Opinion » Lead

Updated: June 20, 2012 00:09 IST

The enigma of Indian engineering

James Trevelyan
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A narrow education is making engineers oblivious to the importance of human interaction and raising the cost of even simple tasks

My time in South Asia has rewarded me with an enigma: why is engineering so expensive here? Why is it often many times more expensive than in Australia, my home?

My search for answers led me to shanty towns on the fringes of mega-cities. We compared an award winning Indian factory making car parts for Detroit and Stuttgart with a leading Australian factory supplying parts for the mining industry. My Indian PhD student spent months with engineers in both countries, broadening his focus to water utility engineers and small to medium engineering firms. His knowledge of local dialects and customs was critical.

He related a typical meeting. A young engineer quietly reported zero production from the machines in his production cell. His manager asked why but he remained silent. Both knew the reason. The machine operators were newly hired day-labourers because the previous ones had exceeded their 180-day limit. Other engineers said their machines were still not fixed by the maintenance crews. The manager sighed: he would have to raise it with his boss later. Direct authority from the plant manager would be needed to move the maintenance head into action.

Daily struggle

Discussions with water utility engineers revealed their daily struggle to coordinate valve operators who turn on water for an hour at a time every two days in different wards in their city district. Their mobile numbers are well known in the district: the more influential residents will call them at any time of the day with complaints or requests. They have to personally “twist arms” of recalcitrant customers to get them to pay bills, or have their sewerage line blocked at the same time as the water is disconnected. “That usually makes them pay up quicker,” they told us. Sewerage seeps from tens of thousands of such broken and half repaired connections into the scheme water lines.

At a government school in the city outskirts, the principal showed me the smelly green water dribbling from the pipe into a below-ground tank. With no toilet or usable water, the children and staff left after a couple of hours. I glanced at the forest of antennas atop the brand-new mobile phone tower I could see beyond the school wall.

Today, mobiles are everywhere in South Asia and can cost less than 1 cent per minute for talk time.

Villagers on the Rawalpindi outskirts told me they had paid up to Rs. 50,000 to install their own wells with hand pumps. Before I helped install an electric pump at their high school, ironically called “Thanda Pani”, the children had to carry water in buckets for up to an hour a day just to use the toilets.

To understand why villagers would pay so much for a hand pump, I turned to development economics. The ‘shadow price’ cost of unpaid labour can predict the economic cost for women to carry water from nearby wells or district water taps. Rs. 13 per hour doesn’t sound like much. Yet, a one hour round trip to carry home an average of 17 litres of water, often with extra time and fuel to boil it, results in a bulk water cost of about Rs. 1200 per tonne. Today, ultra-clean potable water is being delivered to my house in Perth at a total cost of about Rs. 80 per tonne.

I have checked, rechecked and double checked my data because I was so surprised at this difference. No matter which method you use — a hand pump, bribing government carriers to bring water when you need it, buying it in 20 litre plastic containers — safe drinking water is many times the cost in Perth.

Energy also costs many times more. With intermittent supplies, one needs a UPS or generator to run electrical equipment reliably. In addition, electric machines are usually inefficient and poorly maintained so it can be four-five times as expensive to achieve the same results as in Australia. Bulk users like steel plants have reported to me that they face twice the electric energy cost of their competitors in industrialised countries.

How could South Asian electricity and water services be so expensive and phones so cheap?

Could corruption explain this? Reliable sources estimate the additional cost at 15-25 per cent. However Australia is not immune: dishonest behaviour imposes significant extra costs there as well.

There had to be other factors.

First-hand experience employing local engineers in South Asia taught me to recalibrate Australian performance expectations, even though they had degrees from the best foreign and local universities. This led me to the possibility that differences in engineering practice are a major contributing factor, the ways that engineers perform their work.

My research ran into an unexpected snag. When I started, there were almost no detailed research reports on engineering practice, anywhere. To cover this gap, my students and I interviewed and shadowed engineers across the region. Now we have some answers.

Many people think engineering is applied science. It works the same in Perth, Pune, Paris or Pocheon: you will get the same results from the same experiments.

However, engineering is much more than applied science. Engineering is a coordinated social performance of many people with the technical expertise distributed among them, like an orchestra. Social interactions constrain the results just as the strength of steel limits the height of our tallest buildings.

In South Asia, hierarchical organisations, language differences, and deep social chasms disrupt the performance. For instance, artisans will only speak when asked, and will keep silent if speaking means loss of face for superiors.

