By Vivek Pattanayak in Bhubaneswar, May 29, 2018: In the history of Odisha in twentieth century, there have been three stalwarts who have left their indelible marks in giving impulse to industrial entrepreneurship in the Odia society.

While Madhusudan Das had the courage to establish leather factory in the state – then known by its primitive agriculture under a foreign rule, Biju Patnaik brought textile, steel tube, and pig iron to Odisha – then a separate province or state in early stage of country’s independence.

But Dr Banshidhar Panda brought highly sophisticated industries to Odisha which then was just emerging as an industrial state under the dynamic leadership of chief minister Biju Patnaik. Madhu Babu got distracted by his efforts to make Odisha a separate province. Biju Babu went to national politics inspired by a call from Pandit Nehru. Dr Panda remained doggedly with industries.

Since independence, after the legendary Biju Patnaik, one person who literally pioneered establishment of large industries based on mineral resources of Odisha was Dr Panda. His adventure to set up a group of metallurgical industries like ferro-silicon, silicon metal and silicon carbide in the early sixties and seventies in the most inaccessible part of Odisha in erstwhile Koraput district was simply fabulous.

The place was in dense forest inhabited by tigers, leopards, panthers and other wild animals with no all-weather roads. There was no reliable communication system. It was a time when there was no internet, no mobile telephone, no Fax, no Skype and no WhatsApp. By his sheer indomitable spirit, selfless dedication and relentless commitment, he was successful in setting up the projects on time when funds were not easily available.

Dr Panda was the first technical entrepreneur from India who demonstrated that the products he had developed would reduce import and save foreign exchange. In fact, his products earned substantial amount of foreign exchange for the country during a period when there was shortage of hard currency. He showed to India and the world how a scientist without much financial resource can establish a modern industry based on sophisticated technology which he had developed. It was no mean achievement for an Odia.

After pursuing higher study and research in the prestigious American universities where he earned great laurels, Dr Panda refused to stay back in that country despite many allurements and comfort and returned to his own motherland, India and native place, Odisha to contribute to industrial development of the State.

As the years passed by, he rose from strength to strength to expand his industrial activities and set up new industries. He was first not only in Odisha but also perhaps in India to conceive and establish a captive power plant for the power intensive industries as there was shortage of power in the State. The captive power plant that he set up supplied surplus power to the grid during the period of scarcity.

In the seventies, he tried to set up a silicon carbide plant in the province of Quebec in Canada. Mr Robert Bourassa was the Premier of Quebec and Mr Pierre Trudeau was the Prime Minister of Canada. Both encouraged him in this endeavour. Biraja Mishra, a bright young engineer, also a senior executive of IMFA was posted in Montreal to get formal clearances and take steps to initiate the construction of the project. Unfortunately, there was change in the government. Robert Bourassa lost to Rene Leveque who was the leader of PQ, a party who advocated separation of Quebec from Canada. A foreign entrepreneur was not encouraged to set up a strategic project. What Bourassa did Rene Leveque reversed, as a result the project could not materialize?

Dr Panda had the foresight to set up silicon metal plant in Therubali. He had the ambition of producing silicon metal of 100% purity which could be used in manufacturing of photo-voltaic cells which generate electricity. Much before the idea of generating solar power came to India, he had understood its importance as the coal based thermal power was the source of environmental pollution. Production of pure variety of silicon metal needed high quantity of uninterrupted power. As power was a scarce commodity in the seventies, eighties and nineties, he could not make his dream come true.

Nevertheless, the fire of innovation was burning within him. Around 2006 he also made another attempt to establish pure grade silicon metal in Quebec. He had a meeting with Premier Jean Charest of Quebec in Kolkota. Thereafter, he visited Montreal to have a round of discussion with high officials of Quebec where he was hoping to get cheap power to make the plant viable. Power rate Hydro-Quebec offered was not attractive. If the government of Quebec would have invested in this pilot venture it would have become viable.

In the early eighties under his initiative a joint sector project with IPICOL was conceived by him to manufacture ferro-vanadium. Dr H P Mishra, a chemical engineer with tremendous interest in metallurgical engineering and then Chairman of IPICOL, had persuaded Dr Panda to take up this venture. Assured supply of raw material was prerequisite for this project. Allotment of mine would have helped. This was also a power intensive project. Odisha did not have adequate surplus power and government was not willing to allot mines. No wonder, the project could not come up.

In the early eighties, the senior Oberoi before starting the hotel project in Bhubaneswar had entertained a proposal of joint venture with Dr. Panda. Although the project came without him, in initial stages he had given a lot of support to the Oberoi Group.

Just as Biju Patnaik was known for Kalinga Group of industries, Dr Panda was famous for IMFA Group. Few people probably know today that in the early eighties his Group had acquired the status of MRTP house under the Monopolistic and Restrictive Trade Practice under MRTP Act, 1969. He had the unique distinction of having headed the first and only monopoly house of Odisha.

Much before the concept of corporate social responsibility came to be known in the country, Dr Panda initiated many projects for the benefit of the community. The Sarala Award is nationally known. He promoted artists, poets, writers and sports men and women whenever he spotted talent.

Dr. Panda was a brilliant student, an eminent engineer, epoch-making innovator, inspiring scientist, entrepreneur with a difference, a generous person, a man of great dignity and indeed he was a true patriot. His shining example will inspire many young entrepreneurs for generations to come.

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