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Wasted opportunities left on the table from democratic delays

Wasted opportunities left on the table from democratic delays

“…wasted opportunities left on the table from democratic delays due to India’s political complexity”

written by Wayne Brown

To which country does my headline refer?…

None other than the world’s largest democracy – India.

Wasted opportunities left on the table from democratic delays

With an estimated population in 2018 of 1.35 billion people of which;

  • 80% follow the Hindu religion.
  • 40% are vegetarians.
  • 80% follow the Hindu religion.
  • 40% are vegetarians.
  • Twenty-three official languages and more than 1000 minor languages and dialects are the second-largest English-speaking country.

Other fun, interesting facts about India…

  • Seventy-five million pilgrims gathered in 2011 at Kumbh Mela – at one single event.
  • Indian Railways is the world’s largest employer.
  • India is the worlds’ largest milk producer.
  • The game “Snakes and Ladders” is reported to have been developed to teach children about “karma.”
  • It hosts the highest cricket ground in the world at an altitude of 2,444 meters.
  • Freddie Mercury, the legendary singer of the rock band ‘Queen,’ was born a Parsi with Farrokh Bulsara.
  • And the most recent addition – the world’s tallest statue. The Statue of Unity is a statue of Indian statesman and independence activist Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel (1875–1950), standing 182 meters high.

Traversing the India sub-continent ….

It`s blessing through my role to visit a great many cities across India’s diverse landscape multiple times a year, commencing in 2006. From New Delhi and Gurgaon in the north, Kolkata close to the Bangladesh border in the east, Mumbai & Pune in the west, Nagpur and Hyderabad in the center, Chennai and Bangalore in the south.

India’s history dates back some 5000 years. Oceans surround the majority of India. On the western side is the Arabian Sea. In the south is the Indian Ocean and the Bay of Bengal on its east. This entire parameter is known as Coastal India. As a result, India becomes extremely accessible to anyone wishing to inhabit.

First a little perspective on this country’s potential ….

Wasted opportunities left on the table from democratic delays

India’s history dates back some 5000 years. Oceans surround the majority of India. On the western side is the Arabian Sea. In the south is the Indian Ocean and the Bay of Bengal on its east. This entire parameter is known as Coastal India. As a result, India becomes extremely accessible to anyone wishing to inhabit.

However, in the northern region, it is also surrounded by major countries – Pakistan to the northwest (also the rich Middle Eastern countries via the Arabian Sea), China, Nepal, and Bhutan in the north; Myanmar, Bangladesh in the northeast (as well as southeast Asian countries via the Bay of Bengal) and Sri Lanka off the southeastern tip.

As you might imagine, it’s a land of many contrasts due to India’s political complexity…

The world’s highest mountain range, the Nepalayan Himalayas to the north, supports fertile soils across India. It`s rich in mineral deposits and farming, which connects nearly 50% of the population. India is a major producer of rice, wheat, jute, cotton, tea, and coffee. The Ganges is the longest of an intricate river system that sprawls the length and breadth of India.

They also offer an arid desert in the west, alpine tundra and glaciers in the north, and humid tropical regions supporting rainforests in the southwest and the islands.

Add to this image a sea of colors that adorn every corner of the bustling cities, from brightly painted trucks to saris worn by the women and even the orange hair of the men. It’s a land of diversity and scale with few equals.

So enough on the history and geography lessons, now to the story behind this article.

Scarcity of ultra-high rise ….

Like China’s population, India also struggles with a bulging people density and hugely overcrowded cities. You might, therefore, expect a similar approach in dealing with this overcrowding. That approach is the solution of going vertical, but in reality, there’s no comparison.

While China boasts roughly 50% of the world’s 20 tallest buildings, all ranging in heights exceeding 400 meters, India strangely has none, even in the top 50.

Wasted opportunities left on the table from democratic delays

The current tallest building as of the date of writing (Dec 2018), being the Imperial Towers in Mumbai topping off at 254 meters.

The ten highest buildings range between 200 to 254 meters. So why the difference?

I am still perplexed by the logic, even after many years. Understanding the situation requires first-hand exposure to the democratic process, which is alive and well throughout India.

India is a country of many and strong lobby groups. As a result, there always seems to be someone ready to oppose a proposal. It is making approval through government channels a very slow process that can take years. In some extreme cases, it may stretch longer than a decade without a result,

causing wasted opportunities left on the table from democratic delays…

Additional to this challenge of reaching an agreement on almost everything, there appear two core factors at play—cultural reluctance to change and government greed. The latter is demonstrated through the requirement to pay higher rates if you build up rather than out. It adds greatly to the sprawl and crazy traffic.

And most surprisingly, many architects appear to favor blended living (between residence and local shop fronts) instead of the vertical skyward race.

A third element may be equally responsible – City infrastructure …

The type of infrastructure that is enjoyed in most megacities globally does not exist for the most part in India.

