The Transportation office of the Nangal Expansion Project (NEP) was set up in a double storied building in South Extension Part II across the Ring Road from the cluster of rented buildings that formed the corporate office of FCI. I had to set up the office from scratch, an experience that proved useful later. I got RN Varma moved to Delhi from Nangal to assist me in the project.
My term with NEP began on an auspicious note. Soon after I joined NEP, I overheard BS Ka?kar, Project Manager and his deputy CL Kaul discussing the issue of getting coal for the ongoing construction work for the project. Kakkar said they needed to get recommendation from an officer called Dhar in the Ministry of mines. They were surprised to hear that I knew the procedure for procuring coal and even more when I said I knew Dhar. As they watched incredulously, I called Sunil Kumar Dhar on the phone, addressed him by his first name and explained our requirement. The next day, I met him along with Kaul and got the letter of recommendation. I also spoke to my friends in Eastern Railway to get the wagons supplied without delay.
The first challenge I faced in the new job was the movement of materials for the Air Liquefaction Plant for the project. The entire plant was to be imported from England via either Bombay port or Kandla port, depending on the feasibility of transportation. After scrutinizing drawings received from the supplier, I advised against rail transport as the vessels were larger than could be moved over the hilly terrains in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh.
To determine the feasibility of moving them by road I was asked to accompany two officers from the Planning and Development Division of FCI, a mechanical engineer and a traffic officer, on a physical road survey of the route from Bombay/Kandla to Nangal. I joined the party at Kandla. The traffic officer was Thakur, who was originally a section controller in Dhanbad division. We travelled together in an Ambassador car, stopping only for our meals and sleeping in the nearest circuit house at night. We were hopeful of finding a suitable route until we reached Jaipur where the arches of the old city gates were not wide enough to allow passage of the vessels. A detour via Sanganer also proved to be impracticable. There were minor obstructions en route, like electric wires or narrow roads at some places. We were told on enquiry that we would need clearance from state PWDs and electricity boards to negotiate them.
We arrived in Delhi despondent about the prospects. We discussed the matter with the Project Manager and decided to float a tender for moving the vessels by road. We got response from several transporters and invited them for a discussion on the modalities of transportation. One of them, Baxi Brothers, seemed to be well experienced and well equipped. They told us that they had their own ways of getting over the obstacles on the way quickly without getting involved with state bureaucracies. Eventually, the contract was awarded to them and they did a fine job.
One of my important tasks was the movement of over dimensional consignments (ODC). Not only did it hone my knowledge of the concerned railway rules, but it also brought me in touch with the officers and staff of different railways who dealt with the issue. Most of them were knowledgeable and very helpful.
Indian Railways have laid down elaborate instructions for the carriage of over dimensional consignments. Each zonal railway maintains information on clearances available from fixed structures like cuttings, bridges, station yards, signalling and electrical posts etc. for each section. The dimensions of the consignment offered for movement by rail are matched with these clearances and the Chief Operating Superintendent (now called Principal Chief Operations Manager) sanctions the movement in consultation with the engineering, mechanical and other concerned departments. The sanction letter prescribes the route, speed, timing (in case it is considered unsafe to transport the ODC after dark) and the precautions required to be taken to ensure safety. In critical cases sanction of the Commissioner for Railway Safety (CRS) is obtained by through an application, supported by a Safety Certificate, jointly signed by the principal heads of all the concerned departments.
Over Dimensional Consignments are generally transported in specially constructed wagons with low floors, called well wagons or BFUs. They consist of a specially designed girder capable of carrying heavy consignments, with the middle part bent in the form of a ‘U' and the ends mounted on bogies. They are available in different capacities with multiple axles for equitable transmission of the weight of the wagon to the track. Indian Railways have also encouraged private ownership of wagons specially constructed for the carriage of heavy or oversized consignments.
