and cruising at 32 km/second to reach the Martian orbit in mid-September 2014 for its geological exploration.

Scientists at the Deep Space Network of the ISRO at Bylalu, about 40 km from Sriharikota, are monitoring the orbiter’s odyssey and programming its computer for sending and receiving commands for its operations. According to ISRO’s spaceport director M.Y.S. Prasad, two of the three phases of the Mars mission have been accomplished. “The third important phase will be capturing of Mars orbit in September 2014 at about 500 km from the red planet’s surface for the five scientific experiments,” Prasad said.

As the fourth planet from sun and behind earth, Mars is the second smallest celestial body in the solar system. Named after the Roman god of war, Mars is also known as red planet due to the presence of iron oxide in abundance.

India launched its first inter-planetary mission to Mars with a two-fold objective—technological and scientific. The technological objectives include design and realisation of Mars orbiter with a capability to survive and perform Earthbound manoeuvres, cruise phase of 300 days, Mars orbit insertion/capture, and on-orbit phase around Mars. It will also enable deep space communication, navigation, mission planning and management and incorporate autonomous features to handle contingency situations. The scientific mission will be to explore planet’s surface features, morphology, mineralogy and Martian atmosphere by indigenous scientific instruments.

Comparing Mangalyaan with the latest Mars mission MAVEN of the US, ISRO chairman K Radhakrishnan said the American Atlas V rocket has a payload capacity of 13 tonne to GTO (geo-transfer orbit), while the PSLV-XL capacity is only around 1,300 kg. “The American satellite, weighing around 2,500 kg, carries payload weighing around 65 kg and around 1,600 kg fuel. Our orbiter weighing 1,350 kg carries a payload of just 15 kg and fuel of around 850 kg,” he added.

What he did not compare is the cost incurred in both the missions. While India will be spending around $72 million, the US mission is budgeted at $671 million. Radhakrishnan reiterated that the Mars mission proves India’s capability to undertake such complex tasks.

The mission is soon to be followed by the launch of German, French, British and Canadian satellites by the organisation. “We will be launching EnMAP (Environmental Mapping and Analysis Programme) satellite, belonging to Germany. The satellite will weigh around 800 kg,” said Radhakrishnan. This apart, ISRO will be launching French satellite SPOT-7 during the first quarter of 2014, Radhakrishnan said. “There will be four more small foreign satellites that would go along with SPOT-7,” he added.

ISRO plans to have at least one commercial launch every year using the Indian Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV). According to Radhakrishnan, the PSLV rocket’s reliability has been underlined once again with the launch of MOM in a precise manner despite the challenges.


When plastic turns to diesel

By innovating conversion of plastic into clean diesel, Indian  scientists take the first step towards fulfilling Mr Narendra Modi’s Make in India dream

Tonnes of plastic buckets, mugs, toothpaste caps and other waste material is guzzled up by a giant machine which, in turn, produces the cleanest grade of diesel. Researchers at the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research - Indian Institute of Petroleum (CSIR-IIP), a part of the CSIR, have achieved this significant success in reducing national dependence on fossil fuels by converting plastic into diesel. And the Indian Railways will use it as fuel for its trains soon.

In fact, Indian Railways plans to set up plants to manufacture diesel for mechanical traction with technology patented by CSIRIIP scientists in Dehradun. On a visit to CSIR-IIP, Union Minister for Science and Technology and vice president, CSIR, Dr Harsh Vardhan said the plant will be available to convert one tonne of plastic into 850 litres of cleanest grade of diesel. “Indian Railways uses almost 2.7 billion litres of diesel every year which it procures through open bids from state-run oil marketing companies and private players. The new plant, apart from producing clean energy, will be the first step for the Indian Railways to attain self-sufficiency to meet its own energy requirements,” he said. The green technology is available in the US, Germany and Japan and could produce LPG as a byproduct. Apart from this, CSIR-IIP has announced a breakthrough in technology to make low carbon jet fuel from inedible droughtresistant jatropha plant. The plant is being seen as a big step forward in Prime Minister Mr Narendra Modi’s Make In India initiative which aims to transform the country into a global manufacturing hub. The programme also aims to increase the share of manufacturing in the country’s gross domestic product from 16 per cent to 25 per cent by 2022. The major aim of the programme is to ensure sustainable growth where the expansion of the manufacturing sector is not at the cost of the environment.

