The secret behind the fact that Kamani Industries grew more prosperous day by day and that its branches had spread far and wide was that it was continuously expanding its activities. The credit for this sustained progress was solely due its founder’s, i.e., Ramjibhai’s insight, imagination and passionate enthusiasm to give concrete form to his decisions.
We have seen that in October 1941, W. Leslie established a factory in Mumbai, in which aluminium, brass and copper utensils were manufactured. Later, in July 1942, Kamani Enamel Industries was established where enamel vessels were manufactured. On 31st March, 1945 these two private companies were merged with the newly established Public Limited company, Kamani Engineering Corporation Ltd.
Calcutta’s rolling mill was shifted to Kurla. There was already one rolling mill in Kurla. In 1943, the manufacture of copper and brass sheets and plates was started in both these mills. Arsenical copper and cuprous-nickel steel were also manufactured.
In August 1944, another factory of Kamani industries, Kamani Metal and Alloys Ltd. was established. The names of its directors at that time were: Ramjibhai, Sir Nrupendranath Sarkar, Sir Chunilal Bhaichand Mehta, Sir Adamji Haji Dawood, Dadi Haji Nasar, Chhabildas Jaamb. Bhaichand Gopalji Panchmiya, Girdharlal Hansraj Kamani and Punamchand Kamani were the managing agents. In the same month, the company, Kamani Brothers was established. Its directors at that time were Shri Ramjibhai Kamani, Bhaichand Gopalji Panchmiya, Ratilal Zatakia, Poonamchand Kamani and Rasiklal Kamani.
When Kamani Metals and Alloys Ltd. was established, shares worth Rs. 25 lakhs were given to Sir Adamji. Sir Adamji used to live in Calcutta. Chhabildas Jamb, who used to look after Kamani’s office in Calcutta used to give a lot of encouragement to Sir Adamji by freely praising the company. During the first year the company did not make as much profit as it was expected to. So Sir Adamji was very dissatisfied and disappointed. In the meantime the foundation stone for the company’s office in Kurla was laid by Lady Adamji, without leave from her husband.
With a lot of understanding and the efforts of Dr. Jivraj Mehta a compromise was reached with Sir Adamji and the company was gradually able to buy back the shares that had been given to him.
When the government came to know that the Kurla factory had the capacity to manufacture 10 – 12” metal strips, the company got an order for 25 tons on a trial basis, which the company was able to satisfactorily supply. As a result they got more orders from the government.
As the office of the Director General of Munitions Production was shifted from Calcutta to Delhi, Kamani immediately opened a branch of their offices there.
It is to be noted that Kamani’s first office, ‘Kamani Metal Refinery,’ was opened in the building near Horniman Circle where Dena Bank was situated. Since all the required facilities were not available here, Ramjibhai bought the majestic building on Nickel Road where Oxford University Press was situated, in 1945 and named it Kamani Chambers.
In the same year, Marlborough House on Pedder Road was purchased and renamed Kamani House.
At the end of 1945 the office was shifted from the Dena Bank building to Kamani Chambers. In the Dena Bank building an import department was started under Shri Shashikant Desai. At that time there were plans to import material from Australia, so Shri Poonamchand and Shri Shashikant Desai went to Australia and imported brass rods, laundry machines, diesel engines, watch straps, aluminium foil etc. from there. In addition they also imported large quantities of zinc.
After studying the possibilities of importing substantial quantities of material from Australia, Shashikant Desai opened an office of Kamani’s in Australia. On one hand, large quantities of goods were imported from Australia through this office and on the other hand a lot of work went on to secure foreign agencies. In 1949 the focus of import activities shifted to Europe and Japan, leading to the closure of the Australian office.
A department was also opened to cater to the needs of the railways and the port trust. In addition, arrangements were made for clerical, accounting, financial and public relations departments in Kamani Chambers. At the same time a depot was opened in Gulalwadi for transportation of goods.
