All this, in just one year!
As usual, Government was late in planning such a major project and expected this work costing over Rs. 15 crores at the
then prevailing construction rates to be completed within just one year. Except for appointing
Mr. Mohammad Yunus as Chairman of the Trade Fair Authority and Mr. Ramadorai, Joint Secretary from the Ministry of Commerce
to oversee the project, no other arrangements had been made by the Ministry. They then started searching for a Chief
Engineer to take over the entire work and a competent Architect to plan out the whole project.
takers for a prestigious project within the stipulated time frame
Being a Central Government project, the
Commerce Ministry approached the Central Public Works Department to nominate a Chief Engineer for the work. The Engineer-in-Chief
contacted all the Chief Engineers of the Department and asked them to indicate their willingness to undertake this work
but all of them refused to accept this responsibility, stating that a prestigious project of such a huge magnitude could
not be undertaken within such a short construction period of just 9 months. They said that the most
that could be done within this period was to provide the display area in long sheds and put up a few buildings to meet
the requirements of the International Trade Fair Authority. This was not acceptable to the Commerce Ministry as 1972
being the 25th Anniversary of our Independence, they
wanted to keep up the high standard of construction and meet the full requirements of the Authority and get their sanction
to hold International Trade Fairs.
Though I was a Chief Engineer at that time, the Engineer-in-Chief did not contact
me as I was then the Managing Director of Hindustan Housing Factory and the Controlling Ministry of Works Housing was not
prepared to relieve me from there in spite of my repeated requests to them to revert me back to the Central
The Ministry of Commerce however found out that I was also
a Chief Engineer and they sent for me to find out my willingness to undertake the work. In the meantime, they had also
contacted Mr. Raj Rewal, one of the best Architects in the country to prepare a layout of the whole area
showing the location of the various buildings to be constructed, roads, water and sewer lines, electrical installations,
open air auditorium, lake and the parking area and also an attractive design of the building to provide for a large display
area of 1.5 lakhs sq feet and smaller structures for the remaining areas of display.
Space frame structure 108 feet high
Raj Rewal, being a French qualified Architect and exposed to foreign Architectural designs, designed a unique Space
Frame Structure as adopted in the West, 108 feet high for the large display area, calling it the ‘Hall of
Nations’. He also designed 4 smaller buildings 68 feet in height with a similar space frame structure
for the rest of the display area, called the ‘Hall of Industries’.
At that time, space frame structures
were being built in USA, Canada
and European Continent with prefabricated concrete factory components or with the use of steel or aluminium
tubular frames. As the required mechanical cranes and equipment for doing prefabricated construction at such great heights
were not readily available in India, the only other alternative method was to construct it as an in situ
concrete structure, where the casting of the concrete members was done on the site. This however was a difficult and complicated construction requiring a fully designed
heavy steel supporting centering to be provided to the full height, right up to the completion of the construction
and a detailed computer analysis to ensure the structural soundness of the building so that the deflection
of the structure on completion was within the permissible limits. This would then become the biggest space frame structure
to be built in concrete for the first time in the world and would remain as a standing testimony
to what Indian Engineers were capable of doing.
The Architect’s design of the structures and the layout
as prepared by him were shown to me by the Chairman, Trade Fair Authority, Mr. Mohammad Yunus. He asked me whether
I could undertake the project and complete the same in time since it was a prestigious time-bound project of the Government.
They definitely required the completion of the Trade Fair Project in 1972 itself, being the 25th Anniversary
year of our Independence.
Huge challenge: big tasks, very little time
I realized the
magnitude and the complexity of the project and the extremely limited time available for the project completion. What it involved
was the completion of:
- the complicated structures designed by Mr. Raj
Rewal - the Hall of Nations and the Hall of Industries
- the construction of a number of other buildings and pavilions
within the scope of the project, after getting them designed by the architects of CPWD and other specialist
design firms like the Indian Institute of Design, Ahmedabad
- and the completion of all the connected internal and external services
Needless to say, each one of these tasks was highly time-consuming
An impossible task: acomplished in prayer
It looked at first an impossible task to accomplish. It
came as a challenge to me to discover whether I had the capacity and capability to undertake such a big venture within
such a short time, when all my co-Chief Engineers had backed out of this commitment.
I prayed about it and finally
decided that I should make a detailed study of it, prepare a detailed Works Programme PERT chart based on work
and time study, work out the staff and labour strength requirement and then come to a conclusion whether this project
was possible to execute within this short period.