It turns out that engineering education, around the world, is almost blind to the realities of practice. We found 40 other critical aspects that educators inadvertently miss or misrepresent. As a result, young engineers seem oblivious to the subtleties needed to coordinate people and their education seems to impair their ability to learn. It turns out that skills like this distinguish the few truly expert engineers.

It is no surprise, therefore, that most young engineers stumble into their first jobs, often feeling incompetent. There is no point blaming educators: it is just an accident that only a tiny number of research studies have tried to work out how engineering is actually done.

A few expert South Asian engineers have overcome these education barriers, and they earn salaries higher than their counterparts in Australia. This is no surprise: they make their enterprises work. Sadly, most young Indian engineers never have a chance to learn their unwritten skills. Even though students in Australian engineering schools learn equally few practical skills, there are enough experienced engineers in most firms for young engineers to emulate.

In Australia, a copious water supply and sanitation takes around 2 per cent of the economic resources of a family. In South Asia, barely enough potable water to survive can take 20-40 per cent of a family’s economic resources. Effective engineering in Australia accounts for much of the difference.

Therefore, it is not the lack of money that influences national poverty as ineffective engineering that imposes crippling high costs for water, energy and other essential services. Good engineering liberates human effort for social developments such as governance, healthcare, education, social services and even recreation.

Mobile phone revolution

The mobile phone revolution has transformed expensive, corrupt, inefficient government monopolies with appalling service into thriving, profitable enterprises providing high quality service at minimal cost, around the world. India is no exception.

Although we can’t be sure, there seem to be some key human factors. First, mobile technology increases investor confidence: people can’t steal the service without paying. The phone won’t work without a pre-paid card or reliable credit. Second, the technology provides reliable and efficient ways to collect a vast number of small payments and reassures users that their credit will be secure. Third, the social chasms between engineers and the technicians who work with the equipment are easier to surmount than in the case of water and electricity. Fourth, the saving in time, measured as an economic value, more than makes up for the cost for users.

Success has come from human factors invisible to most engineers, inadvertently blinded by their education.

I think the next engineering revolution will be based on understanding people. We have come quite far with rather little understanding among engineers: just a little more could lead to large improvements. A new engineering revolution could consign poverty to history, and also enable us to live within the capacity of this planet to support human civilisation. It needs to come soon.

(James Trevelyan is Winthrop Professor in the school of Mechanical and Chemical Engineering at the University of Western Australia. His book How to Become an Expert Engineer is due to be published later this year.)


The making of an engineerMay 21, 2012

More In: Lead | Opinion

The author brings out a very valid point but analysis presented is very superficial. The examples and situations mentioned do not throw much light on the problem. I hope that the author has presents a much deeper analysis in his upcoming book. At max this article works as an advertisement for the author's book.

from:  pradeep
Posted on: Jun 23, 2012 at 23:14 IST

How is water and electricity cheaper in Australia?

from:  Amit Singh
Posted on: Jun 22, 2012 at 01:44 IST

It is a very interesting article. But it seems to be singling out South Asians/Indian. In my opinion it is universal. Every country has its own culture. You cant put an Australian engineer manager in Japan and expect to get same productivity as an Japanese engineer manager in Japan. Same is true in India.

In addition to these differences, India has its own challenges in terms of infrastructure and basic amenities. So, it is has poor productivity. That is the reason india is called a developing economy.

from:  vijay
Posted on: Jun 21, 2012 at 12:35 IST

A prolonged but a pertinent message. The gist of this holds good not only for
Engineers but for all trades. It is the old boss and servant mentality that is all
pervasive in South Asia.
Further Indians share information only upon an urge to boost their egos and not as
something sacred to help their own communities. Besides a sizable number is
incapable of training others owing to a poor knowledge of scientific concepts and a hierarchal fondness to chase titles sitting behind desks.

from:  nmantri
Posted on: Jun 21, 2012 at 11:13 IST

The author of his article misattributes problems of underdevelopment and poor governance
as problems of engineering education. If it were just due to improper training, why does the
same engineer earn so much (reflecting greater productivity) when working in Europe or US?
Alternatively, if we placed a highly trained engineer, say from MIT, into Public Works
department in India, will there be a dramatic improvement? I don't think so.

