The progress of Kamani Industries, its contribution in the growth and development of the nation’s industries and its service to the nation – all three aspects leave no room for doubt about the fact that Kamani Industries played a major role in the history of the nation’s industrial growth and success. In an extremely short time, Kamani took giant strides in the field of industry. Its great achievements and memorable successes can be considered landmarks in the industry. All the credit for this goes to the founder of this industry, Shri Ramjibhai.
By now we are familiar with the workings of the three main companies of Kamani Industries. In the factory of the company, W. Leslie in Lahore, Punjab, copper and brass rods having a diameter of three and a half inches and more were rolled and in addition agricultural implements like hammers and augers (a tool for boring holes in wood) other tools were produced. In the factory of W. Leslie in Mumbai, copper, brass and aluminium vessels were manufactured. In the factory in Kurla, which went under the name of Kamani Enamel Industries, enamel utensils and other items that were used in hospitals and jails were manufactured. In March 1945, these three companies were merged to form a new public limited company – Kamani Engineering Corporation.
After the success of manufacturing Japanese tin mass (dinner plates) in the factory at Kalyan, Mumbai, this factory was shifted to Kurla. The factory in Kalyan was closed in 1945. The field of activities was expanded and it was decided to establish a large public limited company. In May 1945, Kamani Engineering Corporation was set up. Its factories operated in Mumbai and Lahore. Due to the partition of the country in August, 1947, two nations, India and Pakistan came into existence. Since Lahore was now in Pakistan, the factory there went into the hands of the Pakistanis. Negotiations went on for years to regain this factory, but there was no success and the factory was lost. Kamani Industries suffered considerable losses due to this but there was no point in wasting time over regrets.
In addition to Ramjibhai the first directors of this company (i.e. Kamani Engineering Corporation) were Chunila Bhaidas Mehta, Sardar Bahadur, Sir Shobhasingh, Dr. Jivraj Mehta, Dawood Haji Nasar, Nyalchand Sheth, Chhabildas Jamb, Bhaichand Gopalji Panchmiya, Poonamchand Kamani and Ratilal Zatakia.
The production of stainless steel vessels was also started in the Kurla factory.
Since the number of companies manufacturing utensils in the country had grown considerably, Kamani Industries did not have much interest in this line of work. So in 1949, when the ‘aluminium pool’ scheme was closed, they gradually decreased the production of aluminium utensils. Ramjibhai’s sights then turned towards the production of engineering goods. Meanwhile, in 1950, tenders were announced for 2000 tons of transmitter line towers for the Bhakra Nangal Electricity project. Ramjibhai wanted to take a leading part in the Five Year plans, so as per his wishes, the agency departments were converted into electrical and mechanical departments and he contacted eminent foreign engineering companies.
For the Bhakra Nangal towers, Kamani contacted a French company called Furce and in cooperation with John Porter’s office in Paris set up a new company called Furce Structural Ltd. Kamani’s tender was accepted on the condition that they would import the design and required steel parts from France and then assemble the towers. But unfortunately the finished products manufactured in Indian industry were not up to the mark. Industrialists in this field started an intense movement against the government, insisting that these goods should not be imported but should be manufactured only in India. From the very beginning, Ramjibhai was extremely patriotic and always insisted on indigenous goods. So he called for a meeting of the industrialists in Simla to discuss this matter. None of these industrialists had shown any inclination to manufacture these goods in India. However, they were all ready to add their voice to the opposition. The government officials were also exasperated with this dog in the manger attitude of the industrialists. Finally Ramjibhai took up the challenge. But when the government officials came to know that Kamani’s factories did not have the necessary machines and instruments to produce these towers, they were taken aback and doubts also arose in their minds. But, Kamani’s reputation had been built on taking up such challenges and supplying the goods as promised, so Kamani got the order to make the towers. However, there was a condition involved that half the quantity should be imported from France and the other half should be manufactured in the Kurla factory.
In October 1950, a factory to produce the towers was set up in Kurla. In this factory, the most important department for this work, that for creating the design was set up. Along with this, the work of plating the towers with zinc – galvanizing – was started from the 15th August, 1951. A sherardizing plant for galvanizing the nuts and bolts used in the towers was also set up in June 1952. Thus the only factory in India to produce towers was set up. The parts of the towers were manufactured in India, but the design mostly came from England. If the design of the towers was good and appropriate the towers would be solid and strong. The credit for being the first in India to design such a tower goes to Kamani Industries. However, the factories which produced the other parts of the towers did not have the facilities to galvanize these parts. Further there were no facilities in the country to test the towers that were manufactured to see whether they came up to expectations or not. Kamani Engineering Corporation also took the first steps in creating all these facilities. An ‘erection department’ to raise the towers at the desired location was also started in a few years time. Thus a complete factory was established to manufacture the towers. The engineers were also Indians and in addition, all the parts required to manufacture the towers were also produced in Indian factories. Thus Ramjibhai’s sentiments of ‘one hundred percent Indian,’ were fulfilled.