During this period, Japan played a large role in the war in Burma. Friendly countries decided to extend their help in order to defeat Japan. They decided to send their soldiers behind enemy lines, with the help of parachutes, dressed in the uniforms of Japanese soldiers. On obtaining an aluminium vessel made of tin mass, which was used for eating, from a Japanese prisoner, these countries decided to have such utensils manufactured. On behalf of the Director General of Munitions Production, A.D. Wilkes flew to Mumbai, Calcutta, Madras and other cities in search of a company that could produce such vessels. Many companies that manufactured utensils expressed their inability to produce such vessels after seeing the Japanese tin mass utensil. One reason for this was that it had a complex shape and secondly the time necessary to manufacture the required quantity of vessels was too short. Finally Wilkes wrote to Ramjibhai, “It will be good if you can manufacture such vessels.” Ramjibhai took up the challenge to manufacture vessels as per the sample and in the Mumbai factory of W. Leslie, manufactured and supplied the required quantity of utensils in the required time. G. Oza, who was an engineer in the company at that time, had put in a lot of effort for this. The government was pleased and even wrote a letter of appreciation to Ramjibhai.
After achieving such brilliant success in the production of aluminium tin mass, there was a lot of enthusiasm to acquire large quantities of aluminium and there were renewed efforts in this direction. However, at that time such large quantities of aluminium were not available. So the government put forward a plan to accumulate and distribute the aluminium properly. A point worth noting relating to this situation was that Kamani Industries became a competitor of Jivanlal Limited with regard to aluminium. Another fact that should be kept in mind was that Jivanlal Limited had almost a monopoly in aluminium (at that time). As a result, Kamani Industries had to become a member of the government’s ‘aluminium pool’ scheme. This pool had four members, who imported (metal) ingots, dyes, sheets, etc. and supplied them to vessel manufacturers at the rate that had been fixed. An account for every loaded steamer had to be given to the government. This involved a lot of tedious work. Initially, Kamani Industries faced a lot of difficulties in this aspect, but later the work came on track. Shri D.K. Bhatt, who had the aptitude to handle all this kind of work, was transferred to the Mumbai office and he lived up to expectations, carrying out the work well.
By becoming a member of the ‘aluminium pool,’ Kamani Industries was able to obtain a sufficient quantity of aluminium. The ‘aluminium pool’ scheme ended in June, 1949. Up until that time a number of staff members were transferred from Jaipur to Mumbai and in addition a fairly large number of new staff members were recruited in different departments.
In October, 1946, in Jaipur, Ramjibhai suffered a severe heart attack and mild paralytic stroke. So a private plane was hired and he was shifted from Jaipur to Mumbai. Due to the excellent treatment he received Ramjibhai’s condition improved considerably and so he went to Lonavala, to further restore his health. After staying in Lonavala for some time, Ramjibhai went to Dhari. He stayed there for 4 to 5 months and his health improved a great deal.
As soon as his health improved enough to allow him to travel to America, Ramjibhai thought of making this journey. At that time Rasiklal was in America on business. His younger brother Navinchandra was studying in America. Ramjibhai’s mother, who was in Mumbai, was not keeping in good health, so it was decided that Jadavben should stay in Mumbai to take care of her. However, Ramjibhai’s health again took a turn for the worse in Mumbai and the trip to America had to be postponed. In the meantime, Ramjibhai’s mother passed away. When Ramjibhai’s health improved, he departed for America along with his wife and brother-in-law, Bhaichandbhai, in May 1948. In America, Ramjibhai’s blood pressure again increased and on being advised to visit Saratoga where there were curative springs, he spent 8 to 10 days there, where his health did indeed improve.
Ramjibhai came back to Mumbai after visiting Europe and America. He visited Dhari and Jaipur at times, but mostly stayed in Mumbai. Shri Poonamchand had taken up the responsibility for the daily work in the factory. Rasiklal had also returned to Mumbai from America and was managing the factory.
