By Vivek Pattanayak in Bhubaneswar, December 11, 2023: When the Second World War ended, Germany was devastated. Its industry had been crippled due to the intense allied bombing. Students of history would remember the carpet bombing of Dresden.

Nevertheless, the country still had retained a pool of talent in science, engineering and technology. The US realizing that they could be utilized for the American goals to neutralize the rising Soviet power, persuaded, coaxed and even coerced these brilliant people to move to USA and settle down there.Technology developed by the German scientists during the period of Germany’s resurrection after the First World War at the time of Third Reich was invaluable for the Americans.They lost no time in transferring them to their country.

Biju Patnaik who had been part of the War as a member of the Royal Indian Airforce understood the technological prowess of the German industry. During his visit to Germany after peace descended on the continent, he had contacted a number of leading industrial houses. In the steel sector, Krupps had a global reputation. He realized that the scope of steel industry had tremendous opportunity in the newly independent India.

Pig iron, an intermediate material before steel is produced has by itself a tremendous value in making castingsthen in greatdemand invarious type of engineering and construction activities. He decided to set up a pig iron plant at Matkembeda in Badbil in the Keonjhar district of Odisha, in the proximity to iron ore mines. Krupps had developed technology to produce pig iron.

However, the blast furnace had new elements in the recently innovated know-how. Kalinga Iron Works of Biju Patnaik decided to take the new technology from Krupps to manufacture pig iron.The construction started, and at the crucial stage of operating the blast furnace Krupps engineers hesitated apprehending it might have difficulties as they had no experience with this know-how and more so they did not want to take risk in India, the newly emerging market.

Biju Patnaik realizing that the German engineers were hesitant took over control of project and it’s the execution himself guiding the Indian engineers including some from Odisha who had returned from Germany. One of them was N M Bhuyan, a metallurgist who later worked for IDCOL and IPICOL as the General Manager. Under the direction of Biju Patnaik, the last phase of the construction was completed with the Indian engineers and blast furnace was commissioned.

The molten pig iron which came out of the furnace was the first in Odisha to have been produced and technology was first in India and this project was special in India outside the three steel plants earlier setup in Jamshedpur, Burnpur, and Vadravati based on entirely different technology. At a later stage with the German assistance the Rourkela Steel plant was set up adopting Voestalpine’s technology of LD Converter (Linz and Donawitz Converter).

Kalinga Iron Works was the symbol of Biju Patnaik’s courage and entrepreneurship at a time when nobody had such a foresight and long-term thinking on steel and pig iron making or even had the courage to set up a pig iron project. Later he setup the Orissa Textile Mill and Kalinga Tubes in Choudwar, near Cuttack, both the projects were eye opener to the entrepreneurs in India.OP Jindal who later became a leading industrialist of India whose sons Naveen and Sajjan have made name for themselves, started his business career as agents of Kalinga Tube.

Biju Patnaik started Kalinga Mines. High grade iron ores plentifully available in Odisha had remained unexploited to the desirable extent until Biju Patnaik started raising iron ore in Keonjhar district which had the world’s best grade of iron ore in Malangtoli and Gandhamrdan.The Kalinga Refrigerator was another first industry of its kind in Odisha.

During that period, he started an airline called Kalinga Airline which provided passenger service operating on the trunk routes apart from doingair droppings in the inaccessible areas likeNEFA, Northeastern Frontier Agency (now called Arunachal Pradesh) to give support to the armed forces confronting the Chinese army.

According to Captain Dhruba Bose who later became Managing Director of Air India(a check pilot,commander, and examiner of Boeing 747) and Captain Bhasin who became the Deputy Managing Director of the Indian Airlines (Check pilot, examiner, and commander of A 300), Kalinga Airlines was one of the best airlines of the pre-nationalized period which had the enviable reputation of being competitive like Tata’s Air India International. Both Captain Bose and Captain Bhasin had served as pilots in the Kalinga Airline .Biju Patnaik was known to be the best employer of the time.

In the early sixties, Biju Patnaik as the Chief Minister realizing that there was dearth of private investment for the industrial development and mineral exploitation, he established the Industrial Development Corporation of Odisha Ltd (known as IDCOL) and also the Odisha Mineral Development Corporation (known as OMC). These two institutions were the first of their kind in the country. Appreciating that the State was rich with forest wealth he created the Odisha Forest Development Corporation. In the past, exclusively private forest contractors were operating in the Odisha forest that did not have the sensitivity towards rights of forest dwellers mostly primitive tribal people.

Biju Patnaik was the architect of the establishment of village-based industries known as the Panchayat industries. Many open pan sugar industries were established in the sugarcane growing area. Theyproduced powdered sugar known as Khandsari. In addition, power looms were set up in the remote parts of the State. Bucket factories sprung up at many Panchayats.