from:  Mandar Oak
Posted on: Jun 21, 2012 at 11:11 IST

Great article. Need to be given to all students and engineers.
I am reminded of my experience in '60, when I was working as an
engineer in a public sector company. For the erection of many plant
and machinery engineer from UK was here. We have to check welders
before taking them. I requested hin to do so. He told me that as an
engineer you should be able to do that instead of asking him. I was
shocked as I knew about welding theoretically, but do not have hands
on experience.
This is whar all the engineers lack and have to depend on low paid
technicians. We go by qualification, not by hands on experience. We
should train engineers in this area so that they can be on their own

from:  S.Bala
Posted on: Jun 21, 2012 at 00:25 IST

The problem with Indian Engineers is two part - first they graduate with outdated theoretical knowledge that has zero use in the real world; secondly, Indians don't learn social interaction and leadership skills.
The first is solved easily - internships when in college, encourage students to work before starting college and introduce practical projects in school.
The second needs a mindset change. Indians are a hierarchical society and questioning authority is not encouraged. I work with "engineers" who cannot talk their way out of anything. These engineers are expected to interact with customers and stand up for the right thing.

from:  Srinivasan
Posted on: Jun 20, 2012 at 21:13 IST

Modern engineering is only 100 years old in India.
Unlike US and Europe where engineering pioneers worked towards reducing human drudgery our Indian engineers add misery to the ordinary humans be it in utilities or in a manufacturing shopfloor by ignoring human factors.
The platforms of Indian railways are classic examples.
A Japanese general purpose machine would be so operator friendly that productivity on it will be better than an Indian designed Special purpose machine which is not ergonomically designed.
This is because Indian engineers lack hands on experience in any thing they oversee and implement.
In US i suppose most of the households have garage workshop .
IN western culture a child is given a mallet and chisel( sort of do it yourself kit ) in its initial years whereas the Indian child gets a Chinese toy.
How many Automobile engineers in India who drive their own car can repair it?

from:  T.S.Sridhar
Posted on: Jun 20, 2012 at 19:56 IST

Nice imagination. But hard to figure out the message author is trying to convey. You cannot compare the economical cost of any resource of a developing society with a developed one. And to throw the onus on the way enginners are trained is by no means acceptable. Every society has it's bottleneck in terms of resources and to relate that to an Education system makes no sense. Society grows in step-wise manner. One cannot make leap and bounds in growth, with the state and nature of the indian culture which comprises multilingual society. Progress is the Goal and will be achieved for sure, even at slow pace.
Author should study more of indian society, even before thinking of comparing the Education system or else. There are multiple factors including population, Availability of resources, Culture, etc. that needs to be analyzed first.

from:  sanjeev
Posted on: Jun 20, 2012 at 19:15 IST

Brilliant, Eye-Opener and needs to factored in education, practice and
implementation of government schemes.

from:  Nanda gopal
Posted on: Jun 20, 2012 at 19:08 IST

The problem is not only quite rooted to the engineer’s management abilities. It also spawns out of an attitude issue- ‘Yeh Challega’ (this will do). This stops the individual from perfecting anything. He would only develop something so that it fulfills the most important requirement and people would accept it without a murmur. For eg- if we build a road bridge between A and B, we would make sure that there is a structure that supports traffic from A to B rather than making sure that the tarmac is laid properly or even developing maintenance plans. This however is counterproductive and leads to higher costs in the future.
“Yeh Challega” is quite imbibed in the Indian psyche and changing it would be a strenuous task. The answer lies in setting standards covering every possibility and asking construction companies to adhere to it.So, we are essentially increasing the ambit of what “Challega” (will do) includes

from:  Cinish
Posted on: Jun 20, 2012 at 18:12 IST

I agree with the author. On another point, lack of promoting innovation is another issue that prevents engineering excellence and resultant low cost.
As a fresh engineer out of the college, I was enthusiastic. On finding an automated way to ease a mundane task,I would have expected my team-lead to appreciate me. Rather I received "keep your innovation with yourself and do the work" response. Engineering firms do not really appreciate the innovative ideas coming out of fresh minds, which is very important as they have not yet been corrupted by the work culture.

from:  Anas
Posted on: Jun 20, 2012 at 18:11 IST

Agree with Mr. S N Iyer - I got my engineering degree in the mid 80s and in my interaction later with engineers who graduated in late 70s and early 80s, I noticed they were able to look at all kinds of engineering problems , right from fixing automobile to electronics to house hold things. I see that trend going down, especially the so called 'soft' branches like IT, CS, ECE have low or no skill when it comes to simple engineering problems. It is not that the younger engineers are not smart - they are trained in solving once problems are defined well, but are not able to define problems properly. A well defined problem is like providing part of the solution. Theory is about articulating a practical observation, analysis of the problem, problem definition and solution in an Enginner's mind - not getting trained in known problems defined and solved by others.

from:  Rajan
Posted on: Jun 20, 2012 at 17:13 IST

The article has indeed shed some light on Indian Engineering Scenario. I think it is high time we seek real engineering and keep money on the side track. We should also note that Engineering was supposed to be used to improve society.