Robertson’s mill, which was bought from Australia, was better suited to manufacture sheets of copper, brass and other metals. It was inaugurated on the 22nd April, 1949, by Shyamaprasad Mukerji, who was the central government minister of industries and supplies at that time. At that time the monthly output of the mill was 6,500 hundredweight. In his welcome address, Ramjibhai stated his wish to increase the mill’s output to 10,000 hundredweight a month and expressed an earnest desire that the government invest capital in the mill for the production of brass and zinc. Dr. Shyamaprasad Mukerji congratulated Kamani Industries for the extraordinary progress it had achieved in the non-ferrous metal industry in the short time of 4 to 5 years. At the time of publication of this book, in 1971, the factories of Kamani Industries in Kurla extended over an area of about 85,000 square yards (about 71,000 square meters).
This rapid progress of Kamani Industries can be attributed to Ramjibhai’s extraordinary intelligence, insight, determination to work hard and his ability to extract work courteously from his staff, amongst other factors. Until the end of 1949, he personally looked into the progress of the industry. As his sons and relatives took up more and more responsibilities and showed their potential, Ramjibhai set up a chain of authority and after a lot of thought entrusted the right responsibility to the right person, giving them the opportunity to show their capabilities. The motive behind these actions of Ramjibhai was to give them self confidence and continue the progress of the industry. In a way this could be considered a sign of his practical intelligence. There was really no need for him to look into the routine work personally, so Ramjibhai gave up the reins of power. Of course he was always there to solve any complicated problem. He would always show a solution to anybody who came to him with a difficulty, but he would do it in such a way that the person would gain self confidence. On 27th November, 1951, Ramjibhai made his eldest son Poonamchand, the managing director and passed on almost all the responsibilities of the industry to him. Shri Poonamchand also proved that he was indeed capable of taking up this responsibility by expanding the industry more and more.
An important reason why Kamani Industries has been so successful is its originality and the fact that it was the first in so many fields. The credit of being the first to manufacture arsenical copper rods in the whole of India definitely goes to Kamani Industries and in the same way Kamani Industries took the first step to manufacture cupronickel strips in its Kurla factory. The credit for these new ventures goes to the founder of Kamani Industries, Ramjbhai who was so enterprising in nature and who looked to increase and strengthen national pride. Ramjibhai was always ready to take up a new venture. To do something original in any field of industry and that too which would be beneficial in increasing the nation’s pride, was inherent in Ramjibhai. With God’s grace and his own efforts this seed within him sprouted and over time grew into a vast Banyan tree.
During the Second World War, the railways needed arsenical copper plates. These were quite complicated to manufacture. There were also some other difficulties involved in making them. To make the desired type of goods a lot of experimentation and research would be necessary. All this would involve considerable cost and even after this, there was an equal probability of success and failure. Of course these efforts of Ramjibhai could not be called a gamble, but they were definitely a challenging venture. One can only put in efforts and hard work, success is in the hands of God – Ramjibhai had confidence both in himself and in God, and to his good fortune and the good fortune of the nation, his venture to produce arsenical copper plates was successful. A point to be noted was that at that time only very few industrialists had the capability of undertaking such ventures and putting them into practice. The circumstances at that time were such that even defective goods sold on the spot. But Ramjibhai was not an opportunist. He never thought of taking advantage of these circumstances. Rather, he was strongly inclined to treat these circumstances as a challenge, so by undertaking an unlimited number of experiments, carrying out all the necessary research and spending as much money as was required, Ramjibhai was able to fulfil the railway’s needs of arsenical copper plates. Not satisfied with this remarkable success, Ramjibhai took up the venture of producing cupro-nickel strips, to fulfil the defence department’s needs. As a result the government was forced to take note of these successful efforts of Ramjibhai. The name of ‘Kamani Metals and Alloys Ltd.’ was not only respectfully noted in the offices of government departments, but it also attained a prominent position in government departments.
Having given prior thought to the situation after the war, Ramjibhai imported the Robertson mill from Australia, to improve the quality of the material manufactured. However, Ramjibhai’s sights were not limited to producing metal sheets that would only be useful for manufacturing utensils. Ramjibhai was not a person to be satisfied so easily. He believed that if there was to be impressive and unlimited growth in the nation’s industrial development, many new ventures were required. In addition to supplying metal sheets for manufacturing utensils, it would be necessary to supply metal sheets for producing other goods and to fulfil the needs of other industries; it would therefore be essential to produce many different kinds of raw materials. At that time about 35,000 tons of copper and brass sheets and strips had to be imported every year. If this material could be produced indigenously, then the country would save a good deal of foreign exchange, the country’s industries would be motivated, and due to more workers being required, unemployment would decrease and this would help the nation to become financially prosperous. With all this in mind he had imported the Robertson mill from Australia. Once the mill went into production its output gradually increased over time.