Needed in huge measure: hard work, skilled management
and parallel activity
My study showed that it would be possible to successfully execute the project with
the full cooperation and hard work of all the engineering and supervisory staff by undertaking all
elements of work comprising the project simultaneously through a number of contractors specialized in their respective
Immediate manpower requirement
This would mean that the CPWD would have to immediately post
- the required number of engineers for supervision of the
work - more than number usually required because of the simultaneous execution of all the works,
-competent design engineers for quick preparation of all the structural
- adequate administrative and accounts staff to cope up with the rush of work.
I met the
Chairman, Mr. Mohammad Yunus and told him that I would be willing to undertake the project and complete it in time provided
CPWD gave me full powers to call tenders and appoint contractors for the different specialized works by
strictly following the laid down procedures for award of work but without referring to Tender committees for their approval
to avoid undue delay. The CPWD would also have to immediately post the desired number of competent engineers of
the required disciplines and the administrative and accounts staff so that the works could be taken up without
any further delay.
Permission was also requested from Mr.Mohammad Yunus to allow about 35,000 workers
of the contractors to stay on the premises till the completion of the project as the
works would have to progress continuously all the 24 hours of the day.
The Chairman took up this
matter immediately with the CPWD and got the necessary permission to award works without any reference to the Tender committees
and to post the required engineering, administrative and accounts staff at the earliest.
I accepted the appointment
and was made the Chief Engineer, CPWD in charge of the Asian International Trade Fair Project.
month to clear and prepare the area for construction
It took almost a month to clear the area of all the old buildings,
along with the deep and heavy foundations that some of them had and to level the area with the help of dozers and JCB’s..
In the meantime, designs and estimates for the Hall of Nations, Hall of Industries and the Trade Fair Administrative
Building where my office would be temporarily located were prepared,
tenders invited and the works were awarded.
The Hall of Nations and Industries had their foundations taken down to a depth of 20 feet below ground
because of poor soil conditions and they also required partial pre-stressing at two stages for their
structural stability which considerably increased the quantum of work.
The designs of the other buildings were
also quickly finalized with the help of other Architects and action was taken to award the works so that all constructions
could progress simultaneously.
Hummng with activity with simultaneous construction
drainage system was also planned and executed to drain out the entire area during rains, water supply
was restored by taking connection from the Corporation mains and distributed throughout the area and an effective
sewage disposal arrangement was also introduced by providing deep sewer lines and resorting
to sewage pumping. A full Electrical sub-station was put up to provide 6 Megawatts of power to the entire
area. Road construction was also in full swing as per the approved layout plan.
Within 3 months of
the start, the area was humming with activity on almost all items of the project with about 35,000 labourers working.
Personal site-visits by Prime Minister Indira
Gandhi, almost every week
The project had achieved great importance with the visit of our Prime minister Ms.
Indra Gandhi to the site almost every week to assess the progress of the work and to thank each and every one of us,
both engineers, supervisory staff, contractors and their workers for the hard work that we were putting in to complete
the project in time. This was a great encouragement to us. She wanted me to broadcast the progress of the work on
the All India Radio every week so that the public were also kept informed about what was going on at the Pragati Maidan.
Black hair turns grey in 9 months with gruelling schedule: lunch at 4 pm, dinner
at 1 am,
With the work in full swing, I had to change my usual routine
by having lunch at 4 pm every day, my dinner at 1 am and back at work at 8 am.
My hair which was completely black at
the start of the project had turned grey by the time the project was over. It was a strain on me but I enjoyed
every bit of it to see that all my staff were fully cooperating with me, working hard and keeping up the time schedule
given to them.
August 1972, on our Independence day, the Chairman of the Trade Fair Authority had invited Ambassadors
from some foreign countries to come to the Project site and take part in the flag-hoisting celebrations and also
see how the work was progressing. The flag was hoisted by one of our women coolies (labourers) and refreshments
were served to all who attended.
Skepticism that the Trade Fair would open on time
Iraqi Ambassador who had an area allotted to him to display Iraqi items within the Hall of Nations noticed that the building
had just reached half stage, that is about 50 feet against the total height of 108 feet. He was quite apprehensive
that the building would never be completed in time by November and he openly complained about it to everyone, saying that
they were being taken for a ride and there would definitely be a postponement of the opening date. I had to intervene and
told the Ambassador that the building would be completed on time and the Fair would open on the stipulated date. He was however
not convinced. .
About 3 months before the opening date of the Fair, our Prime
Minister approached me and requested me to design and put up an architecturally attractive structure to be named the
‘Nehru Pavilion’, where all the literature regarding our Freedom Movement leading to the independence of our country
and pictures of our freedom fighters could be displayed and where Gandhiji’s and Nehruji’s recorded
voices could be heard throughout the year.
