COVID-19: Voices from the Cement Industry- Interview with Rajnish Kapur

As part of our programme of connecting our global members during the COVID-19 outbreak, WCA is hosting video interviews with our members to discuss the situations in their countries and to find out more about the impacts of the pandemic on the cement industry around the world. Here is an interview with Mr Rajnish Kapur, CEO of JK Cement, India.


Video Transcript


[How has the Indian government’s response to COVID affected your operations?]

We had a total shutdown of all plants on 23-24th of March when the government announced a complete lockdown, I think all of the cement plants in the country were closed. But from April onwards, the second week of April, the plants started coming back slowly depending on different states. So today we have all our plants fully operational, they’re all running.


[What has happened to cement demand and what is the outlook for the rest of the year?]

I would say in June, we are seeing demand coming back to almost at par with last year levels. And this is because there was a shutdown for a good period of 30-40 days so whatever infrastructure projects were going on, all those started up, so there was a pent up demand, so pre-monsoon you know, July onwards is when the monsoon starts, so pre-monsoon we then start seeing a fairly big slowdown in demand even in the normal years. I would say that across the country, we would be at 10-15% below last year’s numbers on an averaged out basis.

I think the recovery will take place at some point in time, but to really put a timeframe on it, I think in the current year we are going to see increasing things opening up. And if it could go to last year’s levels then that would be a good thing in the current year so we are just not expecting… and maybe at the end of the year, we lost almost the full month of April so you already see an 8.3% demand gone and the first ten days of May also gone, so this quarterly there’s about 25-30% probably of the demand lost of the industry, of the quarter demand.


[What steps has JK Cement put in place to protect employees?]

I’m very proud of the way that my company has reacted to the complete corona crisis. We visualised this happening so we were not caught by surprise on the 23rd March, we were sort of ready for it. It has been a learning journey for us, in our plants we have all the social distancing norms fully implemented, thermal scanners, and what we have realised is, there is a challenge of compliance in India, so we have done a lot in terms of educating the truck drivers who come, by putting cameras and taking all the camera feeds into a central control room, we have a public address system, and constantly they keep checking, we are trying to do real time checking, a lot of behavioural things we are doing, carrying out exercises like contact tracing, digital mapping, identifying the areas where the spread can happen, and most importantly giving confidence to the team.


[Has your response to COVID brought about changes in working practices that will have lasting benefits, for example on safety and productivity?]

What has happened is, COVID has brought in front of us a real learning platform, and people have started understanding that there’s no choice they have. When I started my packing plant and I had a throughput of 100 when we started and because of COVID the precautions we had to take, it was running at 40% capacity, today it’s at 85-90% and we are all aware of the fact that greater discipline and doing things properly ultimately leads to saving of time and works out more economically. So I’m certain that this awareness we have been able to create in people for the COVID precautions is also going to be very very favourable to occupational health and safety at the plants.

What we realised is that while we may try to do whatever we do inside our plants, our workforce comes from 30-40 villages around the plants and in those villages if the awareness is not there, we are actually inviting trouble and risk into the plants. So we tried a reach out programme along with the local government bodies, reaching out to the different villages around our plants, and educating them, distributing PPE and sanitising elements there, putting some banners, talking to them, distributing food, and giving the workmen food, all the workmen when they travelled back from our plants, when they went in the buses they were given food which was sufficient for them for their journey. So those kind of things like contributing to the government funds, contributing employees’ salaries to the prime minister’s fund, there’s a lot of things being done, and it’s an ongoing process which is going to continue for a long time.


[The Indian cement industry has a good record on energy efficiency. How will COVID effect the priority given to sustainability issues in future?]

Sustainability is a journey which has to continue, we all understand, and I think in the Indian cement industry you will have seen the thermal electrical energy parameters that we have are already among the best in the world today. I see the sustainability, if anything else will actually get more focussed post-COVID because we all realised what you know, the damages can happen to society if things are left to go unabated.