It was Ramjibhai’s intention to increase the output of the mill and the industrial productivity in 1950, but God willed otherwise. At the end of 1950 war broke out in Korea. As a result the quota of metal received from the International Metal Association was reduced. So the output of the mill decreased from an average of 285 tons a month to 252 tons. This state of affairs continued in the years that followed. In addition, America and England had started to hoard non ferrous metals. This also affected India’s non ferrous metal industry. Thus, in Ramjibhai’s factory the average monthly production in the years 1951, 1952 and 1953 was 249, 105 and 164 tons respectively. The output in 1952 was even less than that in 1946.
But fate can have strange things in store. There can also be unexpected circumstances that can balance things out. The success of the country’s first five year plan had a beneficial effect on industry. The imports of machine parts gradually decreased as these machines began to be produced within the country. Instead of machines, raw metals were now imported. As a result, the average monthly output of Kamani Metals and Alloys started to increase. In 1953 its output was 164 tons, which increased to 253 tons in 1954. However, in the following years the prices of copper and zinc had still not stabilized on the international market. Due to this volatile situation, the price of copper soared to an all time high in February 1956. As a result of this, the average monthly production of the factory decreased to 156 tons in 1955 and fell further to 131 tons in 1956. Due to this high price, the average output of the factory in 1956 was even lower than that in 1946.
In the beginning of 1957, the situation changed and the price of copper started to decrease. So the average monthly output of Kamani jumped to 319 tons in 1957 and further increased to 426 tons in 1958.
In the second five year plan priority was given to industry. So many new industries, both large and small, were established. The number of imported goods decreased and the use of indigenous products increased. The production of industrial goods increased rapidly. The production of these kinds of goods in this factory had been increasing since 1952. As a result this factory can be credited with being the first to produce industrial quality metal sheets and strips in the whole of India.
Now a new situation arose as the rate of exchange fell. As a result, copper, zinc, lead, etc. could be imported under an open general licence. This practice came into operation in July, 1957. Until October of the same year the situation was not clear. In the meantime ad hoc licences were issued.
It is also worth looking into how the practice of issuing licences shook up industry and the resulting mayhem that ensued.
The government could not take any decision as to how many licences to issue to actual users and how many licences to issue to established importers. As a result both parties made an effort to present their cases effectively and convincingly. As a temporary measure it was decided to issue the main licences to importers and the actual users could purchase goods from them at a certain percentage. The actual users felt that since they had they been given the opportunity there was no reason for them not to take full advantage of it and get the lowest price. The government received complaint after complaint. On one hand, an exaggerated picture of the attitude of the importers at this time was given, and on the other hand the importers spread exaggerated propaganda about the actual users. On deeper inquiry into this shameful situation the true facts emerged as to which party was truthful and justified. The government’s political resolve was to gradually eliminate the middlemen who took a large percentage of the profits and encourage the factory owners (who were the actual users). So the circumstances were inclined in favour of the factory owners.
With the second five year plan industrial output increased by leaps and bounds. Production increased on the whole and along with this, demand also increased. From October 1957 to March 1958, licences were not issued to the factory owners but only to the importers, whilst in 1956, the factory owners got a quota of metal ore for manufacturing purposes. As a result production decreased somewhat. Due to the skyrocketing prices of copper in 1956, the production of this factory was less than it was in 1946. The manufacturing unit received only 90% of the raw material required and this amount was continued over the next few years. As a result the average monthly output of the factory, which was 426 tons in 1958, decreased to 382 tons in 1959.
The government realised that the demand for metals like copper and zinc was increasing, but there was not enough surplus foreign exchange available to allot for this purpose. So they divided the industries into two sections, those which were high priority and those which were not so important.
