Haldia, complex and unique

Built in 1979 by Hindustan Unilever, Haldia's original function was to manufacture sodium tripolyphosphate (STPP) to meet the requirements of its detergent plants across the country. Over the years, new facilities, including two di-ammonium phosphate (DAP) plants and one single superphosphate (SSP) plant, were added. Tata Chemicals acquired the business in 2004. It gave the company a foothold in eastern India and boosted the agribusiness capability in fertilisers, born a decade earlier with the commissioning of the urea plant in Babrala in 1994. It also gave the company access to a very strong brand, Paras, the preferred brand of phosphatic fertiliser in this part of the country. Over the last few years, all Tata Chemicals' agri products have been streamlined under the Paras brand.

Competition from cheap imported STPP from China has, over time, driven a shift from chemicals to complex fertilisers. Sulphuric acid is still manufactured for in-plant use to produce SSP and  DAP. Also, around 0.1million tonnes of sulphuric acid is sold directly to the market each year.
[Plant head Amir Alvi]

Haldia now produces 250,000 tonnes of DAP and 500,000 tonnes of NPK annually. Following a de-bottlenecking operation in December 2011, SSP production has gone up by around 30 per cent to 200,000 tonnes. A blueprint for a new SSP plant has been approved and will enhance production by another 1,000 tonnes per day when completed in 18–24 months' time. Two years ago, production of the bulbs used in the Tata Swach water purifier began at Haldia (see panel).

Haldia, a major port city, is not an isolated township as is the case with other Tata Chemicals plants in the country. Employees live in the community rather than in a walled compound. There is plenty of other heavy industry in this part of eastern India. The location is not remote like Babrala or Mithapur. The city infrastructure is in many ways better: The two-hour drive from Kolkata to Haldia is comfortable because of the newly built highway.

Technologically, Haldia is less complex than the two other manufacturing sites in India, although operations require high levels of skills. The management team, led by vice president, Manufacturing, Amir Alvi, has other challenges apart from running the plant safely and efficiently.

Amir, a chemical engineer who spent a brief period as a semi-professional tennis player in Europe before embarking on his Tata Chemicals career, offers insight into life at Haldia. He says, "The things that take up a large share of my time often relate to external factors. The plant operations have been smoothened over the years, though it has its share of problems during the rainy seasons and peak summers. Industrial relations, political turbulence or working with the port authorities makes Haldia unique.

One million tonnes of imported feedstock comes in through the port of Haldia at the mouth of the river Hooghly. Phosphoric acid is shipped from IMACID in Morocco, in which Tata Chemicals took an equity stake in 2005 to secure its supply. Lack of investment in the port – despite all the talk about India's US$1trillion infrastructure programme – means the river is silting faster than it is dredged, and this has reduced the size of ships that can be accommodated and creates other supply chain issues. The inefficiencies of the port restrict growth in the fertiliser business, because it requires a continuous supply of imported raw materials. This has a big impact on the cost of manufacturing. "Although other fertiliser producers also face problems in accessing imported raw materials as we do, they do not have this port disadvantage," says Amir. Other costs at Haldia are on par with other similar plants; however, its product quality is a differentiator. "We have consistently achieved the best product quality for DAP, NPKs and SSP. This has been the main reason for the success behind the Paras brand," says Amir.
[SHE head Ashok Sil]

"When dealing with phosphatic fertilisers, operations are more of an art than a science," says Amir. "We focus our efforts on maintaining product quality, efficiencies and increasing uptime. Many other factors are outside our control. In the past few years, we've focused on the things we can change such as improving efficiencies through Lean Six Sigma and other initiatives, our safety performance and improving the infrastructure at the site."

Of the 1,200 people on site each day, some 400 are Tata Chemicals' employees and the remainder are contractors. Managing industrial relations is one of the most significant jobs of HR head, Partha Sarathi Banerjee. He said, "Our workforce is highly unionised and we have collective bargaining agreements with two unions. I'm the bridge between unions and management. We negotiate four-year agreements, which then have to be ratified by the Government of West Bengal."

While India's population is relatively young, the average age of the staff at Haldia is more than 43 years among managers and around 52 years among workmen. The attrition rate is 'almost zero' for workmen and very low among the management staff. The only outflow of people is retirees. This presents its own challenges, and the Haldia leadership is focused on transferring knowledge. A recruitment campaign and new apprenticeships are planned.

In the eight years since Tata Chemicals took over the business, there has been a cultural shift, which involves pushing decision-making down into the organisation. "We have given more power to engineers and heads of departments. Our management cadre is much happier and better engaged. People have control over what they need to do and they are more involved in decision-making," says Amir.

Implementing the Safety, Health and Environment strategy at Haldia is the job of Ashok Sil who has worked at the plant for 32 years. He says there was little or no culture of safety when he joined. "There was a reactive approach to safety and that's now changed significantly. As a mark of our progress, Tata Chemicals Haldia was last year awarded the British Safety Council Sword of Honour with a five-star rating," he says.

Historically, recordable injury frequency at Haldia hovered around 2.6/2.7 per million man-hours. By working with Dupont and Dutch consultants TNO, as well as increasing focus on safety education and training, that was reduced to 0.75 in the past year.

Handling toxic chemicals, such as ammonia and sulphuric acid, are the key hazards present at site, but there is more of a behaviour issue when it comes to safety, which is being addressed. Instances of sulphuric acid burns, which had run at two or three a year about 15 years back, have been reduced to zero. However, the greatest challenge is maintaining the plant infrastructure and equipment in a highly corrosive environment.
[Deputy manager, Rashed Hazarika is pictured with the Tata Swach Smart]

Pure innovation, Tata Swach

The rice husk ash bulbs that form the central component of the Tata Swach water purifier are manufactured at Haldia. The rice husk ash is given a silver nano coating that removes bacteria from the water. Head of the water purifier plant, Bipal Majumdar, leads a 60-plus team, running a facility housed in a former power plant. As many as 750,000 bulbs were made in the first year and production has increased to 100,000 bulbs per month. They have the capacity to double output as customer demand increases.

Deputy manager, Rashed Hazarika is pictured with the Tata Swach Smart.