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With Prime Minister Indira Gandhi on her weekly visits
to Pragati Maidan when it was under construction.


The Hall of Nations was the biggest space frame structure in concrete in the world with a height
of 108ft. It was built at Pragati Maidan when India for the very first time hosted the
International Trade Fair "Asia '72".


Weekly TV and AIR broadcast by me during the construction of Asia 1972.


Mrs. Indra Gandhi, Prime Minister of India during one of her weekly visits to Pragati Maidan in 1972
when the work on Hall of Nations was nearing completion.
Construction of Nehru Pavilion at Pragati Maidan using 'No building concept'
for the first time in India. A three storeyed structure built underground
and completed in 3 months in 1972 at the request of Mrs. Indra Gandhi,
Prime Minister of India.


A new challenge awaits: setting up an International Trade Fair ground

In November 1971, Government of India was planning to put up an International Trade Fair at the Pragati Maidan, New Delhi in celebration of the 25th Anniversary of our Independence. This was to  be opened by our Prime Minister Ms. Indra Gandhi on the  3rd  November 1972. 

Putting up an International Trade Fair meant  construction of many complicated structures to meet the requirements of the Trade Fair and adherence to  a very high and rigid International standards laid down by the International Trade Fair Authorities in Paris before sanction could be obtained from them to hold International Trade Fairs where other countries could also take part.

The major constructions  as laid down by the International Trade Fair Authorities involved the construction of:
-  one building with a display area of 1.50 lakhs sq feet,  big enough to accommodate even small planes, if any country wanted to display them;
- smaller structures with a total display area of about one lakh sq feet;
an Administrative Building of 15,000 sq feet area;
- six conference rooms;
- An Open Air stadium to accommodate 2000 people;
- A Banqueting Hall with spring loaded floor for dancing,
-a arge cafetaria to cater to at least 500 persons;
- a Theme Pavilion for explaining the theme of the Fair;
- a large lake for display of motor boats, canoes etc 
- parking facilities for over a thousand cars and buses.

In addition, pavilions had to be built for:
- the Defence Ministry as our troops were busy at that time at the border
- the Food and Agriculture Ministry
- the Works Housing Ministry
-  North East Frontier Agency (NEFA)
-and even for Bangladesh which had just won the  Pakistan war in 1972.

The site proposed for the Construction of the Trade Fair comprised an area of 144 acres which had some very old constructions  with deep foundations.  The place was low-lying and getting flooded during the rains because of the lack of a proper drainage arrangement. It did not have a water supply and sewerage system, roads and adequate electric supply. 

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.

No 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 PWD.

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

Mr. 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 and complex.

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 fields.

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 designs and
- 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.

One 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

Efficient 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.

On  15th 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

The 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

The 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.

Additional responsibilities

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. 

Advertisements are 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.

Durai 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 Roll. 

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 dossier. 

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.

Read about Durai's achievements at the website of the extended family, the Tucker family website. http://tuckerfamily1.tripod.com/Achievements/Durai.shtml



Pragati Maidan was set up to promote international trade with India. The Hall of Nations is the most imposing stucture here. Click on Hall 6 to see the Hall of Nations in a larger size

Storage of huge volumes of grain is augmented by the Food Corporation of India's food grain silos, depots and godowns all over the country.

Hindustan Prefab Limited, a Govt. of India enterprise was formerly Hindustan Housing Factory, a company that pioneered the development of precast prestressed concrete products in India. Prestressed concrete Railway sleepers were developed by the company. Other products made of prestressed concrete introduced by the company include street light poles, footbridges, bus shelters, components for prefab housing etc.