from:  Ananthan
Posted on: Jun 20, 2012 at 17:01 IST

A nice article put up by Mr. James. Best engineering practice solved many problems in society not only in structured but also economically and efficiently. But in today's environment engineers are not gaining the right knowledge they are just reading for passing out from the college. Engineers are meant to find out the shortest way with safety and purposefully. Engineers can change the way of living the society how the telecom revolution changed the communication in south Asia. Corruption is a major problem in delivering the solution to common people. What scheme government awarded for the common people only 10 paisa reaches out of one rupee. And that is very devastating situation. Engineers have to take a decision to design and deliver the common utilities like water, food and shelter so that the society can survive not only the rich people but also the poor people. I think Mr. James write down the real facts of south Asia and did very competitive story of Australia.

from:  Harmendra Singh
Posted on: Jun 20, 2012 at 16:00 IST

I got my engineering degree 57 years ago. In those days emphasis was given on two things which is not there anymore. One was a daily practical class and secondly a basic knowledge of all branches of engineering. Today's engineers have very little or no knowledge of practical things. The polticians, in order to get more votes, opened too many colleges which neither have the facilities nor faculty to impart proper education. Most of these institutions are owned by the black money wallahs who take large donations. They have fine buildings and sylvan surroundings but impart poor education. No wonder many engineering graduates earn less than peons. Of late,thanks to the publics' realisation, more seats are going vacant in these colleges. The engineering degree has been downgraded hopelessly.Yet we have some fools in AP prefixing their names with 'ER' to show that they got these substandard degrees. Only students with real merit should be admitted to this profession.

from:  S N IYER
Posted on: Jun 20, 2012 at 15:38 IST

Terrific analysis and a kind of TQM approach, the Professor has gone into minute details of human behavior, with reference to engineers and engineering in particular. The 'lack of team spirit and co-ordinated approach' for problem solving is one of the main causes not just the engineering related issues, but in almost every sphere of activity in our country, further compounded by considerations of language, caste, creed and religion. This is the reason why Indians as individuals generally do well in US and other western countries. I think, this article is a 'must read' for all engineers and engineering students and follow as best as possible. Thanks to 'Hindu' for publishing this article.

from:  KS Raghunathan
Posted on: Jun 20, 2012 at 14:43 IST

Start respecting all subjects around you. Human beings, animals, plants, living and non living. then only something or anything can be achieved. Just bcoz a women is ur maid shouldn't be the reason to talk disrespectfully to her. I see a lot in my country. In my place. In my home too. Do unto Others what u want others to do unto u.

from:  Srikant
Posted on: Jun 20, 2012 at 14:21 IST

Thanks James, nicely written article, I just want to add to this thread of discussion. Recently we all witnessed the Anna Movement and there was no Indian left who did not shared his views on the same, I was even active to participate in the local 'Anna rally' to protest against corruption, But what i really think that this country needs is a Revolution in the field of Education, Unfortunately me, you and not even Anna is Planning about it. Ideally if that happens Imagine How drastically things will be different.

from:  Ronak C
Posted on: Jun 20, 2012 at 14:21 IST

Boss in India we are respected only for our salary packages & promotions depend on buttering our superiors. Work ethics, performance are secondary. No father will give his daughter in marriage to an honest research engineer earning only Rs 5000-8000/month, but would readily agree for a clerk in govt dept earning bribes in millions.

from:  Anish Khindri
Posted on: Jun 20, 2012 at 14:17 IST

I understand what the author wants to tell. Though the examples he gives does not make sense. Its a confusing - at best. Please rewrite.

from:  vj
Posted on: Jun 20, 2012 at 14:02 IST

Excellent article and an eye opener for us to know what is happening in engineering education. The finding that Engineers lost their personal touch with public and lost the practical experience are worth to think of for the future of our country.

Posted on: Jun 20, 2012 at 13:36 IST

James has presented wider perspective that many tends to ignore for rising cost. Coordinated and well planned engineering could result into major influencing factor for curbing the inflation not in all areas but in some aspects. What lacks in today's engineering related work culture is timely coordination and communication within the organisation as well at the end customers. To give the scope of improvement, a more effective impart of technical knowledge along with proper basic managerial activities at college can do a lot. Not just theoretical can serve the purpose, there should be mandate at college level for getting involve in social activities which would help an engineering student to look into real problem and constraint that being faced in providing effective services.

from:  Ankit Mittal
Posted on: Jun 20, 2012 at 13:32 IST

Have you heard of Rajendra Singh, the water man of India - he has caused a 'blue revolution' in arid Rajasthan. He does not even hold a degree...that is Engineering indeed!

