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January 07, 2008
Tribute to M N Dastur and Sadhan C Dutt (Mechanical 1940’s)
Chronicle Editor @ Jan 07, 2008

(Chronicle note: The article pays tributes to our legendary alumni who pioneered the concept of engineering consultancy in India. Dr. M N Dastur established m n Dastur and Company. He died in 2004. Dr. Sadhan C Dutt started Development Consultants Pvt. Ltd. He died this year)

mndastur.jpg Barun Roy: A pioneer`s tale ASIA FILE Barun Roy / New Delhi January 17, 2008

Before India Inc discovered foreign takeovers as a business strategy, one man blazed a pathbreaking trail.

There’s an old Chinese saying that goes like this: “Give someone a fish and you’ve fed him for the day. Teach him how to fish and you’ve fed him for a lifetime.” One could modify it for modern times and say: “Give a nation the skills to design, engineer and process things and you’ve set it firmly on the path to economic growth.”

Of the two pioneers who taught generations of Indians how to design and engineer development projects by themselves, helping very significantly to expand India’s technology and talent pool that’s now the world’s envy, Minu Nariman Dastur, had died on January 5, 2004 in Kolkata at the age of 87. The other, Sadhan C Dutt, died early this month, almost exactly four years later, also in Kolkata and also at the age of 87. Thus came to an end a relatively little-known tale of India’s development that needs to be re-told and remembered.

The coincidences don’t end there. Both Dastur and Dutt were mechanical engineers from Banaras Hindu University, both went to the US to expand their knowledge base (Dastur to get a degree in metallurgy from MIT and Dutt to train in electrical engineering with General Electric), both came back to India to apply their skills at home, and both chose Kolkata as their base.

scdutt.jpgOne went into designing plants to make steel to build machines and factories that India badly needed. The other went, principally, into designing plants to produce electricity to run those machines and factories. Together they helped prepare the ground for India’s technological independence at a time when the country needed it most to build up its sinews. Was Kolkata also a coincidence? Hardly. At the time Dutt appeared on the scene, five years ahead of Dastur, Bengal Engineering College, now Bengal Engineering and Science University, was India’s best-known source of top-quality engineers, and its very first institute of technology had just been established at Kharagpur. Besides, there was a culture of industry about Kolkata, left over from the British, that couldn’t be ignored. All the British firms that introduced India to modern industry and corporate organisation were based there. Dutt was only 29 when he returned from the US in 1950 to represent Kuljian Corporation, a reputable Philadelphia-based engineering consultancy firm whose founder he had happened to meet while still at GE. Harry Asdour Kuljian was so impressed with the young Indian engineer that when Dutt offered to be his Indian arm, he readily agreed.

It was a lucky break for both. India, only three years into its independence, seemed full of promise. A new industrial strategy was evolving under Nehru, focused on building a strong manufacturing capacity in heavy machinery, heavy electrical equipment and machine tools. The country needed steel and it needed power. Harry Kuljian, who was already involved with the designing of independent India’s first major thermal power station at Bokaro, a model for all other thermal power plants that followed, had read the future well.

The rest is now history. From Bokaro to Bandel to Durgapur, opportunities began to unfold. Kuljian India became Kuljian Corporation (India) with Dutt and his associates holding a 51 per cent interest, and transformed, inevitably, into Development Consultants (DC) in 1970, when Harry Kuljian turned over his remaining 49 per cent. It was an open acknowledgment that Indian engineers had come of age. DC became synonymous with power, and Dutt became a magnet that drew the best brains coming out of India’s engineering colleges.

Today, his trail blazes through 150 fossil-fuel power plants across the country, almost all India’s nuclear power plants, and nearly 1,500 other projects over a large spectrum of basic industries. Always one step ahead, he introduced India to many new technologies, such as combined-cycle power generation. His flag now flies in some 50 countries, held aloft by his pathbreaking acquisition of Kuljian USA itself, long before India Inc came to discover foreign takeovers as a business strategy. It was this move that eventually turned Kuljian-DC into the huge service supermarket it is today.

Dutt, like Dastur, emerged on the scene at a crucial moment in India’s economic evolution. Others have followed in his footsteps, many having first passed through his doors. He helped in a very big way to make consulting the mainstream business it is today.

What makes his story even more remarkable is that it unfolded at a time when Asia, outside Japan, was a technology desert. China was withdrawing behind a bamboo curtain, Korea was embroiled in a war, Malaysia was Malaya lotos-eating on tin and rubber, Singapore hadn’t been born, and Thailand had yet to discover industry as a job-creating supplement to agriculture. The benefits of that tremendous Indian head start are there for the world to see.

    Additional Links
  1. DCL chairman passes away
  2. M. N. Dastur passes away