From the very beginning, sheets of copper and brass had been used for manufacturing utensils.
Kamani Industries had started production of materials necessary for industrial purposes many years back, but due to the fact that the quota available was limited it was difficult to meet the demand. As a result, industrial institutions obtained an order to import raw materials for industrial use. Even in this difficult situation, Ramjibhai issued an order to increase the production capacity of industrial materials. From the very beginning the factories had installed machines to produce metal sheets suitable for manufacturing utensils. With these machines limited production of certain (other) types of metal sheets was possible. To produce thinner metal sheets totally different types of machines and additional machinery were required. Finally, in 1959, Kamani Industries imported a continuous strip rolling mill.
This mill was inaugurated on the 2nd January, 1960 by Shri Manubhai Shah, who was the minister of industries in the central government at that time. When this mill started production it produced 30 to 47 gauge industrial material.
At the inauguration ceremony, Ramjibhai brought an important fact to light – namely that when the factory started production 35,000 tons of metal sheets had to be imported annually, whereas now only 800 tons had to be imported. This had resulted in a savings of Rs. 7 crores in foreign exchange to which this factory had contributed almost two and a half crores or about 35%.
At the time of the inauguration of the first strip mill of its kind in the whole of India, Shri Manubhai congratulated Ramjibhai (who was 72 years old at that time), saying, “old is still gold,” thus showing his appreciation of him. He praised him for increasing the output fourfold and said that the non-ferrous metal industry could be counted as a basic industry, after the iron and steel industries.
In India, both small and large rolling mills had been established mainly to produce metal sheets that were used to manufacture utensils. As the government had decided to allot material on a priority basis, these factories did not receive enough raw materials. Gradually, the amount of material decreased to 30% (of the original amount). Like Kamani Industries, a few other establishments decided to manufacture industrial goods and their production started in one or two years. When the owners of factories asked for raw material to manufacture utensils they were told that utensils were not so important in the financial standing of the country. Aluminium and stainless steel vessels could also be used for cooking and eating. Now, stainless steel, which was not yet produced in India, had to be imported. It was very expensive, so the answer received immediately reminded the people of the answer received by the French people during the French revolution, when they were told “to eat cake if bread was not available.” Thus, utensils were only manufactured by small factories, which received very limited quantities of copper and zinc. Very often the circumstances were such that they had to use only scrap material. After much hue and cry in this matter, government officials took note of and understood the problems of the factory owners and started supplying them with raw material. In these circumstances, Kamani Industries and a number of other factories had to rely on manufacturing industrial metal sheets and strips.
Thus due to external circumstances and especially the foreign exchange situation of the country, Kamani Metals and Alloys, went through ups and downs, but there was more progress during the period from 1957 to 1964 than there was during the decade from 1946 to 1956.
In 1964, Ramjibhai’s fourth son, Hasmukhbhai, started coming to the factory. He suggested a number of ways to increase the productivity of the factory, but since he was not a technical expert, he faced some opposition at that time. Despite this he continued his efforts to increase productivity according to his perceptions. He was extremely courageous. He also had the backing of Ramjibhai. In the year that he started attending the factory, the average monthly output increased from 164 tons to 253 tons, and surmounting all difficulties he increased it to 319 tons. So the factory’s officers and workers grew more confident about him or rather about his ability, and with this increase in confidence their cooperation also grew. They all accepted his guidance. This was due in a large part to his ability to convince people and to the fact that he had been trained in rolling mills in America. During the previous years, the factory had made a negligible profit, but in the year 1964-65, it made a profit of almost 50 lakhs. Despite that fact that the supply of raw material was uncertain, credit goes to Hasmukhbhai for overcoming all difficulties and establishing the factory on a firm footing.
Ramjibhai always had the attitude of a loving, elder towards his factory workers. The practice of giving a holiday on Sunday, which was followed in Jivanlal and Co, was introduced in the Kurla factory. A dispensary and canteen were set up in the factory for the convenience of the workers, which were inaugurated by Shri Gulzarilal Nanda. In addition, in 1949, gratuity and provident fund schemes were introduced.
