Standing tall

In January 2003 Kulkarni came to know of the artificial-limbs project initiated by TAL Manufacturing Solutions, the Tata group company that has carved a niche for itself in the machine tool and automation industry. Within weeks of coming to the fitting centre that TAL runs at its production facility in Chinchwad, near Pune, Kulkarni had found her feet again. The transition — from depending on a walker to using an artificial limb — was not an easy one for Kulkarni, but she now has her handicap under control.

Kulkarni is one of many disabled people whose lives have been transformed by the high-quality artificial limbs, or prosthetic devices, that TAL's 'engineered mobility' division manufactures. These products are vastly superior to the conventional wood-and-plastic prosthetic parts, typified by the 'Jaipur foot', that has been in wide use in India until now. They are made to world standards and are available at much lower prices than imported artificial limbs. Moreover, TAL's prosthetic devices are produced specifically for Indians and Indian conditions.

TAL's prosthetic products are replacement parts for the lower limbs, and they are the only ones of their kind made in the country. They use a structure of lightweight aluminium and steel. Cosmetic foam lends an enhanced look to the limb. These devices provide enhanced stability on any terrain, they take less effort to use, and are long lasting.

This is yet another standout example of the Tata Group using its expertise — in applied engineering in this case — to change the lives of ordinary Indians. According to the 2001 census, there are 4 million disabled people in the country. An estimated 1 million of them suffer from what are known as orthopaedic disabilities, with accidents being the major cause.

Traditional artificial limbs, woeful as they are, reach less than 10 per cent of India's disabled. TAL's engineered mobility division is poised to play a crucial role in bridging the chasm between the huge requirement for prosthetic devices in the country and their inadequate supply.

A TAL prosthetic deviceThe company's engineered mobility division was created in August 2000. The idea for the project took shape after an approach by the Artificial Limb Centre (Pune), which is part of the Indian army's medical-services wing. The centre, which was established during World War II and is one of the oldest artificial-limb facilities in India, wanted international-quality prosthetic devices to replace the conventional contraptions available in the market. This was in the aftermath of the Kargil conflict. The Centre believed that TAL could produce these limbs at a much lower cost to consumers than their foreign equivalents.