from:  Yamuna
Posted on: Jun 20, 2012 at 13:29 IST

This is the kind of writing that truly educates. The young engineers of today, whether working in the 'hard' engineering industry or in IT, seem to lack the quality of 'understanding people', as the kind Professor puts it. Both the diagnosis and the prescription he provides are well worth looking into. It will probably save us from the consequences of the horrendous imbalances in economic and social areas that we have got ourselves into in just one generation. On the one hand, respect for the elder and the senior has turned into sycophancy and on the other, we are increasingly becoming insensitive to the poor and the deprived. Thanks to the Professor for his insightful and compassionate observations, and to The Hindu for publishing the article.

from:  Ramesh Parthasarathy
Posted on: Jun 20, 2012 at 13:20 IST

A nice article..but I would say its the system that doesn't encourage students to work together to solve a problem...rather it encourages everyone to show their exceptional skills in writing an exam or doing a routine experiment..The important thing to add in the curriculum of every engineering student is to provide them environment for improving the problem solving skills , which will also teach them to work and coordinate together on jobs..Yes theoretical Indian engineers also have a 6 mnth to 1 year research project ..but there also the students are expected to come up with their individual projects..rather giving them that opportunity to work in group to solve real engineering problems..

from:  Dinoop
Posted on: Jun 20, 2012 at 13:05 IST

Dear Sir, As an Engg entrepreneur, my view is that in India Engineers came from a social segment that considered 'Do it Yourself' as shameful and demeaning. Those work as you mention like clean toilets or carrying water or fodder has traditionally never been done by the educated class. This class was quick to clear exams and get an engineering degree, but would never fix a leaking faucet in their own home as it is considered 'dirty or low' work. These engineers occupied all the govt posts in water, energy etc departments. Engineering is seen as a degree where you only 'manage' labourers, and those who get it assume that doing things by hand is 'dirty or low'. This is the reason why engineering in India is costly. Things are changing, as the segment that has been doing the manual labour, or small engineering works get educated in engineering and turns to entrepreneurship. As an example, see the farm equipment manufacturing, or building construction in small towns.

from:  Abhinav
Posted on: Jun 20, 2012 at 13:05 IST

Great article.. Indeed an eye-opener. Thanks for the effort and I along with you hope that this reaches the right ears

from:  Mathew Zacharia
Posted on: Jun 20, 2012 at 13:00 IST

A very well researched and presented article which is addressing the core issue being faced by us in India ..if we look around the engineers who have actually pursued engineering as a career and are effective today -are the ones that have superior,extensive and effective communication/social skills .So making it imperative as a part of the current format of engineering/Diploma /Vocational course to develop social sensitivity and relevant networking and communication skills should be the primary area of intervention for all institutions and educators.

from:  Sanjay Gadhalay
Posted on: Jun 20, 2012 at 12:36 IST

picture perfect! No more words needed.

from:  Ram
Posted on: Jun 20, 2012 at 12:27 IST

Article is way off mark. Basic problem boils down to this # Water and Electricity are seen as services to be provided by Government in India. Which is why we see people reluctant to invest by themselves as a community or a company # Mobile etc, were completely private initiatives from the word go. Which is why they are deployed and function so well While we may have scarcity of water and electricity. Steel, cement, soaps, shampoos, Coco-cola, Bisleri are available even in most remote corners of the country. Indian highways saw major improvement when NDA government allowed private companies build and maintain them instead of relying on NHAi. If we see water, electricity and schools as just another service or product that can be delivered by private sector, most of these problems will disappear.

from:  Ajay
Posted on: Jun 20, 2012 at 12:19 IST

nice article James. Good observation about my country, something which our politician unfotunately don't know and have ability to understand. Inspite of being democratic country for more than 60 years now, people here have hardly understood true meaning of it and their responsibility towards country. They think, democracy means just exercise your voting right and then elected personwill do all things for them. Give a call for a temple prayer and you will get 100s waiting for it. And try giving call for re-making a pot-hole ridden road or cleaning village river and you will see hardly anyone turning up unless their is media coverage. I am not surprised that our quality of engineers have gone down as most of these colleges are controlled by our greedy politicians only elected by poor and lazy citizens of this country. People here are just getting but no knowledge.

from:  Sandeep B
Posted on: Jun 20, 2012 at 12:15 IST

Very good article. Emulated the lacunae in the Indian Educational system and the perception of an engineer towards his work !!! Appalling to know few facts regarding the availability of water, electricity and basic sanitation in few villages and the cost it takes for them to acquire them when compared to other countries.In India,Engineering is something which is just like a commodity available in abundance in the market and the main reason behind this is the increase in number of colleges that provide the technical education, without any basic infrastructure to carry out the practical sessions.What is the purpose of an engineer without any pragmatic knowledge ? Where is the justification for the epithet 'Applied science' ? The scrupulous comparison between the mobile phone evolution and basic resource availability was done analogously and alluded a solution.