Outside the railways, I got to know people in Sri Ram Fertilizers, Kota, Engineers India Ltd (EIL), Heavy Engineering Corporation Ltd (HEC) and Bharat Heavy Plates and Vessels, (BHPV). The last company, in Vishakhapatnam was headed by an IRSME officer and the transportation side was managed by a young IRTS officer from 1963 batch called C Ramakrishna. He was of great help in moving our vessels from BHPV. I also got valuable assistance and advice from Mulu Wala (IRTS 1969), my old friend in Eastern Railway who was on deputation to Director General (Shipping) in Bombay, and PVB Sarma (IRTS 1959), who was on deputation to Visakhapatnam Port. I knew him as a probationer on Eastern Railway.
The most challenging assignment was to move a urea tower weighing 135 tonnes. The maximum carrying capacity of a BFU then available on IR was 130 tonnes. All the officers of the Mechanical Department whom I approached, my closest friends among them, told me that for safety reasons it was impossible to overload the BFU. During a visit to Bombay in the same connection, my brother Jagan Mohan, Professor of Mechanical Engineering in IIT Powai, with whom I was staying, enquired about the purpose of my visit. When I mentioned the problem of overloading a 130 tonnes BFU by 5 tonnes, he laughed and said that the girder used in BFUs has a 100% margin of safety so if the track can bear the additional axle load there should no problem with the wagon. Till then my colleagues in the Mechanical Department of IR had not shared this vital information with me. Soon afterwards I happened to meet P Seshadri, a senior FCI officer attached to Director Planning. When I mentioned the problem to him, he advised me to approach his brother P Krishnamurty who was Additional Chief Mechanical Engineer on the South Eastern Railway. I met Krishnamurty and using the important input I had received from my brother Jagan Mohan, I persuaded him to allow movement of the tower over SE Railway. There was no problem with the engineering department as the axle load of the special BFU wagon was within limits even after the well wagon was overloaded to the extent of 5 tonnes. Once the CME and CE signed the safety certificate, COPS had no objection to sign it.
With South Eastern Railway’s sanction in hand, I approached Northern Railway. The application was handled by the ODC section of COPS Northern Railway in Baroda House. The Assistant Operating Superintendent in charge was CP Sharma, who worked in CTRAM after retirement. He examined my application and told me that I did not stand a ghost of a chance as the Additional CME Dilraj Singh was not one to take decisions that were outside normal procedures. Nonetheless, he processed the application and put up the file. I met Dilraj Singh and explained the position pointing out that the SE Railway had already permitted movement of the tower in its jurisdiction. To the great surprise of CP Sharma, not to mention my delight, Dilraj Singh acceded to my request. Sanction from other zonal railways became a mere formality. When I visited my parent railway, I took the safety certificate personally to each Head of the Department. BB Lal, CME Eastern Railway, placed a hand across his eyes and said, "Where do I sign?”. Sachdev, COPS signed without demur and asked, "When will you stop these peripheral jobs and return back to Eastern Railway?" I realized for the first time that Sachdev had a good opinion of my work.
Much of the equipment for the project came from abroad in small packages that had to be cleared from the port and then transported post haste to Nangal. The normal transit time was about a month by road and six to eight weeks by rail, with a very high chance of mis-despatch and/or loss in both forms of transport. Falling back on my experience with the Ammonia tower in Trombay, I persuaded Kakkar to allow me to employ a few retired Traffic Inspectors (TI) from Western and Northern Railways to monitor the movement of these packages over the railway system. I posted them at Bombay, Ahmedabad, Delhi and Ambala. The Bombay TI's task was to get the imported packages booked in smalls at Carnac Bunder and get them loaded in wagons up to the minimum weight required for marking the wagon as a through sealed van (TS Van) up to destination, that is FCI siding Nangal Dam. He would then arrange to get the wagon attached to the next Super Goods train for Delhi. Once the wagon was despatched, he would relay the details of despatch to his counterpart in Ahmedabad, who would track the wagon and relay the information to the TI in Delhi. The Delhi TI would arrange for the expeditious despatch of the wagon from Delhi and pass on the details to Nangal. All of them would keep me informed so I could keep Kakkar and Kaul posted. Since all the TIs were locally drawn, they had excellent contacts and did their jobs both efficiently and comfortably. The average transit time of these packages was an amazing 9 days from loading to unloading.