The new plant built by Indian Railways aims to score big on three counts: innovation, as it uses a technology that CSIR-IIP will hold the patent for; domestic manufacturing and sustainability for producing cleaner diesel. The technology that turns plastic waste from a nuisance into a clean energy resource and continuing research and innovation showcases India’s commitment to fight climate change effectively. Moreover, the Government’s decision to support clean energy innovations is crucial ahead of the international climate change discussions in Paris in December and in meeting Mr Modi’s target of consisting 20 per cent of its total energy build of renewable energy by 2022.

First indigenous Rotavirus vaccine

Made in India, Rotavac is expected to help significantly reduce infant deaths in the country and other parts of the world

The most common cause of severe diarrhoea among children has found an indigenous solution in the form of the Rotavac vaccine which was launched by Prime Minister Mr Narendra Modi in March. Developed by Hyderabad-based Bharat Biotec India Limited, it is expected to help significantly reduce infant deaths due to Rotavirus diarrhoea in India and other parts of the world. The deadly Rotavirus causes over 4,50,000 deaths worldwide and 1,10,000 deaths in India annually, including 80,000 children.

A result of the partnership among the department of biotechnology, Bharat Biotech and several Indian and international organisations, the successful launch of the first indigenously developed and produced vaccine is the result of an effort spread over 25 years.

Bharat Biotech India Limited was involved in the development and production of the vaccine and was selected in 1997-98 by the India-US Vaccine Action Programme and the standard government procedures. This is the third such vaccine available globally against Rotavirus and, at the current prices, the cheapest.

Foreign companies currently sell Rotavirus vaccines in India at `1,100 per dose while Bharat Biotech proposes to sell Rotavac for `63 per dose to the government of India and other low-income countries.

The Prime Minister remarked that India is characterised by large size and diversity and continues to face a number of socio-economic challenges. He hoped that the development of the vaccine would inspire higher levels of research, development and manufacturing activities in India, not just in medical science but also in other advanced areas of science and technology. Bharat Biotech has filed four global patents around the technology of Rotavac in more than 20 countries.

Their facility in Genome Valley in Hyderabad has an installed manufacturing capacity of 300 million doses per year.

Going carbon free

The best way to reduce carbon emission is to popularise clean energy technologies among the rural population

Did you know that over three billion people in developing countries are dependent on burning of firewood, crop residue and cattle dung to prepare daily meals on traditional mud stoves, open fires and three stones? Studies have revealed that indoor air pollution significantly increases the risk of pneumonia in children and chronic bronchitis and other ailments in women. The smoke emanating during cooking procedures consists of short-lived but high impact climate change agents like black carbon which are light-absorbing carbon particles and much more potent in the short-term than greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane.

To provide sustainable, effective, incentive-based action plans, infrastructure  and new technologies to enable rural communities to switch over to improved cooking technologies, Project Surya was introduced. The uniqueness of cookstove intervention project lies in its science focus: undertaking the most comprehensive and rigorous scientific evaluation to date on the efficacy of reducing biomass-fuelled cooking on climate warming, air pollution, health and human wellbeing. Project Surya aims to expand access to truly clean energy technologies among poor rural households in developing countries. In this process, the project consortium seeks to monitor measurable climate benefits of clean cooking technologies, and through this, empower rural users with climate finance. Project Surya is managed by a global consortium comprising University of California (San Diego), The Energy and Resources Institute and Nexleaf Analytics (USA).

To meet the socio-cultural and economic objectivity of the rural Indian population, The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) developed a series of prototype clean cookstoves. These included a top-loading single-pot stove, a front-loading single-pot stove and a front-loading doublepot stove. Each of these sources employs a fan-driven forced draft to aid combustion as well as a standardised stove combustion chamber that can be fitted with additional components to meet local requirements. As opposed to its ‘natural draft’ counterparts (where air flows in naturally, unaided by a fan), forced draft stoves are known to have significantly higher health and environmental benefits. Wherever possible, all the components of the stove system were based on nut-and-bolt systems and used parts commonly available even in the village markets. The stoves provided options such as a solar charging unit and adding additional stove heads for larger families. The concept behind it was that the stoves adapted to people and traditional cooking habits and not vice versa. Project Surya deployed improved cooking technologies in rural communities and rapidly cut down emission levels of major pollutants like black carbon. The project aims to use two low-cost sensor technologies to estimate black carbon emission savings due to improved stove usage. Temperature is recorded through the sensor attached to the stove and transmits real-time temperature readings through an adapter circuit and thermistor to an attached mobile phone through its headset jack. This technology can be accessed on a Java-enabled phone too. The second option is utilising a miniature aerosol sampler wherein a filter is exposed to the indoor air particles. If a person has a cell phone with the facilities of GPRS and camera, a photograph of the filter can be clicked and transmitted to a centralised server wirelessly. A complex computer algorithm then takes an estimate of the black carbon emissions from the blackness of the filter in the photo. The wireless technology not only reduces the transaction costs considerably, it also provides verifiable, technology-centric and costeffective monitoring of the usage of the stove.

