Next only to the capital city of Chennai, the rock town of Tiruchirappali has spawned a slew of industries and educational institutions that date back more than 100 years. The jewel in its crown is the BHEL. An iconic builder of modern India walks you down history’s aisle.
Very few cities have the hoary tradition of Tiruchirappalli. Located on the banks of the Cauvery and the Coleroon, this fortress town abounds in several famous temples including the iconic Rockfort temple presided by
Trichy has always been an active centre of education. The co-existence of the St Joseph’s College, now in its 175th year, the National College, turning 100 this year and the Jamal Mohamed College are symbols of the flourish of religions. Home to the National Institute of Technology and the Indian Institute of Management, there are several engineering, medical and law schools, arts and science colleges, besides a full-fledged university.
RINGING A BELL AT BHEL
My association with the BHEL-Trichy plant dates back to the drawing-board stage. I was the Officer on Special Duty in Heavy Electricals India Ltd., (HEIL), Bhopal in 1961, entrusted with the task of finding two locations for two new plants for the manufacture of power equipment steam turbines, turbo and hydro generators and boilers. We were advised to select locations in under-developed areas. Our requirement was 6000 acres of land with plenty of water and large supply of skilled workforce.
We decided on Haridwar for the manufacture of large power equipment and Hyderabad for the smaller ones. On re-thinking, we decided to split the production at Hyderabad into two: with Hyderabad manufacturing the turbines and Trichy producing the high-pressure boilers. The reason was simple: splitting the production between two plants will allow quick construction, early production and also development of both the regions.
The choice of Trichy, suggested by me, didn’t go well with the critics. With the coalmines in the north, why locate the plant so far down south was the argument. My response was that the manufacture of boilers required high order engineering skills, which was readily available near Trichy. The cost of transporting boilers from Tamil Nadu would admittedly be high, but even a one per cent higher efficiency in operation of the plant would offset the extra cost of transportation. Time has proved my judgment right.
NEHRU PLAYS PEACE BROKER
The decision set off a political storm. Andhra was then a young state, newly carved out of the erstwhile Madras Presidency. Andhra leaders felt that by taking away the boiler plant to Trichy, the state would be shortchanged. Prime Minister
Nehru solved it diplomatically by ordering that the investment for Trichy should be lower!
Even before the three plants at Haridwar, Hyderabad and Trichy could reach the production stage, the Government decided to divest them from the parent unit at Bhopal. So BHEL was incorporated as a new company in 1964. Mathur, who was my mentor in HEIL, became the first chairman of BHEL. R S Krishnan who was responsible for the initial success of the Trichy plant recommended me his successor and so I landed in Trichy in 1967.
Earlier, I had spent seven years at the apex level planning and formulating schemes. It was time I went for an operational role. Trichy came in handy. It made me an able manager to successfully sail in the public sector institutions for the next three decades.
My earliest memories of Trichy relate to my empathy towards the employees in declaring the first-ever bonus to them even before getting the matter cleared with the Board and how I procured the first ever export order from Malaysia even before delivering a boiler locally!