All the above add to the chaos and confusion. From the frequent visitors’ perspective, this chaos brings a sense of uniqueness and adventure when traveling across India.

So, while this is a country of enormous potential, laden with a young, highly educated workforce, the present situation is a deeply divided country between the haves and have nots.

Even as a country that appears to struggle with planned development and the desire to improve living standards for the millions who struggle daily amidst the slums and their inert poverty, the people, for the most part, are gracious, curious, and very helpful.

Wasted opportunities left on the table from democratic delays

Perhaps most relevant for our elevator-escalator tribe is the consequence of having a slowly emerging urban giant, with building growth predicted to explode multiple times in as many years. Still, to date, only modest growth has been realized – at best matching GDP.

When looking at our comparison country China – companies saw year-on-year growth exceeding 20% during their expansionary period from 2005 – 2015. Typically double that of the GDP in the same period.

My early installation jobsite visits …

I had exposure to many Asian job sites during the previous 18 months before my first visit to India. And therefore, what followed with my first site visit in India, left me stunned.

As was my custom, during each country visit, I requested several site visits. In those early years, open shaft entrances looking into single plank scaffold decks were all too common phenomena on most sites.

One such visit to a ten-floor Mumbai construction site has left lasting, vivid memories and recurring nightmares. The lack of any perimeter guarding around the building edge and no fall protection of any kind had caught my eye earlier.

Having just descended from the machine room to the top floor, we observed a young, fit, local gentleman working near the edge of the building.

Wasted opportunities left on the table from democratic delays

He actively shoveled sand, rubble, concrete, and water into the bricklaying colleagues’ right slurry consistency.

One minute he was there; the next, he was gone. At first, I thought the sunlight must be playing tricks on my eyes, but the quick scurry of personnel to the slab edge confirmed my fears.

Monsoons and manual wooden landing doors …

As the elevator industry in India evolved and residential apartments became more common, the need for elevator prices to match the development company expectations led our tribes to find cheaper solutions – one such approach was the expansion in manual doors. Sadly, in many cases, this resulted in a low-quality product to match the low-price demands. One such situation was the overuse of wooden doors. Why do I say that…. as there are many sites worldwide where manual timber doors exist today?  

The answer – the period between June to September sees much of India experiencing torrential rain and flooding from the Monsoons – some locations such as Mumbai and Kolkata suffering more than the rest. These two locations also have the misfortune of poorer economies, and the real issue starts to become apparent. In some tribes, more than 50% of their service portfolio consisted of manual doors (fortunately not all-wooden).

Wasted opportunities left on the table from democratic delays

Anyone still struggling to sense the dilemma, try the simple experiment of sitting your bathroom door in water for the day and see whether it can still be closed afterward.

Swelling occurs in wood …

As the moisture content increases, and shrinking occurs as it dries. The typical outcome after this cycle is warping. Now imagine our humble manual elevator door exposed to this environment for months on end, each year – not a very successful design combination for our unfortunate service technician.

Fortunately, the wooden doors, for the most part today, have been replaced by metal. Those manufacturers who are still producing the wooden doors have thankfully learned to make much higher quality standards in the past couple of decades.

To this end, our Indian customers and service departments alike, thank you.

Round robin cricket tournament – an international triumph …

Cricket is played almost everywhere and is the most popular sport in India. A colleague even joked once that employees often practiced in the toilets. According to reports, the first cricket club was in Kolkata (or Calcutta, as previously known) in 1792. The Chennai (Madras) vs. Kolkata played the first A-grade match in 1864.

While India’s national cricket team played its first Test match in 1932 at Lord’s, the country’s strength did not surface until the 1970s.

Wasted opportunities left on the table from democratic delays

The cricket world was forever changed when a renegade ensemble of Asians, Europeans, Americans, and Australians took to the field in early 2012.

We wagged our international side against the lively Mumbai squad, which fielded four separate and highly professional teams for the event.

Can you imagine …

For many of our international squad, it was their first experience of this very refined sport. The visitors did a great job of hiding their fear after rounding the high fence corner, which enclosed the field.

At first glance, it was easy to see that our Indian colleagues were serious about this challenge. Each team was in full practice mode – batting, bowling, and fielding. Young, fit, passionate, and committed. These athletes played for pride; they were playing for the country; they were playing to win.

The great news is that sanity prevailed. Our marginally less energetic international squad was quickly shared among the four Mumbai teams making it a real competition and one of the most enjoyable days of my long career.

Not to mention that as an Australian, I can now accurately claim that I’ve played cricket in India.

Dancing with cobber’s and great friends in Bangalore ….

For most people living outside of India, we have heard of the world’s largest film and dance producer, Bollywood, where they produce 350 films annually.

Dancing in Indian films like those from Bollywood are often noted for their freeform of expression and are culturally very popular on the Indian subcontinent.