The quality of staff holding ministerial posts in FCI tended to be very poor. I came to realise this when I set up the Transportation Department's office for the Nangal Expansion Project. Most of them had been employed as domestic help by the FCI officers and inducted into FCI as peons or messengers. With FCI's policy of promoting everyone in three years, many of them rose to become, clerks, head clerks and even office superintendents, with the barest of educational qualifications. Unlike in the government, including railways, recruitment to clerical posts was mostly done from internal candidates. The lack of quality showed up palpably on every side. Officers, who were recruited by FCI directly were also often wanting in quality as many of them entered the corporation through influence or by recommendation.
I had a bitter experience of this when I received the allotment of my Premium Padmini car. With only three manufacturers licensed to build cars in the country, Hindusthan Motors near Calcutta making Ambassadors, Premium Automobiles, Bombay making Premium Padminis and Standard Motors, Madras making Standard Heralds, there was a long wait for buying cars. Government officers had a separate quota but even here there was a long queue. I had booked the car several years back in Calcutta, so when the allotment came, we looked forward to having a new car of our own. But before that I had to get a loan for paying the cost of the car in instalments.
There were no agencies other than the government advancing loans for buying cars. Since I was on deputation, I had to get the loan from FCI, which would deduct the instalments from my salary. The deductions would continue even after my return to railways and the deducted amounts would be remitted to FCI until the loan was fully cleared. There was no difficulty, as the scheme was simple, and the transaction was between a government department and a PUC and concerned a Class I officer of the Central government. Or so I thought, until I came across an accounts officer of the type I mentioned earlier.
The Finance Manager of the Nangal Unit rejected the loan application because, according to him those on deputation could not be trusted to repay the loan. When I went to plead with him, he refused point blank, saying that in the past he had had a bitter experience with a railway officer. I found on enquiry that the officer in question was Jitendra Kumar (IRTS 1955), who was on deputation with FCI in Sindri when I was DOS Dhanbad. The aggrieved FCI Accounts Officer was then in Sindri. I returned to the FM to tell him that I knew Jitendra Kumar and it could not be his fault, but the man stuck to his guns. Even the Director Finance of FCI did not have the guts to make him change his mind and I lost the chance as the allotment lapsed. Later, when I returned to Eastern Railway, I checked with Jitendra Kumar, who was then Dy DS in Howrah. I discovered that the instalments were being deducted regularly but the amount was kept in suspense with the accounts department as they didn't know where to send it. We were both surprised to find that FCI had not bothered to write to him or to the railways about the dues.
For all my work in FCI, I had solid support from railways specially the officers of Delhi Division. I was lucky to have Gujral as DS and A Ramji and later my batchmate Sunil Roy as DOSs. Shanti Narain came in place of Sunil and Gujral was replaced by the courteous and polished Girish Varma. I freely discussed my problems and ideas with Gujral, and this rubbed off on the other branch officers, who became very friendly and helpful. One of these was Satya Kant Gupta, brother-in-law of BM Khanna (IRTS 1955). Sunil Roy not only helped Gujral prepare a study for operating improvements on the division but also found time to write his dissertation for a Ph D in Economics. And for an article he wrote on "India of my dreams" he won a prize presented by the President of India Fakhruddin Ali Mohammad.
Gujral left Delhi division to become Secretary of a Committee set by the government to streamline railway operations in Steel Plants under the Chairmanship of GD Khandelwal, Retired Chairman Railway Board. I met him before he left and asked him how he felt. He said it was an opportunity to know more about steel plants and the working of South Eastern Railway. And what better way to do so than in the shadow of GD Khandelwal, his old mentor, that too without being directly involved in day to day operations?