The project helped in identifying forced draft stoves as a superior option among improved stove technologies, developed low-cost cell phone technologies that make it possible to measure black carbon on the ground with unprecedented spatial resolution for the first time, identified socioeconomic barriers and drivers related to cookware adoption and demonstrated the link between indoor and outdoor concentrations of black carbon in and around Surya pilot village with cooking activities. The pilot phase of Surya Project was completed successfully in 2011.

In its ongoing phase being implemented in more than 4,000 rural households of Uttar Pradesh and Odisha, Project Surya has created a dummy ‘climate credit’ fund for rural users. Based on the usage of improved cookstoves recorded by sensors, collected centrally at TERI’s office in New Delhi, micro-payments are made on a bi-monthly basis to rural women in their bank accounts. More recently, Project Surya is working towards exploring new streams of channeling finance to improved cookstoves users, such as postal payments and mobile-based payments in association with various partner organisations.

Taming the spirit of pine

An Indian NGO has found productive use of pine needles, once the cause of many a fire in the hills, by generating electricity from them


When I was a kid, my Almora home in the Kumaon hills of Uttarakhand, was surrounded by a thick cover of pine trees. Anytime a southward breeze blew, we could smell the familiar whiff of resins. On some summer nights, the forest would come ablaze in circular patterns. Years passed and the green cover began to reduce, so much so that on a recent visit, I was shocked to be able to count them.

It took some growing up to realise that the pine needles or pirul , as we call them, were to blame. They are highly inflammable due to a high calorific value and low density. And their carpet on the forest floor causes rainwater to drain down the slope rather than be absorbed in the soil.

Sometimes villagers set them on fire to get rid of unwanted shrubs and at others, fire spreads uncontrollably due to negligence.

Whatever the case may be, they pose a huge threat to the jungles and ecological system. Watching it from close quarters all these years was Rajnish Jain and his wife Rashmi, co-founders of the non-profit organisation, AVANI.

They decided to expand the scope of their rural voluntary establishment and take on “harnessing the destructive energy” of the pine needles in Berinag village in Pithoragarh district of Uttarakhand. The NGO dreamt of developing a technology that utilised the abundance of pine needles in keeping with the motto of capacity building and sustainable rural development. This ambitious hope pronounced itself as “electricity”.

They are known as Saur Urja in the area because of their extensive work with solar energy which saw electrification of 25 villages. Jain travelled places with his hypothesis of using pine needles as fodder for creating electricity but was turned down everywhere on grounds of impracticality. “The density of pine needles was too low is what they all said,” shares Jain. Without a background in scientific research, he continued to experiment on his own and finally managed to overcome the density problem by chopping pine needles into smaller pieces, and developing a technology which is in final stages of being patented. With this success, it was proved that pine needles could be used as feedstock for a biomass gasifier to produce electricity. But the work had only begun.

AVANI set up a fully operational 9 kW plant, within the campus, as a pilot that worked favourably. Out of the 9 kW of electricity produced, 1.5 kW was used for running the system and the rest was available for other productive uses such as welding and calendering. Taking it a step further, the NGO set up Avani Bio Energy Pvt Ltd in 2012 in order to commercially utilise the electricity thus produced and get connected with existing power grids. Funds were pitched from organisations such as New York-based Acumen Funds, a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) was signed with UPCL, and a permission to collect pine needles on large scale was picked from the forest department. Finally, a 120 kW commercial plant was setup at Chachret village in Pithoragarh district. As of now, a couple of thousand units have been dumped in the grid. This aims to generate clean energy, jobs and restore biodiversity by stopping forest fires.

