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August 1, 2010

My Dad's story - Making of independent India's first tractor (Part 1)

Several summers ago while enjoying a leisurely evening tea with my Dad, conversation drifted to his early days. I was fascinated about his involvement in the pioneering efforts in the 60s to indigenize the tractor (hitherto imported from US / Europe. He was a key-member of the team that was entrusted with the responsibility of giving India its first self manufactured 50 h.p tractor. From design drawings of tractor components, jigs & fixtures to travelling behind the Iron Curtain to Czechoslovakia in 1984 for technology transfer from Motokov / Zavody Jana Svermy ( their technical collaborators). My dad's tryst with tractors that began in 1961 lasted till he retired in 1998, a career spanning 37 tractor-years.

Since that evening, I was urging my dad to write about his experience, thinking it would make up for some interesting reading. So,, here you go ..

My Dad's story - Making of independent India's first Tractor (in his own words)

Background --

India was under British colonial rule for over 300 years. At the advent of the 20th century, post industrialization in Europe, several Indian trading houses started heavy industries / manufacturing in India, prominent among them were the Tatas, Birlas, Walchands, Dalmaias, Wadias etc. Still the majority of goods sold in India were manufactured in England, partly because of the policy of the British Raj to use its colonial possessions like an captive market for its British patrons. Several Indian businessmen took benefit from this situation by signing up agencies to import & sell those goods in India. Everything from bulbs to bicycles was imported.

Though India was largely an agrarian economy, use of mechanized tools for agriculture was limited. Animal power being abundantly & cheaply available, was extensively used for tilling the land and other activities associated with crop cultivation. As our imperial masters depended on the vast arable land in India to feed its masses with food grains and factories with cheap raw material back in England, they started importing tractors & various other farming equipment to improve the yield of the land. ( Not in response to the plight of the impoverished Indian farmer but to extract maximum output from the land to export back to England)

In 1947, India gained independence and with it began a new chapter in its monumental history. In the following years the government passed the industrial policy resolutions in 1948 & 1956 respectively, making a distinction between public sector and private sector enterprises thus saddling India with a mixed economy (Thas was to survive for the following 4 decades). From hereon heavy industries, civil aviation, power generation, banking, infrastructure would be the preserve of the public sector, while consumer goods, agriculture & allied activities, international trade (import / export) would be open for the private sector participation. And even in the private sector there would be significant government intervention in terms of controls - price controls (government administered price) and capacity( manufacturing quotas)

In 1946 ,Pashabhai Patel, a charismatic Gujarati businessmen from Karamsad, a hamlet near Surat and a relative of Sardar Vallabhai Patel formed his own private limited firm in Bombay to import, sale & service tractors and other farming equipment from Allis-Chalmers Manufacturing Company of US. Pashabhai was a super salesmen & a shrewd businessmen and soon achieved significant financial success in this venture. An enthusiastic follower of Mahatma Gandhi during the freedom movement, he saw an dual opportunity in trying to manufacture tractor locally instead of importing. It made economic sense and it also helped India become self-reliant.

And so in 1960 his company entered into a technical collaboration with Motokov (state trading firm) and Zavody Jana Svermy (manufactures of Zetor brand of tractors) both state enterprises of Czechoslovakia. This paved the way for the technology transfer to start manufacturing of the 50 hp tractors in India. And thus Hindustan Tractors was born near Vishwamitri ( an suburb of Baroda). The first assembled tractors from the imported CKDs (completely knocked down units) rolled out from this new plant in 1963.

Parallel an entirely different team of which I was a member was involved in planning for the phased import substitution of the tractor, with complete localization expected within 5 to 8 years.

And the race to indigenize from headlight to tail-light began in earnest ....

1 comment:

Samir Konnur said...

Part 2