And as with our cricket adventure, we “traveling legends” of global origins are keen to experience new and unique things. So it was, on one fine Wednesday evening in a discreet nightclub, hidden in a Bangalore side streets, that we found ourselves with Service colleagues dancing up a storm, shoulder to shoulder, hips swinging, twisting, the old and young together. Casual and knowing winks at friends, waving to imaginary admirers in the distance. It was a night to remember.

Casual and knowing winks at friends…

There I was waving to imaginary admirers in the distance. It was an evening to remember as we danced long into the night, aptly supported by the fine Kingfisher amber liquid.

And the next day, as we fronted up back at our workshop, one could notice a few shy glances from the visitors towards the locals – as if a feeling of guilt for overstepping the boundaries of male bonding. However, it was a night of celebration for the locals and worthy of a good story to any would-be listeners.  

Some months later, in a different southern city and for another project, we again experienced our male friends’ friendship. And just as with the wooden doors, this is a story for another time 😊.

2 am rooftop prowling in Bangalore ….

On a different occasion, yours truly found myself stationed in a recently constructed 5-star hotel, supporting the local troubleshooting team, as we worked through software and mechanical issues left over from a less than savory installation sub-contractor.

While we could perform diagnostic work and conduct babysitting of the units during the day, it wasn’t until the guests were fast asleep that we could go to town and shut elevators down for repair.

Wasted opportunities left on the table from democratic delays

Repairing the elevators meant that many a pleasant night was spent under the stars, striding between rooftops like Santa Claus at Christmas. Machine brakes replaced the pounding of reindeer’s hooves, and machine rooms substituted for the chimneys.

The experience was no less intoxicating and engaging …

It`s thrilling to find that problem and implementing the fix in readiness for those expectant clients and users the next morning.

On this occasion, the clients became great friends, and an NPS detractor turned into a promoter.

It’s a scenario that we repeated on multiple sites across the country. The outcome for each of our troubleshooting technicians was new-found confidence and belief in their ability to tackle those tough sites. Their ability to convert contracts at risk of cancellation into resigns, and often with attractive advance payments.

The 20-elevator machine room …

I grew up in Australia and joined my first industry tribe in Sydney. While I spent 20 years of my career moving between New Zealand and Australian cities, it wasn’t until I migrated to Asia that I realized how little I had experienced and knew about our industry.

The past 15 years have been a real eye-opener and wake-up call. And something I’d highly recommend to everyone with an opportunity to experience it.

My Asian experience includes India. During a customer visit in Gurgaon, a northern Indian city a little north of Delhi, the team showed me around different sites. They casually led me into this mammoth of a machine room which houses no less than 20 x 2.0 m/s gearless machines.

Not sure if a record exists for the largest machine room…

I believe this must be one of the biggest single machine rooms – at least in the southern hemisphere.

In this instance, it was obvious that the local technicians held their role with pride. The machine room was immaculate, distribution boards with LOTO provision and ELCB’s, machines free of oil and grease, guards and signage fitted, ropes oiled and well tensioned, controllers clean and tidy, service records in order, and a low break down rate as a result.

Not always the case in India, so it was a pleasantly memorable experience for everyone.

All weather snakes ….

And to the penultimate item of this article. What article on India would be complete without a snake story.

During recent visits to our factory, the snake topic has been on the agenda. It was the season, and there had been a number seen and caught. For those that aren’t aware, there are many highly venomous snake species in India.

There is a group of four that are responsible for causing the greatest number of human snakebite cases. This group is sometimes collectively referred to as the Big Four. They are as follows:

Wasted opportunities left on the table from democratic delays

                   The BIG 4

  • Indian cobra,
  • Common krait,
  • Russell’s viper,
  • Saw-scaled viper,

The here-in picture appears to be one of the above Vipers!

The good news for anyone unfortunate enough to be bitten...

An antidote (serum) exists that effectively neutralizes the venom for each of these four snakes. Even better is the knowledge that it’s readily and widely available across India. The less comforting realization, however, is that this solution highlights the reality of being bitten.

Now I believe in kindness to most animals, but… I must confess that I’m typically not the bravest in the room when there is a snake present, and I wouldn’t think twice about terminating this slithering reptile if it meant my survival or safety. My experience from past encounters is that they are much quicker to react than me.

and to the CLOSING comments….

So that’s about a wrap on this article. Hoping you found the writing and approach enjoyable?

My role is as the Coach and host of the site. This blogsite has articles written by four different groups related to our elevator-escalator tribe. Each sharing details with our executives, from their personal experience, insights, and learnings.

Group 1:          Our Legends (those that have served 30 years or more in the industry),

Group 2:          Our Innovators (often lead by our younger generation

– but not always and are those helping shape the future direction of our tribe),

Group 3:          Our Cheque Writers (the clients that provide perspective to our thinking by guiding our direction).

Group 4:          Myself as your coach

– as the “traveling Wilbury” of the tribe, sharing stories from various countries I visit.

This same clustering of groups will provide interviews which we host under the podcast title of couch TALK. And to round out the trilogy is our YouTube channel called Mentors Rant.

Until then stay safe and keep learning!

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