The little factory that could, part two


By Sharon St Joan

To read part one first, click here.

Four bids had been submitted. One of the bids was from a company that had been around for 90 years and was known as one of the world’s finest engineering companies.

Another was a company based in Gujarat that had a fantastic reputation and specialized in building small aircraft. Also submitting a bid was the same company that had just failed to complete the job on time and had missed the deadline by many months. And then there was Aspick, the small unknown company, started just the year before.

The space agency was legally obligated to award the contract to the lowest bidder – because all the bidding companies had been pre-qualified.

The bids were opened one by one. Aspick’s was opened first and read out. Dr. Krishna recalls that he “put on a poker face” — not wanting to look too amazed or surprised.

When his bid was read out, the whole room turned around and looked at him. His bid was only a small fraction of the other bids. Amazingly, the unknown company, Aspick, had just won the contract to build India’s first space communication antenna.

2011 IMG_0385

Even Dr. Krishna was a little dumbfounded at this outcome. He went home and spent several hours re-doing all the calculations to be sure he had everything right and hadn’t made any mistakes. There were no computers in those days.

The space agency may have had second thoughts too. The next morning he received a telegram asking him to reconfirm that he actually could meet all the requirements of the project. He replied that yes, he definitely could.

The antenna was meant to be finished in thirteen weeks. During that time Colonel N. Pant, the Director of the Space Applications Center in Ahmedabad, practically lived in Dr. Krishna’s factory. The purpose of his job was to put scientific technology to work for the common man. A number of the drawings were modified, yet even with all the changes, Aspick still managed to deliver the perfect, finished antenna in fourteen weeks.

When assembled, the antenna was 33 feet across, with 64 panels and one center panel. It was disassembled and sent off in three government trucks to Delhi. Packing it took a long time since each panel had to be packed separately with shock absorbing material.

The communications satellite program in India was a huge success. 600 villages all over India had TV sets connected to small dish antenna pointed towards ATS-5. The information that was picked up related to monsoons, market conditions, and when to harvest – the kind of practical knowledge that was immensely helpful to small farmers and villagers; it aided in the planting of crops and school education.


In other areas of his life, Dr. Krishna has applied the same level of positive intention. As the Vice-Chairman of the Animal Welfare Board of India, and a lifelong advocate for animals, he has contributed to India having the world’s most enlightened system of animal welfare laws. From his days as a young man, when he, along with his parents, Usha and Captain Sundaram, became the founders of the first and largest of the modern Indian animal shelters, Blue Cross of India – following in their footsteps, he has spent his life dedicated to the well-being of animals.

In 1973, when Aspick began, on the property at the Guindy Industrial Park, in Chennai, Dr. Krishna soon noticed three or four street dogs living in the area. He invited them in, fed them, and made sure that all his workers welcomed them warmly. After a rescue at the Chennai airport, the numbers of dogs at the factory grew to around twenty. Some of the dogs went on to live at home with him and his wife, Dr. Nanditha Krishna; some found other homes or stayed on at the factory. Now there are seven dogs living at Aspick – all contributing to the peaceful, yet industrious atmosphere – possibly the only factory anywhere with welders’ torches lighting up the air, palm trees waving gently just over the factory walls, and a line of dogs stretched out happily in the shade.

© 2015, Sharon St Joan

Top photo: Courtesy of Aspick Engineering


Second photo: Sharon St Joan / Dr. Chinny Krishna.


Third photo: Sharon St Joan / A puppy with a young volunteer at Blue Cross of India.



The little factory that could, part one


By Sharon St Joan

In 1960, NASA had begun to develop new communications satellites. In 1969, they launched the ATS 5, and made its use available to several nations. First, in a stationary orbit over Africa, it was used by a number of African nations for research purposes. Next was to be India’s turn, for one year, and the satellite would be in orbit over India in communication with an antenna on the ground known as the Delhi earth station.

The project was named the Satellite Instruction Television Experiment. Arthur C. Clarke, the renowned science fiction writer and futurist, called it “the greatest communication experiment in history.” In a bold new venture, it would reach rural Indian villages that had little access to modern education and information.

In order to seize this opportunity, India needed to build a ground antenna that could communicate with the satellite. The contract to make the antenna had been given to the Electronics Corporation of India in Hyderabad – which, unfortunately, had not been able to fulfill their commitment.

This left the Indian government scrambling at the last minute to find another company that could deliver the antenna – a correct antenna that could do the job – on time. The problem that ECI had was that it couldn’t achieve the required accuracy for the surface panels. The panels needed to have an absolutely smooth surface, to a tolerance of one fortieth of an inch.

When it became clear that the ECI was many months late, the Indian Department of Space started to lose patience. They placed an ad asking for bids for the project. A young Dr. Chinny Krishna had started his company, Aspick Engineering, just one year before, in 1973. It was a brand new company and still quite small. He had sold his motorcycle to help with the funding needed to start Aspick.


Having attended AC Tech Engineering College, Chennai, and then Bucknell University, in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, Dr. Krishna returned to India in 1972, when he joined the faculty of IIT Chennai to teach while preparing to start his company, which would design and manufacture special purpose machinery out of steel and other metals.