The work of making these towers was very demanding in many ways because there were innumerable difficulties. For example, the required parts – ‘angles’ – were not available and even if they were available they would not be supplied on time. The project planning was also quite weak on many fronts, so exactly how many towers would be required could not be estimated in time. Since Pandit Nehru was concerned, all the plans relating to electrical installations were being carried out as fast as possible. So the towers were needed quickly and cries of ‘the work has come to a stop,’ would be heard and orders for haste were given. In addition the railways were not extending the required cooperation. Either the required wagons were not available or if they were, they would be limited in number or would come late. But in spite of all these difficulties, the Kurla factory flourished. The towers were the jewel in Kamani’s crown of fame.
Due to one reason or another, the production of towers was not as high as was required. In April 1958, when Ramjibhai’s fifth son, Navnit, joined the production department in the factory as per his (Ramjibhai’s) wishes, the factory’s monthly output was at the most 450 tons. A time limit of three months was given to Navnit to increase this monthly production to 1,000 tons. For one month he underwent training. During this month the output was only 400 tons. Navnit put in a lot of hard work, took a lot of care and remained firm and increased the factory’s monthly production from 400 to 1000 tons in May 1958. To mark this notable success a grand celebration was organised. Every worker was given a silver ingot weighing ten tolas (about 116 grams) engraved with the words ‘1000 tons’ and a picture of a tower.
With such continued encouragement from Ramjibhai, Navnit brought the factory’s output up to 1,500 tons a month in December 1958 and to commemorate this success every worker was given a gold coin.
Up until June 1958, India’s requirement of towers was about 34,000 tons. This entire requirement was met by Indian industries and out of this 17,225 tons or about 51% was supplied by this factory.
Thus, within a period of three to four years this factory showed remarkable progress.
Despite the fact that Indian industry was able to reach significant heights, due to poor planning they could not fulfil the immediate requirements of the towers, so the government allowed the import of towers from abroad. The government decided to impose an import duty of only 5.25% on the imported goods. The results of this became clear in the period from July 1954 to June 1955. During this time the government’s requirement of towers was 13,320 tons. A decision was taken to import 7,475 tons, i.e. 57% from abroad with the remaining 5,745 tons or 43% being supplied by the country’s factories. An order was given to the world renowned, giant Italian company, S.A.E. for the required towers. The output of this Italian factory was indeed extremely high. Along with this the factory’s tensile steel (very strong but very lightweight steel) and other small and large parts or sections were available. In comparison, this type of extremely strong and light steel and sections were not available in Indian factories, so they had to make do with ordinary steel parts, which resulted in certain differences. Further the Italian government gave its factories a lot of facilities and encouragement for export of goods. In addition the government also gave financial aid.
Under these particular circumstances, it was felt that all the industrial facilities in the country should be utilised before any imports were allowed and this important matter went all the way up to the prime minister. Ramjibhai’s argument was indisputable and logical. The factories were ready to do the work. Under the current situation regarding steel, the factories were also willing to produce as many goods as possible in the shortest possible time. An effort was made to impress upon the government that in these circumstances it was wrong not to encourage the country’s industry and workers, and to waste precious foreign exchange. With the amount of foreign exchange that was spent, steel could be produced, the factories would have work and the workers would earn a living – the government officials finally understood this argument and a decision was take to import only steel and not the finished towers from abroad.
After Navnit joined the factory in Mumbai its production increased day by day. In 1960 its output reached over 14,000 tons. This was almost four and a half times the output in 1952.
There was even a film entitled, ‘The story of the transmission tower,’ which was produced in 1959, and which covered all the noteworthy facts about the factory.
Up until 1958 this factory had produced 50,000 tons of material and fulfilled two thirds of the country’s needs. The erection department had constructed lines over a distance of a thousand miles. Due to the indigenous production of towers, the country was able to save foreign exchange worth Rs. 6.25 crores, up until 1957 and credit goes to the Kamani factories for saving almost Rs. 4 crores of foreign exchange.