“An average pine needles’ collector can make up to `25,000 a month as we pay them at a rate of `1 per kilo. During the shedding season, forests are covered with a huge number of them. Almost 1,200 tonnes in less than 200 hectares of forest land,” Jain explains. The proposition has given options to the unemployed and women of the area. There is a team of local technicians handtrained by Jain himself who carry out the operations with dexterity. The process of gasification also produces a by-product – high-quality charcoal in powder form which, in turn, is converted into charcoal briquettes. These work as top-level fuel for rural kitchens, easily replacing wood, saving forests. The use of briquettes ensures better health for women who would then cook in a smokeless environment. They come cheaper than other fuels and may be purchased for cash or in lieu of pine needles. Where localites welcomed the enterprise by donating lands, there are many challenges. The biggest among them is a lack of industrial culture in the area due to which people are discouraged from being actively involved. “Young men don’t want to collect pine needles. They would rather move out of the village to bigger towns or cities,” opines Jain about a problem that clubs with it a deeper issue of out-migration. AVANI Bio Energy Pvt Ltd plans to expand and go smaller. Jain says, “Smaller units are easier to manage and have the capacity to reach deeper into villages. The idea is to get local entrepreneurs involved, who can control and manage the supply chains, operations and retail of the charcoal.”


Flagship Initiatives

Make in India, the new mantra

Aero India show witnessed enthusiastic participation of Indian and foreign aerospace companies


Bengaluru in southern India is the hub of  information technology, but for a few days, all eyes in this hi-tech city were peeled towards the skies away from computer screens. High-speed low flying runs, rolls, somersaults and formation flying enthralled spectators. Airplanes of all shapes and sizes dazzled audiences as part of the 10th edition of the Aero India show held from February 18-22, 2015. Fighter jets, large cargo planes, helicopters, vintage propeller driven planes and unmanned aerial vehicles all danced in the skies to enthrall enthusiastic crowds. India’s indigenously made fourth generation Tejas aircraft performed to accuracy and earned applause.   

 According to the Ministry of Defence, Government of India, 635 aerospace companies and nearly 300 CEOs from India and abroad including delegates from 42 nations participated. Hundreds of stalls displayed their hi-tech wares. 

The aerial display began with an Indian Air Force (IAF) vintage Tiger Moth plane reminding of India’s modest origins in an earlier era of warplanes. Transcending to today and aptly in keeping with the Make in India theme, two indigenous creations –  Light Combat Aircraft and a Light Combat Helicopter – flew in quick succession displaying India’s technological leap in aircraft production. The frontline Russian made Sukhoi-30 MKI of the IAF left the gathering spellbound with its versatility and agility, performing the vertical Charlie to perfection. Not to be left behind were impressive displays by an American fighter jet F-16 and the French Rafale jet fighter. Aerial stunts were performed by few foreign aerobatic teams like the Breitling Wingwalkers from the UK performed atop the wings of flying airplanes. The show-stopping moment was provided by Sarang, the IAF’s helicopter display team, in their sprightly coloured, peacock-themed, Advanced Light Helicopters. For the first time, two women officers also participated. 

 In a first, Indian Prime Minister Mr Narendra Modi inaugurated the mega event which in a way was kick-starting his pet programme of Make in India, making the country the hub for manufacturing defence equipment. At the inauguration, Mr Modi said, “This, the largest ever Aero India, reflects a new level of confidence within our country and global interest in India. To many of you, India is a major business opportunity. We have the reputation as the largest importer of defence equipment in the world. That may be music to the ears of some of you here. But this is one area where we would not like to be Number One! Our security challenges are well known. Our international responsibilities are evident. We do need to increase our defence preparedness. We do have to modernise our defence forces.” 

The Indian Air Force Station at Yelahanka, on Bengaluru’s outskirts, was converted into a mega-specialised trade fair with participation of 250 Indian companies and 300 foreign firms vying to do commerce at the bi-annual air show. All major aerospace companies like Rolls Royce; Airbus Industries; Boeing, Lockheed Martin among many others made their presence felt. Indian giants like Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL); Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL); the Kalyani Group and Tatas showcased their products and looked to make joint ventures with overseas partners. Towards that after India liberalised the limits of foreign direct investment to a maximum of 49 per cent, the Kalyani Group and Israel’s Rafael Advanced Defence Systems inked a joint venture. The chairman of Kalyani Group, Mr Baba Kalyani said, “Rafael has been an active participant in the Indian defence market. As part of the alliance, we hope to develop military applications based on our own proprietary technologies.” Kalyani Group aims to do business worth $100 million in the next two years. India’s defence minister Mr Manohar Parrikar, an IIT-trained engineer, said, “With the security scenario, India becoming self-sufficient in defence production is important. Make in India is immensely important and this is an important time for ensuring that business deals are struck.” India is powering its navy too. In February, the Indian government sanctioned the making of seven stealth frigates and six nuclear-powered submarines, the combined cost to be over `1 lakh crore. It has asked HAL to manufacture about 70 Pilatus trainer aircraft while acquiring 38 of these planes from the Swiss company.