Today, forty years later, Aspick Engineering is one of the most outstanding and highly successful companies of its kind, executing special orders for customers throughout India and around the world.

At that time, in 1974, when Dr. Krishna placed a bid for the chance to built the antenna for the NASA communications satellite, hardly anyone had ever heard of Aspick Engineering.

The antenna was to receive signals from the satellite which was in geo-synchronous orbit. This meant that the antenna, which was approximately 36,000 kilometers (22,000 miles) above the earth, would move at such a speed that, to an observer on the ground, it would appear to be stationary. The satellite would complete one orbit around the earth in precisely one sidereal day intentionally matching the earth’s rotation period of 23 hours 56 minutes and 4.9 seconds.  However, there would be small movements of a fraction of a degree of drift of the satellite and the antenna would have to continuously make small changes in its orientation to track the satellite precisely.

There would be 65 panels, made of hand-treated aluminum, and the final alignment could only be made by adjusting it manually. Around a dozen people at Aspick eventually worked on it.


Aspick sent in their bid to the Department of Space, which sent a team to Chennai in south India to visit Aspick to pre-qualify them. The team were especially careful in their appraisal because they had just been let down by the Hyderabad company after so many months of expectation. Dr. Krishna gave the team a tour of the factory and the offices. He felt entirely confidant that Aspick had the ability to meet all the precise qualifications for the antenna. The team were suitably impressed, and they pre-qualified Aspick.

The opening of the bids for the contract to build the antenna took place at the Shastri Bhavan Offices of the Department of Space. As was his habit, Dr. Krishna sat in the back of the room. He’d always done that, including throughout his school days.

To be continued in part two


Top photo: Courtesy of Aspick Engineering / The satellite antenna.


Second photo: Sharon St Joan / Dr. Chinny Krishna


Third photo: Courtesy of Aspick Engineering / Other machinery manufactured by Aspick.

A grisly discovery prompts a fifty year campaign, part two

Mrs. Usha Sundaram and Captain Sundaram
Mrs. Usha Sundaram and Captain Sundaram


By Sharon St Joan


This is one of a series of stories about the early days of the animal welfare movement in India.


To read part one first, click here.


Later that same year, in 1963, the CPCSEA was formed — thanks to the initiative of the well-known Indian classical dancer and animal activist, Rukmini Devi. The CPCSEA (Committee for the Purpose of Control and Supervision of Experiments on Animals) oversees the facilities that perform animal experiments. Dr. Krishna, his mother, and his father, met twice with the CPCSEA committee members to give an account of the experiments at the Kilpauk Medical Center. At first they weren’t taken seriously. Some people even laughed, and there was some disbelief that such things as grafting of dogs’ heads had actually happened. But later on, the committee members were able to see for themselves what was happening with animal experiments – and then they were taken more seriously.


The Blue Cross investigation at the medical college gave the Indian public their first real glimpse behind the closed doors of facilities experimenting on animals. It began a decades-long campaign to put a stop to the suffering of lab animals.


In 1965, Blue Cross held the first Animal Welfare Seminar in India.


On October 4, 1968, the CPCSEA published the first set of official government guidelines to regulate the use of lab animals. These were, word for word, the same resolutions that had been passed by the Blue Cross Seminar in 1965 – and were a strong statement on behalf of animals.


Rukmini Devi
Rukmini Devi


Dr. Krishna recalls two factors, especially, that really helped early on – the first, that Rukmini Devi, such a widely-known and well-loved celebrity, had been the Chief Guest at the Blue Cross Seminar and, secondly, around the same time, his dad had been awarded the Queen Victoria Medal of Honor for his work on behalf of animals in India. These caught public attention. The movement to ban research on animals grew and people began to take note. It has never stopped.


Banning pound seizure


In the 1970’s, the Indian National Science Academy issued the statement that “Animals of unknown background provide faulty data.” This set the stage for a future law. Till 1996, labs habitually and cheaply acquired animals from disreputable backyard breeders, stolen animals from dealers, or animals picked up and sold by dog pounds.


Also in 1996, Maneka Gandhi, Member of Parliament, reconstituted the CPCSEA, which had been disbanded. The first rule of their guidelines was that only animals specifically bred for research could be used, thus cutting off the availability of cheap animal sources. India formally banned pound seizure in 1996; now, by law, animals could no longer be seized from pounds to end up in laboratories.


Conditions for lab animals and the numbers used over the years have steadily improved, and there is less egregious use of the animals.


Excessively stupid experiments, like grafting dogs heads, are no longer being done in India.


Banning dissection in schools


In 1991, Gujarat became the first Indian state to ban dissection in school biology classes.


Rajasthan also completely banned school dissection.


In 1998, a Delhi High Court ruling brought an end to Indian students being forced dissect frogs and other animals in schools below university level. Now one dissection is done as a demonstration, with the students watching, rather than each student doing their own dissection.


In 2011, India’s University Grants Commission banned the dissection of animals in universities and colleges. It has been estimated that this decision has saved the lives of 19 million animals a year.