Until 1971, (when this book was published) the total output of towers was over 1,32,000 tons. In addition a total of 17,000, substation structures, heavy structures, aerials and communication masts were produced. Lines, over a distance of 31,000 miles were erected. A total of 391 designs for the towers and 121 designs for other structures were created.
In 1952, a 122 foot (about 37.2 metre) high sample tower was erected in the 85,000 square yard (71,000 square metres) factory in Kurla. A new, sample tower was made as per each new design. The condition of the land at the site where the tower was to be erected, the wind force at the height of the tower, the effect of storms and cyclones and the capacity of the conductors, were all taken into consideration when calculating the load bearing capacity of the tower. This load bearing capacity of the sample tower was tested by tying steel ropes to it and pulling on them with the required force. Towers that could withstand two and a half to three times more force than they were actually required to were built. If the force was greater than this the tower would break – this was called a ‘destruction test.’
Since the aforesaid tower was a hazard to aeroplanes and jets, especially during the monsoon, it was dismantled in June 1964.
In the meantime the annual capacity for the production of towers increased from 24,000 to 60,000 tons. Out of this, 30,000 tons was retained in this factory and the remaining 30,000 tons was taken to the factory in Jaipur. A new factory to produce towers was constructed there and a 125 foot (38 metre) tower was also erected there for testing purposes.
Ramjibhai was not satisfied with the fact that the towers produced in India were only sufficient for the country’s needs. Towers manufactured in India should also be exported abroad – as soon as he thought of this lofty aim an export department was set up. Good progress was made in the export of towers. During these years (up until 1971) goods worth Rs. 1 crore were exported, which included 10,000 tons of towers and 550 tons of other parts.
These towers were exported to New Zealand, Nigeria, Philippines, Taiwan, Tanzania and Thailand amongst others. The countries the other parts were exported to included Canada and the West Indies. The credit for being the first to take steps to export complicated structures like transmission towers also goes to Kamani Engineering Corporation.
This is not an ordinary achievement. It is a noteworthy result of Ramjibhai’s remarkable efforts arising from his own inspiration.
In the history of Kamani Industries, Saturday, 4th Ocober, 1959 was a red letter day, because on that day, the late Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, the beloved leader of the people, visited the factory in Kurla. He was very impressed with the factory and congratulated the Kamani brothers on their hard work and success.
In his speech, Panditji said, “There are many things which are important for India, but the most important is the generation of electricity. I extend my heartfelt thanks to the Kamani brothers for the excellent work being carried out in this factory.”
Welcoming Panditji, Ramjibhai described how Panditji had been an inspiration to him in his gradual progress. He also refreshed everybody’s memory as to how firm Panditji and Rafi Ahmed Kidwai had been in encouraging indigenous products when the towers were to be imported from abroad.
On this occasion a purse of Rs. 1,00,001 was presented to Pandit Nehru on behalf of Kamani Industries and its workers, by the senior most worker in the factory, Aziz. In addition, to commemorate the production of 51,000 tons of towers, a silver model of a tower was presented to him by the senior most worker in Kamani Engineering Corporation, Shri Ramlal Jawahar.
A special jeep was arranged to take Panditji on a tour of the factory. The jeep was driven by Hasmukh Kamani and Shri Punamchand explained all the operations of the factory to Panditji. He was extremely impressed and pleased with the working of the factory. Panditji wrote in the visitor’s book, “Over the last few years, this institution has made considerable progress very rapidly, which gives me great satisfaction. I wish the institution success.”
Panditji enthralled the five thousand strong audience, including Mumbai’s prominent citizens, industrialists, the country’s ministers and officials and foreign dignitaries, with an eloquent and impressive, 45 minute speech. After this he laid the foundation stone for the Kamani Community Centre.
To commemorate this occasion a special illustrated book was brought out in both Hindi and English. In addition a film with commentary covering this occasion was also made. Moreover, as Kamani Industries had become famous, a special issue of the Kamani newsletter was published. Thus Panditji’s visit became an occasion for a great celebration.
In 1953, when the agreement for the agency that they had for the English made Fergusson tractors and their related parts, came to an end, it was decided to collaborate with the export department of the English company E.T. Todds (Manufacturing) Ltd. and produce road rollers that could be used with the help of tractors. Very few road rollers were manufactured in India and in addition they were very expensive to produce, so they were costly. When they were not in use the capital invested would be blocked. When this Kamani - Todds , ‘tracte–mount’ roller was not in use, the tractor could be used to plough the fields, transport goods etc., which would reduce the burden of the capital investment and in addition this 8 to 10 ton roller which could be attached to a tractor could be produced at two thirds the cost of any other comparable 8 to 10 ton roller. Anyone who had a suitable tractor would only have to pay one third the price. Thus this was a unique and extremely useful item.