from:  Saketh
Posted on: Jun 20, 2012 at 11:52 IST

Engineering in India is opted to get a lucrative career rather providing better solutions to human problems. I myself is a such an example.

from:  Vikram
Posted on: Jun 20, 2012 at 11:40 IST

Other examples are the poor roads with so many bottlenecks costing delivery times,more fuel,more vehicle wear and poor productivity. The other area is the huge wastage of edible food that is not stored well and not transported in proper temperature controlled vehicles. Modern engineering and an administration with a commitment can change the situation without a lot of difficulty. What is missing is the vision to achieve such very needed changes.

from:  Saratchandran
Posted on: Jun 20, 2012 at 11:27 IST

After reading this piece I can relate to some of the points. Hope we the readers will be alerted when the book is published. I would love ot read it. Communication is very important and should be give a weightage of atleast 40% by any person, not only professionals. Let us all collectivel become better engineers, doctors, clerks, peons and officers.

from:  Ayyappa
Posted on: Jun 20, 2012 at 11:24 IST

A very informative article on South Asia. "I think the next engineering revolution will be based on understanding people." The citations expose the quirk of James.

from:  Bharadwaj Sista
Posted on: Jun 20, 2012 at 11:17 IST

Wonderfull and hard hitting article. Absolutely agree that water and electricity should be privatized to bring in efficeincies like those seen in the telephone industry.

from:  Prinit
Posted on: Jun 20, 2012 at 10:51 IST

Interesting read. Coming from software discipline where the technical challenges are trivial compared to people challenges to get things done the right way, I could not agree with you more on your theme - that engineers are bred as technical experts without the social performance aspect covered. I also see this as a universal problem - but, a lot more acute in S.Asia. Hoping to see a lot more in-depth coverage of this in your upcoming book.

from:  Shivakumar Raman
Posted on: Jun 20, 2012 at 10:47 IST

What a wonderful analysis. Indeed communication is needed across many levels. Communication across levels is indeed very important to speed up these tasks. Though I felt the author somewhat confuses administration/authority with engineering, that really is his point, and I offer my sincere compliments. The hugely prevalent 'jugaad' of Indian engineering is totally left out; it makes up for some of our short comings ! Also not mentioned is that our engineering outcomes in core engineering are far more frugal in consumption of material than the engineering of western world; If we are expensive in spite of these aspects, then it is time for some serious calculations.

from:  Sudarshan
Posted on: Jun 20, 2012 at 10:28 IST

I have 35+ yrs experience in manufacturing plant and facilities maintenance field. Some times we are stuck down even though our performance is at our best, making plants die on their own! It is a business strategy to remove QC & Maintenance engineers and make manufacturing plants go sick & die; technically expert and dedicated people like me never understand this strategy.

from:  Kesiraju Subramanyam
Posted on: Jun 20, 2012 at 10:20 IST

Very insightful piece of message.Engineering and engineering administration have been kept separate in these regions leading to inefficiencies and tolerance level of inefficiencies is also very high compared to developed countries. When the tolerance level comes down or brought down by social revolution, then only we can see and feel social changes, the author is hopeful of.

from:  Rajendran
Posted on: Jun 20, 2012 at 10:18 IST

Wonderful article......

from:  jeeves
Posted on: Jun 20, 2012 at 10:18 IST

Thank you Prof.Trevelyan for this important study of yours. Your comparison of cellphone services to water/power services is pertinent. I can see that clean drinking water is going to be one of the biggest issues of this country in a few years as people become more aware of how bad the water gets polluted and also the scarcity that looms. Also power and water are so essential, that starving people of it does not reduce demand as with the cellphone services where there is an inherent self-interest in being efficient....sure where time counts and more the people use it more the company's profits! You should also note the reasonable engineering performance of ISRO against the lacklusture performance of DRDO while both hire from a similar pool of engineers. Here the threat of a highly visible failure seems to goad the fraternity of ISRO to more productive habits whereas secrecy ensures DRDO never has to endure a public audit...