Indian President Dr Pranab Mukerjee, speaking in the Parliament, said, “The Make in India programme aims to create a wholesome ecosystem to transform India into a manufacturing hub… Stress is being laid on research and innovation while focussing our attention on manufacturing for creating more jobs.”

Towards this goal, Mr Modi said, “In India, the defence industry in the Government sector alone employs nearly two lakh workers and thousands of engineers and scientists. They produce an output of nearly $7 billion annually. It supports a large pool of small and medium enterprises. Our defence  industry in private sector is still small. But it employs thousands of people. This is despite the fact that nearly 60 per cent of our defence equipment continues to be imported. And we are spending tens of billions of dollars on acquisitions from abroad. Studies show that even a 20-25 per cent reduction in imports could directly create an additional 100,000-120,000 highly skilled jobs in India. If we could raise the percentage of domestic procurement from 40-70 per cent in the next five years, we would double the output in our defence industry. Imagine the impact in terms of jobs created directly and in the related manufacturing and services sector.

Think of the spin-off benefits on other sectors in terms of advanced materials and technologies. That is why we are focussing on developing India’s defence industry with a sense of mission. This is why it is at the heart of our Make in India programme. We are reforming our defence procurement policies and procedures. There would be a clear preference for equipment manufactured in India. Our procurement procedures will ensure simplicity, accountability and speedy decision making. We have raised the permitted level of Foreign Direct Investment to 49 per cent. This can go higher if the project brings stateof-the art technology. We have permitted investments up to 24 per cent by Foreign Institutional Investments. And there is no longer a need to have a single Indian investor with, at least, a 51 per cent stake. Industrial licensing requirements have been eliminated for a number of items. Where it is needed, the process has been simplified. We are expanding the role of private sector, even for major platforms. Our goal is to provide a level playing field for all.”

The world is welcoming India’s new pitch. Mr Frank Kendall, the American Under Secretary of Defence, writing in The Hindu newspaper, said, “Our governments and industries can work to strengthen India’s industrial base to not only Make in India but to make the region and the world a safer place.” India and the US have embarked on what are termed “pathfinder” projects as part of the new Defence Technology Trade Initiative (DTTI) which include jointly making jet engines and aircraft carrier technology.

While big ticket deals eluded this air show, over 3.5 lakh visitors enjoyed the spellbinding display with Mr Modi emphasising that our aerospace industry alone needs about two lakh people in another 10 years. Major opportunities exist for global giants to make India the low cost reliable hub for manufacturing aerospace equipment as the Government gives this sector the wings it needs to fly.  

Digital India, One India

The Government of India’s Digital India initiative focusses on transforming the country into a digitally empowered economy. The larger aim is to unite India on a common virtual platform

To bridge the ever-widening gap between government departments and people of India to ensure effective governance, make available government services to citizens electronically by minimising paperwork and to integrate rural India under high-speed network, the Government of India embarked upon the Digital India initiative. It comprises three components: digital infrastructure, delivering services digitally and digital literacy, with a project deadline of 2019. Digital India plans to integrate and synchronise all digital initiatives, including the national broadband plan and domestic manufacturing policy, to ensure timely execution with maximum impact for a better future. The plan will be monitored by the Prime Minister’s committee on Digital India with ministers of finance, communications, rural development, human resources development and health as members.

Sharing his vision for Digital India, the Prime Minister in his maiden Independence Day speech had said, “When I talk of Digital India, I don’t speak of the elite. It is for the poor. You can imagine what a quality education the children in villages will get, if all the villages of India are connected with broadband connectivity and if we are able to give long distance education to schools in every remote corner of the villages. Today, information technology has the potential to connect each and every citizen of the country and that is why we want to realise the mantra of unity with the help of Digital India.”