In 1954, as soon as the contract was signed, this work started. In October 1955 a ‘tracte-mount’ roller was manufactured in this factory for the very first time. It was inaugurated by Shri Malojirao Nayak, who was the minister of public construction in the state at that time, on 23rd June, 1956, in the presence of invited industrialists, government and municipal officials and prominent citizens. A film was also produced describing the functions of this roller.
Rollers that could be used with tractors having different types of wheels were also produced. A new, improved version of the roller, ‘Mark – 2’ was manufactured in 1959 and until the end of 1965, 450 such rollers were produced. The licence granted to Kamani Engineering Corporation to manufacture these rollers covered the following countries: India, Nepal, Bhramadesh ( formerly known as Burma and now as Myanmar), Ceylon (Shri Lanka) and Indonesia. These rollers were very well received in India and got a number of recommendations from the local improvement boards and municipalities of various cities. These rollers were also exported to Ceylon and Indonesia.
When the railways started to implement their plans for electrical installations in the country, Kamani Industries had the courage to take up this venture and opened a separate department for this purpose. An engineer who had retired from the Central Railways was engaged for this work. This type of work was totally new, so the cooperation of the export department of a Belgian company – ‘The Traction’ – was sought. However, during the first phase of the work, that of laying a 185 kilometre long line from Khadakpur to Tatanagari for the south eastern railways, their intentions became clear and the collaboration was brought to an end. The factory got the work done by its own engineers, who completed it successfully and on time. Thus a new avenue of work opened up.
The factory received a lot of appreciation for its capability of being able to complete the work so effectively. After the success and acclaim received for this work, the industry took up similar work under Ramjibhai’s instructions. In mid 1965, they got a contract, from the Central Railways, to install a 370 kilometre long electrical line from Igatpuri to Nandgaam.
In 1952, Kamani Industries received an enquiry from the Railway Board as to whether it would be possible for them to assemble the imported parts of railway wagons and supply the wagons (to the railways) on time. This work was also worth taking up. On getting an assurance the work of assembling the wagons was started in Okha. The scattered wagons of the meter gauge line of the Western Railways were brought to Okha and a temporary plant was set up, which was looked after by Prabhulal Acharya. Fixing the price with the railways, taking orders and seeing that the wagons were delivered in the appointed time, getting the bills passed and collecting payments – all this was looked after by Prabhulal Acharya.
In some ways this was a critical time for Kamani Industries. The reason for this was that the production of towers had not increased as per the requirements. In addition, the agreement with Fergusson’s tractor agency was not working out very well. So the work of assembling these wagons turned out to be a boon. Twenty one thousand wagons were produced as per the orders received from the Western Railways. The wagons were produced satisfactorily and on time for the first order received, as a result of which the railway board and the officers of the Western Railways were satisfied. After this the orders were received regularly. This work went on until 1957, with a short gap in between. During this time at least six hundred people were employed for this work. From 1957 the foreign exchange situation weakened and in addition many wagons were being produced in the country. So the government stopped importing wagons, due to which this work of assembling wagons had to be discontinued. Shri Acharya had carried out his work very well and had earned Rs. 33 lakhs for the factory and had played a crucial role in making the company financially stable.
Shri Ramjibhai giving the welcome address during a function to felicitate Shri Jawaharlalji during his visit to the Kurla factory. Next to him are seated, Shri Dheberbhai, Jawaharlalji, Shri Yashwantrao Chavan and Shri Balwantrai Mehta.
Shri Ramjibhai and Shrimati Jadavlaxmiben performing the ground breaking ceremony of ‘New Kamani Chambers,’ in 1964: Behind them are Shri Rasiklal Kamani, Shri Sharad Shridharani, Shri Dolarkumar Bhatt, Shri Gangadas Sanghvi, Poorvi Navnit Kamani and Shri Ravirchand Doshi.
Ramjibhai giving a congratulatory speech to the workers on the occasion to celebrate the fact that in July 1958, the production of towers reached 1,000 tons per month, under the supervision of Shri Navnit Kamani. On his left are Prataprai Mehta and to his right are Shri Punamchand and Rasiklal Kamani.