Climbing the ladder from a Shift in-Charge to the roof top as a CEO, the journey of Mr. R.C. Mall has been a roller coaster ride. Having a stint of around 4 decades in the Indian Paper Industry and the ride on the roads of varied positions and companies has made him an all rounder. During his tenure as a CEO in APPM, their graph saw a 250% revenue growth. His in-depth understanding of the industry and its workings has earned him the position of one of the best analytical minds available in the Industry. To analyze the thoughts of Mr.R.C. Mall, team PAPER MART went to have a brief interaction with him.
PAPER MART : You have a background of working in different arenas in paper industry with the likes of Bangurs, Birlas, Duncan Goenkas, and now with Agarwal-Goenkas. How has been the journey so far?
R.C. Mall : I had all along very challenging opportunities in all my assignments where I learnt a lot and tried to give my best to the Organizations where I worked. All the jobs were highly satisfying. Some of these like that at Star Paper and APPM have been professionally very satisfying in terms of achievement and recognitions. I am lucky that once again I am having the tough challenge with a highly motivating environment to take up the assignment for spectacular growth of Emami Paper.
In APPM, I was given the responsibility to conceptualise and implement the two large scale brown field modernization and expansion plans of Rs 70 and 625 crores during 1998 to 2007 with installation of latest pulping and chemical recovery technologies to achieve cost reductions, economy of scale with high level of environmental compliance. At present I am busy strategizing and planning installation of a paper machine of capacity 132,000 TPA for manufacturing Newsprint at an outlay of Rs 600 crores and a wood based Integrated Pulp and Paper Mill of capacity 200,000 TPA of P&W grades at an outlay of Rs 1800 crores for Emami Paper.
PM : What kind of growth you anticipate in Indian paper industry?
R.C. Mall : Since many decades, we have seen that the growth of Pulp & Paper industry have been well linked to the GDP and has been close to it. Given the current growth environment of all the business sectors coupled with the thrust to education sector by the Government, there is every likelihood of Paper Sector registering a growth of at least 7% for the next 5 to 10 years.
PM : What are the key challenges which Indian paper industry is going to face along with this growth?
R.C. Mall : The most important challenge is the availability of fiber. The country is fiber deficient. The cost of imported fiber, be it waste paper or purchased wood pulp, makes the operations highly unattractive. The best answer is to develop the captive plantations through public and private partnership models involving the farmers and the rural populace. This way not only the availability will be tackled, the cost will be reasonable and we will be able to overcome the issue of scale of economics. Apart from this, a practical way to increase the recycling through better collection of waste paper needs to be put in place. Some models have been attempted by mills like ITC. These need to be taken up as social movement.
Besides the above, we need to tackle the technology aspect for environmental issues and improvise on our production and marketing strategies as well. We all realise and agree to the necessity of making the Industry environment friendly. Processes and equipment designs have been developed to tackle the menace of pollution and are directed to do so at the source itself. This calls for adopting higher technologies which work out to be economic with scale of operation, e.g. installing continuous digesters of latest generation to adopt low solids and low temperature cooking like the one installed at APPM. These are best adaptable at higher capacities. This also compels us to tackle our fiber availability issue.
PM : As per your view, throw some lights on the raw material scenario for the Indian paper industry in terms of challenges, solutions to overcome the challenges and the future you foresee?
R.C. Mall : The raw material scenario can be made sustainable, if a few bold actions are taken. Plantation activities through the involvement of the farmers is an area for which I canvass a lot. I have experienced it to give satisfying rewards to the rural population as also support the Industry for its raw material needs. This drive also propels the need for ecological balance and offers excellent solution to both – the drive for greening India and providing carbon sequestration while arresting the soil degradation.
The other step is to take up the massive task of organizing the collection system of the waste paper for increasing recycling for paper making usages which is very low at about 22% in our country as against at over 50% in many developed countries. This shall require very high level of administrative involvement at the government-end (because of the societal issues) and support of organizing abilities of the Industry.
PM : What is your perspective on the technological change in the Indian Paper industry in terms of awareness, adopting new technology?
R.C. Mall : As far as awareness and desire to adopt newer and greener technologies are concerned, the managements and technical fraternity in India are highly conscious of the same and quite aggressive also about these when it comes to pushing these into application. Nevertheless, the constraint of the scale to make such efforts economically sound often comes in the way. Even then many of the progressive Mills have been able to overcome these to a great extent.
PM : According to you does paper industry has a positive or negative impact on the environment & society. How?
R.C. Mall : Forest Survey of India’s latest biennial report suggests that while the overall green cover in the country went up by 2.8% over the previous level 2 years back, the forest cover was up by 0.005% only and the tree plantation outside the forests grew by 22.6%. In other words while the forests hardly grew much, the growth of total green cover of the order of 2.8% was possible because of the tree plantations registering impressive growth. This is corroborated by the corresponding figures of the state of Andhra Pradesh where the overall green cover went up by 5.4% despite a drop in forest cover by about 0.004% because of an impressive growth of tree plantation by 34.5% which was spearheaded relentlessly in the last few years by couple of mills located in the state. In other words, the Industry is creator of green cover rather than destroying it and maintains sustainability of eco balance adequately when you consider following added advantages from this drive to help raise tree plantations.
Now consider its social aspect. Progressive coverage of areas under such activities results in jobs and livelihood for rural population, many of whom may be in the BPL category. Mills have covered almost 250,000 ha of mostly waste or peripheral lands of the rural/tribal populace. Plans are afoot to cover about 40000 ha per year further by the Mills over the next 5-7 years.
The industry is being blamed by environmentalists for polluting water. But, through process developments and ever increasing adoption of recycling the used water, the Industry has brought down fresh water intake to less than half of where it was about 2 decades back. Not only that, the technology of treatment of the process waste water has been improved to the level that the same is being used safely in many cases for irrigation and other purposes too.
PM : What is the meaning of satisfaction for Mr. R.C. Mall both professionally and personally?
R.C. Mall : With persons having extremely high level of dedication to their tasks (and I think I can claim to belong to such a category), no separate meaning of professional and personal satisfaction can ever be defined. For me, working all through for the betterment of the Industry in all its respects resulting in creativity with real growth to ensure the future of the Industry is what counts most and gives me immense satisfaction.