The Digital India initiative is expected to create 17 million direct and 85 million indirect jobs, considerably reducing Indian imports of electronic goods. The plan also envisages creation of virtual infrastructure to connect every citizen with high-speed Internet and a range of services, using a life-long digital identity along with mobile phones, bank accounts and shareable private space on a public “cloud”. All information will be available in real time on mobile phones and online, in Indian languages.

One of the main plans is to connect twoand-a-half lakh village councils at a cost of `27,000 crore, likely to be completed by December 2016 with the national information infrastructure providing necessary e-governance services at `15,686 crore. It is likely to be ready by March 2017. The plan intends ensuring universal access to mobile phones to 42,311 unconnected villages in India by June 2015 at `16,000 crore. By June-end last year, total tele-density in India was 75.8 per cent with urban tele-density at 146.24 per cent and rural tele-density lagging behind at 44.5 per cent.

In January 2015, Idukki in Kerala became the first district in the country to be linked to the National Optic Fibre Network (NOFN), connecting eight block offices and 53 gram panchayats to the network under the ambitious plan. The Government expects to set up two semiconductor fabrication facilities at `12,419 crore, `23,347 crore and `1,400 crore, respectively, during the 12th, 13th and 14th Plan periods. The plan will create skill development centres to produce a workforce of four lakh for electronics sector over next five years at `575 crore.

Through the Digital India initiative, plans aim net-zero electronics import target by 2020 through a number of moves to incentivise, promote and develop manufacturing facilities. The incentives include a modified special incentive package scheme, tax rationalisation and preferential market access, costing around `24,000 crore. The initiative mentions creating five new electronic manufacturing facilities over the next five years, with the Government spending `500 crore of the `1,500 crore estimated cost.

An electronic development fund may be set up to create Indian intellectual property for electronic goods. Meanwhile, keeping in mind India’s poor digital literacy, the Centre has embarked on a basic computer education programme, Disha , earmarking `95 crore to educate a million people initially. In the next three years, the Government intends not only bringing all departments across the country online but also ensuring necessary storage of certificates among others. The electronic delivery of services, including health, education, security, justice, financial inclusion and information to farmers, termed e-kranti, aims to provide broadband connectivity to over two-and-a-half lakh schools, including free wi-fi and massive online open courses.

Meanwhile, e-healthcare aims to ensure access to online medical consultations, records, supplies and pan-India patient information. Farmers will get real-time access to price Information financial help and mobile banking. The plan will include a geographic information system-based social network for citizens called MyGov.

New York-based research firm McKinsey has stated that the adoption of key technologies across various sectors spurred by the Digital India initiative could help boost India’s GDP by $550-billion to $1 trillion by 2025 and the initiative would have significant impact on technology adoption. McKinsey is bullish over adoption of mobile Internet, cloud technology, digital payments, digital identity, Internet of Things (IoT), intelligent transportation, advanced geographic information system and next generation genomics.

Building of spice Coast

Way before Kerala became synonymous with backwaters, houseboats and ayurveda, God’s Own Country was known for its spices. We take you down the history lane that set many like Christopher Columbus to sail

In January this year, UNESCO and Kerala Tourism signed a pact to resurrect and promote the ancient spice route of which Kerala was an integral part. The two-fold agenda of this first-ever international initiative is to restore historic ports, buildings and marketplaces that played a key role in developing the spice route and Kerala’s culture. And in doing so, help one understand the everevolving story of spices: How once spices ruled the world? How spices became the reason for wars, treaties, pacts and colonisation? And why spices were considered costlier than gold?

An important part of the plan comprises developing 25 museums to create a timeline of the spice route in Kerala, and how under the Roman influence, the state became the epicenter of spice trading – each country wanting a bigger piece of the pie.  

Why Kerala? Because it is in this naturerich state where the real spice story began. In fact, it was an established spice trade port as early as 3000 BC. Such was the spice market offering that it pulled traders from far and wide. Nomadic Arabs and ancient Phoenicians were among the first to arrive here for spice trade. And by 600 BC were transporting pepper, cinnamon, incense and oils from the East through the Persian Gulf to Arabia and beyond. It is said that on one of their visits, the Arabs were short of cash and paid the tax with pepper, calling it the black gold of Asia. Such was the effect of this sweet-fiery spice that by the turn of that year, its consumption grew astonishingly and it became a status symbol of fine cookery. A proof of this are recipes for pepper sauces in Roman novels of 1st century AD. In fact, Roman emperor Domition designated an area in the heart of the city as Ahorrea piperataria, pepper sheds, exclusively for pepper merchants.