It was too short a time to take up one more construction, but since the
request came from our prime minister, I readily agreed to do it. Mr. Raj Rewal was asked to design the Pavilion using
the ‘No building concept’, that is with the structure constructed partly underground
and with two floors above, the whole building covered with the excavated earth, giving the appearance of an earthen
mound fully grassed. I structurally designed it as a concrete portal construction with three stories below, and gave a natural
concrete finish to the exposed surfaces. It was completed in time, well before the opening of the Fair which attracted prime
minister’s appreciation. It is a beautiful
building and is kept open throughout the year for people to visit the pavilion, as desired by Ms. Gandhi.
Just about a week before the opening date
when Ms Gandhi was at Bombay, she saw in the Times of India newspaper a picture of Pragati Maidan where they had
shown an open trench 20 feet deep in the midst of the Open Air Stadium with the remark that how they can
ever expect to open the Fair on the 14th November when that was the condition of the Fair grounds on that day.
Ms Gandhi got a little perturbed and rang up the Commerce Minister, Mr. A. C. George at Delhi
and asked him to meet me immediately to find out the actual position. She said that our people had been working hard
to keep up the target date and in case because of certain hindrances, the work could not be completed on the 3rd November,
she was prepared to postpone the opening date by about a month, as long as the opening took place during
1972, the year of our 25th Anniversary of our Independence. I told the Minister that the trench that
they had shown in the papers was filled in the very next day with the help of dozers and the
entire project work was progressing strictly to schedule and there was no need whatsoever of postponing the date of
opening. I requested him to inform the prime minister accordingly to allay her fears. The very next day after her
arrival in Delhi, she came to the project site and satisfied
herself that the opening date would remain unchanged and that all arrangements could be made to have the inaugural function
as originally planned.
Congratulations from scptics and well-wishers alike
International Trade Fair was completed in time through the mercy and grace of God and the same was inaugurated by
the Prime Minister on the 3rd November 1972. After the opening ceremony, I went and met the Iraqi Ambassador
who had commented so adversely in August that the opening would never take place on the due date. He was quite apologetic
and said that he had misjudged the capacity of the Indian Engineers to complete that huge structure within just 3 months
and he congratulated me in getting this done.
In that year, 47 foreign countries
took part in the Trade Fair along with 55 local private firms which put up their own pavilions and displayed their
products. The designs of their pavilions were also approved by me in respect of their water supply and electricity
requirements. With so many of them constantly worrying me with their respective problems, I was kept more than busy
in dealing patiently with their complaints in addition to fulfilling my main responsibilities in getting the project completed
in time. Extracts from some of their letters would show what I had to go through in dealing with them.
Letter from Mahindra
and Geep Company dated the 30th October 1972.
We cannot forget the patience with which you kept on solving
the repeated problems that arose and found solutions to all of them and let us add with admiration – never losing your
poise or equanimity in the process. On the various occasions that I have met you with my problems, I could not help but admire
the composure and readiness with which you were meeting and tackling the difficulties in spite of numerous calls for help
from the various other participants of the Exhibition. I am sure that it is this dedication in you and your able assistance
that has gone into making the Fair the pride it is bound to be, in such a short time. May we once again thank you and pray
that your services would be useful to the country in an ever increasing measure in the years to come.
Letter from Merchandising
Officer, Trade Development Authority dated the 13th October 1972.
This is to express my sincere thanks for the kind consideration
shown to us in getting the electricity connection at our site. I can only say that in you, there is a rare
blend of professional competence and human understanding and Asia ’72
is a tribute to your leadership.
The completion of Asia’72
was a great achievement and I could only thank and praise God for helping me and guiding me throughout, till
the final completion of the project within such a short period of time. Though the project was completed
in just 9 months, all the buildings that I constructed still stand intact without any structural defects or damage even after
35 years of construction. The Trade Fair Authorities continue to hold International Trade Fairs every year during the
months of December till February and other National Fairs during the rest of the period. This brings in considerable income
to the Government due to the participation by foreign countries which is ever on the increase and also by our own local industries.
Extract from the letter
of a well-wisher addressed to Mr. Durai Raj dated the 31st October 1972.
appearing in the papers about the fact that the Prime Minister will declare the Fair open on 3rd November 1972.
I am so happy that in spite of the criticism that appeared in the press, you and your staff have
achieved the impossible. This was only because of the organization you brought into the planning and the hard
work and leadership you put in. This letter is to congratulate you on this splendid achievement and wish the Fair every success.