Whittling away at animal research


In 1977, India banned the export of rhesus monkeys for research, immediately following the publication of an article in an illustrated weekly by Dr. Nanditha Krishna.


In January 2014, India banned cosmetics testing on animals. In December 2014, the importation of cosmetics that had been tested on animals in any other country was also banned.


The CPCSEA is focusing now on making sure that all places that use animals for experiments are registered. About 2,000 in India are registered, but around 5,000 exist. The government will soon require that labs using animals be registered before they can receive grants. Registration provides greater control and more oversight.



Dr. Krishna recalls, “Back in the 60’s, lab conditions and experiments were deplorable. Now the CPCSEA are making sure that internationally recognized best practices are being followed.”


Despite steady progress and the lives of many millions of animals saved, much still remains to be done.


Dr. Chinny Krishna
Dr. Chinny Krishna


“There is much unnecessary repetition,” Dr. Krishna noted, “For example, a second species is required in toxicology testing. They use mice, and for the second species, they use either monkeys, which are expensive, or dogs. Generally, beagles are used. The second species is unnecessary and provides virtually no additional useful data. We’re trying our best now to ban testing on dogs.”


Imposing limits and restrictions whittles away at the cruel practice of animal research and cuts down on the numbers of animals used.


About a dozen members of the CPCSEA meet every two months, taking up one issue after another in the determined process to make the suffering of animals in laboratories a thing of the past.


Bit by bit, progress has been made — the suffering of animals in labs in India has lessened – and a spotlight has been thrown on the inhumanity and uselessness of animal experimentation.




Top photo: Courtesy of Blue Cross of India / Mrs. Usha Sundaram and Captain Sundaram, Co-Founders of Blue Cross.


Second photo: Wikimedia Commons /”This work is in the public domain in India because its term of copyright has expired…” “This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was first published in India….” / Rukmini Devi 


Third photo: Sharon St Joan / Dr. Chinny Krishna






















India: Tamil Nadu: Madurai: Free skies for Meenakshi’s Parrots

Rose-ringed_Parakeets_(Male_&_Female) : Wikipedia Commons

This is one of a series of stories highlighting some of the remarkable achievements of the animal welfare movement in India.

The Meenakshi Temple at Madurai, in southern India, is one of the largest temples in the world.  It is dedicated to the Goddess Meenakshi, a form of Parvati, who is the wife of Shiva. Her vahana, or symbol, is the parrot, and she is depicted holding a parrot on her finger.

The species of parrot she holds is the Indian Ring-necked Parakeet or Rose-ringed Parakeet, which is native to India.

In an online article from September 19, 2005, attributed to Mike Schindlinger, entitled “Free Sky for Meenakshi Temple Parrots,” it was reported that the temple birds were being freed, and in the future only one pair of parrots would be kept in the temple.

According to P. Bhaskaran, Executive Officer of the Temple, the birds were being freed in response to requests from animal welfare organizations like Blue Cross of India. Similar requests had been lodged by the Tamil Nadu Forestry Department.

Dr. Chinny Krishna, Chairman Emeritus of Blue Cross of India, recalls that there used to be around 600 parrots being kept in an aviary of the temple.


Surrounding shops sold parrots to pilgrims visiting the temple, who then donated them to the temple in honor of Meenakshi.

People generally had no idea that the parrots were captured from the wild, and that for every parrot that survived, eight or nine may have died during the process of capturing them, so it was a very cruel process, and a very poor way to honor the Goddess Meenakshi.

Dr. Krishna pointed out that, starting around a hundred years ago, each year, unfortunately, many thousands of parrots were donated to the temple, but only around 600 parrots were there in the aviary at any one time. Since parrots easily live for around 60 years, something was not right. Clearly, most of the parrots did not survive in a situation where their caregivers had not been trained in how to care for them. They suffered from neglect.

For around 30 years, Dr. Krishna, representing Blue Cross of India, had been writing to the temple authorities, asking them not to keep parrots and to refuse to accept donations of parrots to the temple.

At long last, the battle was won; living parrots are no longer sold in shops near the temple, and they are not donated to the temple.

Dr. Krishna noted that, unfortunately, when they were freed without being acclimatized or rehabilitated first, most of the parrots probably did not survive.

Whenever birds are released after being kept in captivity, they need to go through a process of rehabilitation undertaken by a qualified wildlife rehabilitator. In most cases where birds are born in captivity, they can never be released back to the wild, but there are exceptions. Only a wildlife rehabilitator is able to make this assessment, on a case by case basis.

The good news is that parrots no longer suffer being captured from the wild to be sold to pilgrims or being kept inappropriately in captivity at the temple in Madurai. The Goddess Meenakshi can feel a sense of joy that her beloved, beautiful birds are at last free to fly in the pure winds of heaven.

To read the article, “Free Sky for Meenakshi Temple Parrots, click here.”


To visit the website of Blue Cross of India, click here.


Top photo:  J.M.Garg / GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version… / Wikimedia Commons / Rose-ringed Parakeets 

Second photo: Nireekshit /This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. / Wikimedia Commons / Rose-ringed Parakeets

© Sharon St Joan, 2014