Getting control over Kerala ports was one of the motives behind Alexander’s India invasion. Back home, Ashoka The Great had similar plans, given that by 3 BCE Kerala had become the busiest spice trading centre. This influenced the lives of Kerala natives as the state became the melting pot of trading communities. This is why Kerala has the maximum churches, mosques, guest houses, forts and Shiva temples close to water shores including the first-ever mosque Cheraman Juma Masjid, built by King Cheraman Perumal and Vypeekotta Seminary which became the centre of Christian teachings. And Chennamangalam Synagogue and Anatapani North Synagogue which started the Jews settlement in Kerala.

India’s Natural Economic Zone

Make in North-East initiative is a comprehensive, multi-layered plan to integrate the region, its people and economy with the rest of the country

The states of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Sikkim, Mizoram and Tripura that make up the North-East are all set to get a makeover with the new Make in NorthEast initiative. Launched earlier this year by the Ministry for Development of North Eastern Region, the project is inspired by Prime Minister Mr Narendra Modi’s Make in India initiative which aims to develop the country into a global manufacturing hub. Make in North-East , however, is much more than just a regional version of the national programme. It is a comprehensive, multi-layered plan to integrate the region – its people and economy – with the rest of the country as well as develop the North-East’s unexploited potential.

At one level, it looks to nurture areas in which the North-East has already gained expertise such as the tea processing industry. Assam tea is cherished by connoisseurs across the globe and there was a time when Guwahati was one of the largest tea auctioning centres of the world. Regional proficiency is the organic farming industry. Sikkim and Mizoram, national leaders in organic farming, are already on their way to becoming 100 per cent organic while Meghalaya also made similar progress.

Globally, organic farming has become the holy grail of sustainable living and the global organic foods market is worth several billion dollars today. India, however, does not even have one per cent share in this lucrative market. Make in North-East can be a game-changer here, especially if the region’s horticulture (think citrus fruit production in Arunachal Pradesh) and food processing industries are developed effectively.

This list can go on to include fields and sectors as varied as renewable energy and alternative medicine but it should suffice to say that with a little bit of care and nurturing, the North-East can indeed emerge as one of the country’s biggest assets.

Another important plank of the Make in North-East programme is to boost tourism. From adventure and wildlife to religious and cultural tourism, the seven sister states have something for everybody. The region is dotted with hill stations known for their virgin beauty.  All the eight states offer great mountaineering and trekking opportunities, Sikkim is best for whitewater rafting. Tourists interested in a “spiritual” experience are equally spoilt for choice, including the 400-year-old Tawang Monastery in Arunachal Pradesh and the revered Kamakhya Temple in Assam. Then there are Nagaland’s Hornbill Festival, Meghalaya’s Shillong Autumn Festival and Manipur’s Kang Chingba that add to the celebrations.

The Central Government is making a concerted effort to bring Bollywood to the North-East and is hopeful about the many options that will open up. It will have to improve regional infrastructure, especially in the transport, communication and hospitality sectors. It is heartening to know of the financial support allocated for new roads, highways, rail lines and cell phone towers.

Coir: The revolutionary fibre

The International Coir Museum in Alappuzha, Kerala acquaints visitors about coir and its uses

Have you ever wondered what happens to the husk of coconut trees? If not, then it is time you plan a trip to the International Coir Museum in Alappuzha in the state of Kerala. Set amid the lazy backwaters of the town, the first-of-its-kind museum in the world acquaints you on coir’s journey from being a fibrous material found between the hard, internal shell and the outer coat of a coconut to being used to create ropes, doormats, mattresses, floor tiles and sacks. Lately, the Central Government is planning to give a boost to the coir sector by sanctioning around 1,000 franchisees to sell coir products and by marketing them through expos within India and foreign countries. Under the Coir Udyami Yojana, the Government has been imparting training to youth and entrepreneurs for augmenting production and thereby attracting the new generation to the sector. The idea of setting up an International Coir Museum was conceived by Coir Board chairman Prof G Balachandran which turned into reality in May 2014. The museum showcases the history of the coir industry, beginning from the setting up of the first coir factory, Darragh Smail & Company, to the latest technologies developed in coir industry which aim at bringing about a total revolution through “mechanisation, modernisation, diversification and commercialisation. When you walk in to the compound of the museum, it has five halls that enlighten visitors about coir.

