Review of the Book “Bloom in the Desert – The Making of NTPC”, by D. V. Kapur
Historically, the power sector in India has had a poor reputation with countless stories of power-cuts and load-shedding schedules, due to various reasons of incapacity and unfamiliarity with the new technology. Over the recent years, the power grid has been expanded and the situation in most cities is quite acceptable, except for an occasional transformer failure or some downstream fuse blowing out. However, the state electricity boards still have miles to go, in providing high quality and inexpensive electricity to rural areas, where Diesel generator sets still power the borewells and other farm equipment. As petrol-based cars, give way to electric cars, there will be further demand for uninterrupted electricity. India still lags behind China in power generation capacity and distribution.
The author D. V. Kapur, was the first managing director of the National Thermal Power Corporation (henceforth referred to as NTPC) a venture that was funded by the World Bank, and one that achieved success in implementation and continued to bloom in the desert as he has so poetically described it. It was written some years after he retired from a long tenure at the helm of the company. He states that the motivation for writing the book, was to document one of the major public sector success stories for posterity, in the midst of all the negative stories about other enterprises such as Air-India or BSNL.
He is a champion of modern technology and management methods and ascribes the success of the public sector undertaking to strict project management and adherence to achieving milestones within the budget, and on time. The team at NTPC worked closely with the contractors to deal with obstacles in the execution of the project in order to set up many 2000MW super-thermal power station inside 48 months, when the standard time was 60 months. He says that the other central government and state utilities can learn a lot from the organizational design and corporate culture that is there at NTPC. Many of the executive trainees at NTPC went on to head senior positions at private sector companies such as Tata Power, Reliance Power, Essar Power, and Adani Power, and the efficiency of these companies was super, because of their training at NTPC.
The book is a narrative of how the management methods evolved and were perfected at the company, and it is peppered with stories of his interactions with various stakeholders, namely the investors, government officials, committee members, workers, and his colleagues.