from:  venkat
Posted on: Jun 20, 2012 at 10:10 IST

This is one of the best analysis I have read of 'shining India'. The only reason India could glitter in the past decade was because of IT revolution. For those kind of jobs, you do not need vast infrastructure as compared to manufacturing industries. Even in IT, almost 90% of jobs are such that have no value in US. It is the job that our US counterparts do not have the time to do.(read : repetitive mundane activities). How many testing people do we have in IT companies ? How many Instagram's do we have in our country ? Sadly we take pride in just fighting over some cartoons dating back decades. Ask anyone who has graduated from IIT or IIM or any other notable institution. I can vouch that 90% students will not feel like serving in this country. As someone who is born in middle class family, I have one and only one aim - to quit this country. This country is beyond repairs now. It makes sense to jump out of a sinking ship rather than die repairing it. Mera Bharat Mahaan !

from:  Ganesh T
Posted on: Jun 20, 2012 at 10:02 IST

A fair, blunt & balanced value judgement!! Many of my friends are pursuing engineering from various colleges across the country. I had been their classmate & privy to their academic and social understanding. The observations I'm putting here are inspired by their performance & practices but it can be generalised.The problems start at very early stage. Students rely very heavily on coaching institutions to prepare themselves for engineering exams. The coaching institutes equip them with certain formulas & short-cuts. Students find it easy & convenient to remember those formula rather than exploring their own. They don't bother to think the other ways to arrive at their own formula. In a sense the prospect of exploring the engineering by the engineering students is blocked at the very preparation level. Furthermore, exposed to technologies engineering students today think themselves to be placed higher than otherwise graduates which further accentuate the social disconnect.

from:  Ajeet Tiwari
Posted on: Jun 20, 2012 at 09:44 IST

You cannot compare Australia with India or South Asia. One the population is no where near in Australia as in South Asia. Resources in Australia are relatively supplying to more number of people. It depends on the people as well. Even if a person doesnt have means to eat 4 times a day, he will smoke, have a drink, and will have a mobile phone if not with a TV. He will have to corrupt greedy and aggressive to sustain that lifestyle. That culture has to change. Mobile charges are less because of the famous scam.

from:  Ramachandra
Posted on: Jun 20, 2012 at 09:41 IST

every engineer must be honest to thier respective work morally as well as socially

from:  Atul Thakur
Posted on: Jun 20, 2012 at 09:30 IST

I live in west and know the westwern/australian pseudo superiority !! This guy talks about how superior the same western mind set or engineering after all the looting and barbarity. There is no metrics, statistics than stereotyped portrayal. I am just sick of this kind of analysis 'dyamic'. Hope Australians could come out of their jail !!

from:  RajanV
Posted on: Jun 20, 2012 at 08:40 IST

After reading thro' the article, eagerly awaiting for the book's release. How beneficial it would be if things are set right.

from:  Dwarakanath
Posted on: Jun 20, 2012 at 08:26 IST

The condition of engineering in our country is surely very grim. I have just passed out from an IIT in civil engineering, and from our passing out batch (from my department) - only around 25% have taken up core jobs(I wonder how many of them would seriously pursue it). There is more - not more than 10% of the batch would know how to design a slab of small residential building! If this is the state of one the best engineering colleges of our country, no wonder our engineering is in tatters.

from:  Arun
Posted on: Jun 20, 2012 at 07:55 IST

Reasons why Indian engineering is costlier than,say, Australia or any other developed country are : 1.large segments of service sector like drinking water supply,road construction still are controlled by government departments where engineers are averse to try out new engineering techniques for fear of failure and subsequent punishment. 2. Innovation does not pay in these engg organizations.

from:  Arvind Kumar Jha
Posted on: Jun 20, 2012 at 07:54 IST

Engineering education in India has been reduced to mugging up a series of questions and answers with absolutely no understanding of basics. Many of them are not able to solve simple problems based on Ohms Law!

from:  P M Vishwanath
Posted on: Jun 20, 2012 at 06:44 IST

Totally agree with the author's observation! "Engineering is a coordinated social performance of many people with the technical expertise distributed among them, like an orchestra." "Success has come from human factors invisible to most engineers, inadvertently blinded by their education" I suppose, the Author is referring to 'narrow education' as the education of Engineers outside their curriculum.

from:  prasanna
Posted on: Jun 20, 2012 at 06:38 IST

3 cheers to Mr treveleyan.may his tribe increase. in their well intentioned fight against corruption,will the lokpal group take these recalcitrant techies and their highly qualified managers also for straightening their focus?

from:  pk bashyam
Posted on: Jun 20, 2012 at 05:58 IST

Interesting article. The author makes an interesting point about how mobile phone service can't be stolen like water and electricity and that people have no other choice but to pay up in order to get phone service. What the article didn't clear up for me was that how are engineers blinded by education which was mentioned a couple of times.