History hall

The hall takes you to the bygone era of James Darragh and Henry Smail whose busts are placed alongside a wall that signifies the first coir factory established by the duo in 1959. Darragh came to Alleppey, the chief port of the state and started the first coir factory, Darragh Smail & Company, with Henry Smail. Visitors also get to know that ropes made from coconut fibre were used in ancient times and Indian navigators who sailed the seas to China, Java, Malaya and Gulf of Arabia used coir for their ship ropes. Not many are aware that a coir industry in the United Kingdom was recorded before the second half of the 19th century.

Retting hall

The traditional method of natural retting practised in India consists of soaking the husk in backwaters for around a year. This hall showcases the traditional methods of fibre extraction by retting of coconut husk and fibre extraction by rural women.

Spinning hall

The spinning of coir fibre was earlier carried out by hands or charkhas (spinning wheels). This hall displays traditional spinning as well as spinning units known as ratts . The latest version of motorised ratts are also exhibited here.

Machinery hall

The hall showcases all the equipment used for extraction of coir fibre from coconut husk, spinning into coir yarn and weaving into coir products. The Central Coir Research Institute, Kalavoor and the Central Institute of Coir Technology, the R&D centres of Coir Board, successfully developed different machineries which increased the output with minimal efforts.

Coir Wood house hall

Coir fibre, when impregnated with phenol formaldehyde resin, produces composite boards which can be used as wood substitutes are displayed here. The products are cheaper than commercial plywood, are fire retardant, boiling waterproof and can be sawed and drilled. A Coir Wood House has been erected in the museum which makes use of the coir composite panels and has been furnished with furniture using coir composite boards.

Product Display

An array of products have been displayed along with traditional Kettuvallom which informs of the diversification and commercialization potential of coir.        


A short audio-video film takes visitors through the world of coir over the ages and gives information on latest research and development.

Souvenir Shop

The shop displays an array of products for tourists which they can carry as  souvenirs from their visit to the Coir Museum.

Indian women

Leaders of the skies

Indian women pilots lead world statistics with 11.6% female pilots in the country, way above the 3% global average...

You will be surprised to know that out of 5,050 pilots in India, 600 are women. This figure [shared by Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA)] is way above the three per cent global average estimated by the International Society of Women Airline Pilots. There has been a steady rise in women pilots; the last five years saw 4,267 commercial pilots’ licences being issued of which 628 (14.7 per cent) went to women.

Continuing the ascent, Indian Air Force (IAF) women pilots are now flying military cargo aircraft sorties to highaltitude forward areas like Daulat Beg Oldi (DBO) and Leh. “Over the last two years, IAF women pilots are flying sorties of AN-32 medium-lift aircraft to DBO, the highest advanced landing ground (makeshift airstrip) in the world at 16,500 ft and IL-76 heavy-lift aircraft to Leh,” says a senior IAF officer. While women pilots are not yet allowed to fly fighter jets, they have been flying helicopters and transport aircraft in IAF for over a decade. Of around 950 women IAF officers, around 70 are pilots.

Sq Ldr Teji Uppal created history by becoming the first woman pilot to land at DBO. Commissioned in December 2002, after passing ahead of many male counterparts at IAF Academy, Sq Ldr Uppal attained the “B-Green” category which makes her independent to operate in the Himalayas, within six years. A member of the elite group of military aviators who have landed at the risky Vijaynagar Indian and Mechuka ALGs in Arunachal Pradesh, she’s also qualified to undertake independent dropping operations in Ladakh.

A group of women IAF officers have scaled Mt Everest. Flt Lt Nivedita Choudhary achieved the feat on May 21, 2011 while Sq Ldr Nirupama Pandey and Flt Lt Rajika Sharma reached the peak five days later. “It is more a mind game than a display of physical strength; women are always mentally more stable and can take more stress,” says Flt Lt Choudhary. For the first time ever, IAF is preparing two of its women pilots for combat roles. Ft Lt Alka Shukla and MP Shumathi, trained at the Yelahanka station in flying twin-engine Mi-8 (an assault helicopter), are continuing with their armament and special heli-operations training. They will be trained in bombing, rocket attack, combat search and rescue, and special heli-borne operations.

Women have earned wings in the commercial sector as well. Saara Hameed Ahmed, 24, has been flying for over two years. “Male monopoly has been broken but parity in numbers would take some more time. I find nothing wanting in women to avoid the choice of a career in flying,” she says.