Following are extracts
from some of the Letters of appreciation received from the Departments of Government and from the Ministry of
the Government of India:
From the Engineer-in-Chief,
Central PWD to the Ministry of Housing dated the 11th January 1973.-
Undoubtedly the efforts
put in for completing such a big work in a comparatively short time required extra-ordinary effort and it will be in the fitness
of things for Government to recognize the work of those who have rendered service beyond the call of duty.
The driving force behind the immense effort put in by the entire body of workers, supervisors and other officials towards
the completion of the Fair grounds and structures has no doubt been the Chief Engineer himself viz. Shri J. Durai Raj. But for the leadership, zeal and enthusiasm and the extra-ordinary labour put in by him, the staff working
under him would not have been inspired to put in all their efforts. It was his inspiring example which impelled them
to devote prolonged and continuous effort over a long period of many months. The example of hard work and devotion to duty
set by Shri Durai Raj without whose leadership, guidance and extra-ordinary devotion to duty, the job would not have been
completed in time, needs some recognition. He has earlier been awarded the title of Padma Shri for outstanding
work before and if approved, some higher title may be given to him as a recognition of his work for the Trade Fair.
If this is not possible, recognition may be given in some other shape as the Government deem fit.
From Mr. Mohammad
Yunus, Chairman Trade Fair Authority dated the 5th March 1973 to the Secretary, Ministry of Works & Housing.
I am writing this letter
to bring to the notice of the Government the outstanding services rendered by J. Durai Raj, Chief Engineer, Central Public
Works Department, during ASIA ’72.
We had entrusted the
entire construction work to the CPWD. This vast and time-bound project consisting of highly sophisticated designs and complicated
structures had to be completed in record time. For instance, the Hall of Nations is the biggest space
frame structure in concrete in the world and will be a standing testimony to what we achieve in less than a year.
J. Durai Raj with the characteristic boldness and organizing
ability, undertook all these construction works and supervised them with skill and devotion. It required hard work over a
protracted period of time and he toiled during day and night.
Raj is already a PADMA SHRI. He has put in an outstanding piece of work for ASIA ’72.
I take this opportunity to record our great appreciation for his wonderful achievement.
I would be grateful
if you would kindly arrange to communicate a special commendation of Government to Durai Raj for
his services during ASIA ’72 and also place a copy of the communication in his character
From the Secretary to the Ministry of Works & Housing
to Mr. Durai Raj on the 7th March 1973.
I have great pleasure
in conveying the appreciation of the Government of India to the sterling
work you did in connection with the Asia Trade Fair 1972. This work, which was of an
extremely difficult and complicated nature done in a record time and under the most difficult conditions, owed a great deal
to your leadership and drive. It is also commendable that the entire staff working with you did so as
a team which was also largely due to your example. A copy of this appreciation is being placed in your confidential
On the night of 24th January 1973 when I was at
the Pragati Maidan site with my officers to ensure the smooth running of the Fair, Mr. A.C. George, Minister of Commerce turned
up and told me that his Ministry had recommended the award of Padma Shri to me for the splendid work carried out by me for
the ASIA ’72 International Trade Fair. I told him that I was already a Padma Shri awarded by the President of
India for the work carried out by me under the Ministry of External Affairs in NEFA. He said that his Ministry was not aware
of this and hence they had recommended the award of Padma Shri to me, to the Republic Day Award Committee It was by
then too late to make any change and the only thing that he could do at that stage was to get my name deleted from the Padma
Shri list. Anyway this will show that I was considered and recommended twice for the award of Padma Shri.
General Manager, Hindustan Steelworks Construction Ltd.
After the completion of the Trade Fair in April 1973, I was
offered the post of General Manager, Hindustan Steelworks Construction Ltd., a Public Sector Undertaking
under the Ministry of Steel with Headquarters at New Delhi,
though the works were spread throughout the country.
This Undertaking was taking up major turnkey industrial
projects for the Public Sector Undertakings under the Government of India, in establishing full scale industries of varied
nature. This meant taking up all the elements of work comprising civil, mechanical operation of the Factory
and establishing electrical sub-stations to cater to the full requirement of electrical power.
Until that time, I was mostly engaged in construction
of buildings including services, roads, runways and similar types of works. I was interested in enlarging my construction
experience by taking up industrial projects on a turnkey basis. I therefore accepted the offer and started
work from April 1973 onwards.
Nation-building took on immense dimensions
in times when India was struggling to lift its head above the problems of disease, drought and famine, underdevelopment and
backwardness. It is the efforts of pioneers like Durai, that has set the country on a forward path in development, trade,
industry, food sufficiency and brought recognition for India in an increasingly globalised world.
Durai's achievements at the website of the extended family, the Tucker family website. http://tuckerfamily1.tripod.com/Achievements/Durai.shtml