from:  Abhishek Jain
Posted on: Jun 20, 2012 at 05:42 IST

An excellent article and I congratulate 'The Hindu' for publishing this article. I think Engineering colleges around the country should make their students not only read this article, but make them understand its significance. I may add one more point here: The cost of inexperienced and poorly trained lecturers and professors in engineering colleges is partly responsible for this malady. Salaries and allowances of the faculty in most private colleges is abysmal and compares poorly with private sector or the 'total earnings' of government employees. Hence the brighter engineers prefer not to work for educational institutions.

from:  Raj Subramani
Posted on: Jun 20, 2012 at 05:25 IST

By far the most interesting analysis of India's problems I have read recently! So is the writer claiming that overpopulation or poverty has nothing to do with India's water/electricity shortages? And come on, doesn't Australia have FAR more natural resources per capita than India does?

from:  Shilpi
Posted on: Jun 20, 2012 at 04:02 IST

Cost of water supply in India should invite lot of thinking on our engineering and administrative practices. In a typical metro like Hyderabad, water routinely supplied to many households by the Municipal administration/metropolitan works costs 350 Rs typically for a tanker water supply of 5000 litters. The fuel consumption of the tanker vehicles is cited as a sizeable factor in the cost of this water. This should serve as a fit case for working out the costing of water supply and the logistics of the whole operation.

from:  Kapali
Posted on: Jun 20, 2012 at 03:19 IST

Hi, Are you sure you were in India because, the last I heard, Rawalpindi was in Pakistan. Hope the good professor hasn't lost sight of the forest, getting so close to the tree with his research. But then, India-bashing is such a fun sport!

from:  Kris
Posted on: Jun 20, 2012 at 03:06 IST

Thanks for the insightful article. It took me many years of practice as an engineer to overcome the deficiencies in my education with regard to human factors. One thing that I have found to help in making engineers better rounded is to have them do internships as undergraduates, real internships where they are involved in the guts of whatever the enterprise is doing, not merely lab grunts. Not only does this give them a reality check early on, bit it is a great source of future talent for these employers. Indian engineering schools do very little of this ( I did not do one during my time at IITM), and this contributes to the deer-in-headlight look of new engineers in India. Most companies end up doing a lot of internal training to get engineers up to speed.

from:  T.S. Sriram
Posted on: Jun 20, 2012 at 02:35 IST

Highly researched and absolutely brilliant.The planners may take notice.The drinking water problem can be solved if we adopt the author's philosophy.

from:  suresh rani venkata
Posted on: Jun 20, 2012 at 02:02 IST

really a country where water service is expensive and mobile service is cheap. people should understand the needs and compulsion of water . but they dont.. country like india where one side people waste tonnes of water is just washing off their vehicles and some who are ready to pay end number of amount but are not getting water.and some dieing because of water.. people should seriously think on this. I thank THE HINDU for taking up this article.. and it should be made more and more aware to the people..

from:  anandtiwary
Posted on: Jun 20, 2012 at 01:35 IST

Mr. James, thanks for such an article. First of all, by your flow of description, it seems that Rawalpindi is in India but it is in Pakistan. Second, you are correct to some extent that corruption is the reason for high cost of production. I am not totally agreed to your analysis of lack of understanding 'Real Engineering' for the higher cost although that is true upto some extent ONLY. One of the main reasons for inefficiency/ ineffectiveness is mismanagement and lack of proper laws and total lack of implementation of laws. There is no sense of responsibility and duty among the work force in south asian countries especially India and there is no fear of law as it is never implemented/ used but always misused and abused. It is really difficult to take real and timely action against erring/non-performing government employe including both worker and officer class. The hidden economics of court cases is really expensive. All the burden lies only on the public and they bear it silently.

from:  dhiraj kumar garg
Posted on: Jun 20, 2012 at 00:54 IST

not just engineering... its room service, obeying traffic rules, cleanliness, and so much more, we in south asia have just don't have any respect for the society and our individual responsibilities its no surprise that engineers cannot do their job right

from:  ap
Posted on: Jun 20, 2012 at 00:46 IST

Congratulations to James for this great comparative study. Indian engineering is evolving slower than the western countries. The mobile revolution would eventually be emulated in other fields too. I have seen vast improvements in the power sector in India. Once we have nuclear energy as primary source of electricity, the scene will be better. I am waiting for your book. It would be a real eye opener.

from:  mihir deshpande
Posted on: Jun 20, 2012 at 00:42 IST

Excellent article. Just like Steve Jobs said 'Good design matters'.

from:  Bhagwat
Posted on: Jun 20, 2012 at 00:40 IST
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