The State, he had realized was heavily dependent upon agriculture which needed support in terms of mechanization. He established the Orissa Agro-Industries Corporation which gave assistance to farmers by supplying diesel pumps, sprayers and power tillers.

His notable contribution to creation of the agro-based industries was the Aska Sugar Industry in the cooperative sector based on modern technology known as the double sulphitation processwhich produced white crystal sugar. Later, molasses produced as biproduct was used for manufacture of rectified spirit. Oil, a bi-product of the distillery, was sold in the Calcutta market to produce perfumes.

Biju Patnaik, when he became the Chief Minister understood the importance of air transport industry. He set-up a number of airstrips in the State of Odisha. Based on this creation of aviation infrastructure and also airports constructed by Maharajas in the princely states before merger, and also airport by the Rourkela Steel plant, a number of airports have been made operational after having been included in the Master Plan for aviation growth of Odisha prepared by IPICOL with the assistance of Ernest Young.

It is heartening to see airlines operating to Jharsuguda, Rourkela, Utkela and Jeypore. UDAN a brainchild of the present Prime Minister Modi to make aviation accessible to the ordinary and common people has been able to make rapid progress in Odisha entirely due to the foresight of Biju Patnaik in the early sixtiesin giving importance to construction of airstrips.

In the early eighties Biju Patnaik was the Steel and Mines Minister under Morarji Desai. Then integrated steel industry was being promoted only in the public sector.In the sixties four major steel plants were set up. They were located in Rourkela, Durgapur, Bhillai and Bokaro with assistance of Germany, Soviet Union, and UK.

In the seventies a number of mini steels plants came up in the country based on electric arc furnace route to meet the steel demand of the country.Their raw materials were steel scrap.These arc furnaces could also use sponge iron in addition to steel scraps.In India there was no technology to produce sponge iron.There were few known technologies in the world to produce sponge iron -one was based on non-coking coal, plentily available in India, or oil, or gas or oil and coal mix.

A group of steel companies producing steel using arc furnace route made a consortium to join with Tor steel Foundation to import technology of Allis Chalmers of USA which used both oil and coal.It was promoted by the Odisha Sponge Iron Ltd, a joint sector project of IPICOL along with consortium of mini steel plants based on electric arc furnace route.Import of the technology required the approval of Government of India in the Ministry of Steel.

Biju Patnaik was the Minister of Steel. Mantosh Sondhi was the Steel Secretary. He was a professional brought from the management pool an innovative concept of Nehru to bring outside talent and not wholly dependent upon career civil servants. Application to import the technology was opposed by Sondhi while Biju Patnaik as the Minister supported its import.

He rejected the views of steel secretary on valid technical and commercial grounds. That is how sponge iron factory in a commercial scale could be set up in Odisha based on technology based on non-coking coal (75%) and oil (25%). It was the first commercial level sponge iron project in India.

Subsequently, Tata Steel based on its own technology set up in joint sector with IPICOL a sponge iron factory in Joda previously known as IPITATA, now known as Tata Sponge. After these two plants paved the way, a number of sponge iron factories were set up in India making possible alternative mode of producing steel without basing on blast furnace route which required coking coal which was in short supply in the country needing imports.

When Biju Patnaik was Minister Mines, he established the National Mineral Development Board, first of its kind in the country, to identify mineral based industries and identify metal and mineral which could be used for establishing industries. Shri K Ramachandran from Odisha cadre was appointed as the first Chairman. He also had a meeting with President of France Valery Giscard D’Estaing. During this meeting he persuaded him to support aluminum plant in Odisha in India based onthe technology of Pechine (Pechine Ulgine Kuhlmann).

The NALCO complex of alumina, aluminium and captive power project was conceivedby Biju Patnaik for establishment in Odishabecause of plentiful availability of Bauxite in the State. When there was power shortage in Odisha setting up aluminium project or for that matter any metallurgical project needing power as a main input was impossible to conceive.It was the imagination of Biju Patnaik to have a captive power plant as part of the complex which paved the way for the project of NALCO.

His idea of having power reform and encouraging private sector to enter the power sector, first in the field of generation and then in the area of distribution was occasioned by his practical experience of not being able to exploit the mineral resources due to shortage of electric power.

Odisha was the first in the country to start power sector reforms. Monolithic structure of the State Electricity Board was dismantled. Generation, transmission, and distribution were segregated from regulation.Hydro-power generation was separated from thermal generation. Mini-hydel projects were encouraged, and electricity production based on wind power was encouraged. Technology then for wind power was in the infant stages.

Foresight of Biju Patnaik was unique in the country.Very few national leaders could be credited with that type of vision in the country in the fifties and sixties of the last century.

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