On the home front, it was relatively easy to get Srikant, Ramana and Pama admitted to the nearby Frank Anthony Public School because they had gone to good schools in Howrah. Pama was admitted directly to Class 2 causing her some distress. Srikant and Ramana would walk to the school while four-year old Pama travelled by cycle rickshaw along with other kids of her age. Ratna joined school a year later. As Srikant approached the end of High School, I coached him in his weak subjects. He did reasonably well in his ICSE exam and began to apply for admission to Engineering colleges across the country. I sent him to my batch mate Krishan Mohan's SN Dasgupta College on Pusa Road for coaching to appear for the Joint Entrance Exam for admission to IITs. Krishan Mohan refused to accept fees until Srikant passed the exam. When Srikant didn't get a call even after some his classmates had received theirs, we prepared to send him elsewhere. He got a seat in Civil Engineering in Delhi College of Engineering and Regional Engineering Colleges in Surat, Gujarat and Suratkal, Karnataka.
My parents visited Delhi in the middle of 1973. We showed them round the important sites Delhi. They were upset that my brother Shivram, who had gone to USA for higher studies in 1969 had expressed his intention to marry an American girl. We had examples of Indians in USA marrying Americans, but it was still uncommon. The reaction of my parents was typical of that generation. In the main, they feared that the boy might have been compromised, that the distance and difficulty and cost of travel would result in his getting alienated from the family and that he would be obligated to convert to Christianity. After getting Shivram’s side of the picture, I advised my parents to welcome the new daughter-in-law and bless the couple. I persuaded them to go to USA and attend the wedding.
But it did not happen the way we planned. At the end of the year, I and my family accompanied my parents on a trip to Tirupati and Chennai. My father fell ill just before our return and was admitted to the Hospital of Integral Coach Factory at Perambur. Pius Joseph (IRTS 1957), Divisional Operating Superintendent, Madras, helped me to get my father admitted to the hospital. As his condition worsened, I decided to inform my brothers located at different places in India. Pius arranged to send messages to my five brothers in five different locations, through the railway communication system. One of them lived in Bilaspur, the second in Visakhapatnam, third in Bombay, fourth in Lucknow and the fifth in Nagpur. In a remarkable demonstration of brotherhood, for which I have ever been grateful, railwaymen across the country not only got through to each one of them but also arranged for their journeys by the earliest means. All were able to arrive in Chennai before my father breathed his last on January 27, 1974.
Although I, and others from IRTS, had opted for deputation to FCI as a preliminary to permanent absorption, we changed our minds after working for a while in FCI. For one thing, FCI bosses were unwilling to take us into their mainstream management cadre, giving due weightage to our service in IR. Rampant corruption and nepotism in FCI was another deterrent. With no political backing, people like Taly and me depended only on our performance, which, it seemed to us, wouldn't be enough to sustain our careers in FCI. Moreover, promotion prospects in IR improved substantially in 1973, after the government approved a scheme for upgradation of posts. I got regular promotion as Dy COPS under the Next Below Rule (NBR) when MP Shrivastava was promoted on Eastern Railway.
In 1974, when IR was faced with an All India strike called by the leftist Unions led by George Fernandes, I offered my services to meet the strike by cutting short my term of deputation, but I was told that IR had no intention of calling back any of the officers on deputation. The political situation worsened after Morarji Desai resigned and joined the movement launched by Jai Prakash Narayan against the government of Indira Gandhi. When a court in Allahabad unseated her on a charge of misuse of government machinery in her election campaign, the country was plunged into a period of uncertainty. DP Misra, Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh and Gyani Zail Singh, Chief Minister of Punjab arranged rallies in support of Indira Gandhi at her residence. She refused to resign, and the capital buzzed with all kinds rumours.
As my term of deputation with the FCI neared its end, I was concerned about the education of our children. Srikant was getting ready to go to college so he would join a hostel but the other three were still in school and I was keen to have them continue to attend the same school. Accordingly, I sent a request to Railway Board to retain me in Delhi in some post in Railway Board or Northern Railway. When my request was rejected, I tried to meet the Member Traffic, BM Kaul but he was too busy. Eventually, when I got him on telephone, he advised me to return to Eastern Railway.
K Balasubramanian, (IRTS 1959) from Eastern Railway was posted on Northern Railway. Like me, he wanted to stay on in Delhi for the education of his children. He volunteered for deputation to FCI. I helped in getting him posted in NEP.
In June 1975, I bid goodbye to FCI and moved to Calcutta.