IN TRANSITION
Fortune India|April 2020
AT A TIME WHEN MANY MIDSIZED INFRA EPC COMPANIES ARE IN A SPOT DUE TO STRETCHED BALANCE SHEETS AND WANT OF FUNDS, KEC INTERNATIONAL HAS BUCKED THE TREND BY CAREFUL SELECTION OF PROJECTS, DIVERSIFICATION INTO NEW BUSINESSES, AND ESCHEWING THE TEMPTATION TO CHASE GROWTH AT ANY COST.
AVEEK DATTA

DRASS AND KARGIL ARE TWO towns in India’s northernmost Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) whose names are etched in the minds of Indians as the site of the 1999 war that India fought with neighbouring Pakistan. Apart from this distinction, Drass is also the second-coolest inhabited place in the world with the mercury dipping to as low as -49° Celsius in the winters. Situated at an altitude of over 11,500 feet, with a heavy snow cover in the winters, the geopolitically sensitive location is one of the most logistically challenging places in the world to do an infrastructure project in.

But KEC International, the infrastructure engineering, procurement, and construction (EPC) arm of the Mumbai-based tyres-to-information technology group RPG Enterprises, was up to the task. Beginning in phases from 2015, Power Grid Corp. of India awarded KEC a project to build four power substations—one each in Drass, Kargil, Khalsti, and Leh (the latter two are now a part of the newly formed Union Territory of Ladakh)—and the Leh-Khalsti power transmission line.

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KEC, which was founded in 1945 and acquired by RPG in 1982, had to plan the project meticulously keeping in mind that snowfall cuts off road connectivity to the region in the winter months. To ensure that power transformers needed for the project reach Jammu by April 2016, it had to ship them out of Hyderabad as early as November 2015. To ensure that the trailers carrying the necessary equipment reach their destination on time and without incident, KEC even took the responsibility of fortifying some of the bridges along the way to Leh and Drass, which were either weak or partially constructed. To insulate the substations from the harsh weather conditions, KEC used material such as hermetically-sealed double glass for the control rooms; and cement was stored in regulated room temperature to prevent it from freezing.

In February 2019, Prime Minister Narendra Modi dedicated the Srinagar-Leh Transmission System—envisaged to bring stable power connectivity to one of India’s farthest regions round the year—to the nation. Vimal Kejriwal, the 59-year-old managing director and chief executive officer of KEC, is particularly proud of his company’s ability to execute challenging projects, including the one it did in J&K. So impressive was KEC’s work, Kejriwal says, that when the company decided not to bid for another project being planned by the government in J&K, the company started getting calls asking why it wasn’t participating.

“We have never left a project incomplete. The reputation that we have built for ourselves over the years is that if we take up a project, the client knows it is as good as done,” Kejriwal says confidently, as he meets Fortune India at the company’s and the RPG group’s headquarters in south Mumbai.

Pratik Agarwal, managing director of Sterlite Power, agrees. The power transmission developer, a part of the Anil Agarwal-led Vedanta Group, tasked KEC with the EPC work for the Gurugram-Palwal transmission line in the National Capital Region in October 2016. Though Gurugram is a residential and commercial hub that houses the headquarters of several startups and multinational companies, large parts of it are still dependent on diesel generator sets that are expensive to run and cause pollution. The project promises to bring surplus power from Uttar Pradesh to Gurugram, and is expected to be completed shortly.

Managing a complex power transmission project that passes through densely populated urban areas is “an art and not a science”, says Agarwal. His company awarded the project to KEC because it is one of the oldest power transmission and distribution (T&D) EPC players in India with a good team and processes in place.

“Within these projects, no two 20-km stretches are the same and KEC has done well to groom capable leaders and empower them when it comes to executing these projects,” Agarwal tells Fortune India.

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