Nowadays* this factory in Kurla manufactures strips for car radiators. In addition naval brass and phosphor bronze are also manufactured there. There are no more than five or six factories in the whole world who do such precise work. The factory supplies metal sheets and strips to a total of 54 large and small, public and private companies. These companies include – automobile and bicycle companies; distilleries; watch producers; manufacturers of electrical and electronic goods, electrical instruments, eyelets, house service meters, lamp caps, locomotive radiators, railway snap fasteners, sprayers, switch gear, telephone zip fasteners, etc. and ship builders. In addition this factory also makes brass strips for the department of defence.
In 1960, the factory also started exporting its goods. The credit for being the first to undertake such activities in the whole of India goes to this factory. It competed with large foreign factories that had technical expertise and established itself abroad. By exporting industrial grade brass and copper to the Middle East, South East Asia, the Far East, Europe and America, it earned foreign exchange worth 75 lakhs for the country. Almost 90% of such goods that are exported by the country are produced in this factory.*
Kamani Industries did not only export its own goods, but has the distinction of being the first in India to export technical knowhow and expertise. In August 1963 Kamani Industries set up a technical collaboration with an Iranian company, I.N.S., in Tehran. They also had the prestige of earning foreign exchange for the country through fees, royalties, etc. from that company. Moreover, Kamani Metals and Alloys has retained its power in this foreign company.* Like Germany, Japan, England, America, Russia and Poland, which are the leading countries in technical expertise, they have given foreign countries the benefit of their technical expertise and increased India’s pride.
When China attacked India, Kamani Industries, keeping its service to the country during the Second World War in mind, also opened a department to produce goods for defence in 1962. Kamani Industries also fulfils the needs of the department of defence.
Kamani Industries also worked hard to see that the latest machinery and high grade material were used so that high quality goods were produced. They also put in efforts to initiate a technical collaboration with Imperial Metal Industries – a large and important division of England’s Imperial Chemical Industries.
On the 4th November, 1946, Dr. Pattabhi Sitaramaya, ex-governor of Madhya Pradesh and president of the Congress party at that time, having visited and closely observed the workings of the Kurla factory, voiced his praise not only this factory but of the whole of Kamani Industries. Today, any Indian, realizing that these words of praise have been vindicated can take pride in Kamani Industries.
He had said, “Just as Tatas have put in great efforts in the field of the iron industry, so has Kamani Industries put in great efforts in the field of non ferrous metals. An ordinary person, who twice went into retirement, has worked a miracle with his deep understanding and with the help of scientists, even in the difficult times of war. This fact proves this Indian industrialist’s intelligence, which blossomed in a free India and stretched to new horizons.”
*At the time when the book was published
Shri Ramjibhai with the Minister of Industries of that time, Shri Shyamprasad Mukherji at the inauguration of the Robertson’s Mills at Kurla.(left)
Ground breaking ceremony – The chief guest, Shri Balwantrai Mehta is addressing the worker’s union. Next to him is Shri Rmjibhai.(right)
Fifty-four years joyous years together – a happy couple.
The joy of seeing the third generation.
1. The ground breaking ceremony by Shri Ramjibhai of the Koyna project in Maharashtra. Behind him are Shri Poonamchand, Shri Ushakant Desai and workers of the Electricity Board.
1. Shri Manubhai Shah, the Minister of Industries at that time, who performed the opening ceremony at the function to celebrate the expansion of the factory of Kamani Metals and Alloys Ltd. in Kurla. He is flanked on one side by Shri Ramjibhai Kamani and by Shri Hasmukh Kamani on the other side.
With Shri John Porters – Kamani’s business representative in Europe.
Lord Godber, the President of the Commonwealth Development Finance Corporation Ltd. (London) during a visit to the Kurla factory.
Distribution of ’prasad’ after the ground breaking ceremony of the Indian Rubber Regenerating Company, performed by Shri Jadavlaxmiben. On the left are Jadavlaxmibn and Shri Ramjibhai, next to them are Shrimati Rakshaben Mehta, Shri Ushakant and Shri Prabhakar Mehta.