ONGC: The Untold Story

Well-known veteran journalist and writer Raj Kanwar, who has been living in the Doon valley for the past seventy years, has just come out with a book that narrates the birth and evolution of the ONGC along with the development of the Doon valley. He has woven stories from the past glory of the Doon valley into the tale of ONGC’s growth in an interesting manner that shows the deep relationship that ONGC shares with the valley. His own association with ONGC is also narrated well in the book which is titled  ONGC : The Untold Story. In an interview with The Pioneer, Kanwar spoke about the book and his memories related to the early years of the ONGC.

You have written articles about all possible subjects related to Dehradun. When you decided to write a book, why did you choose ONGC as your subject?

My association with the ONGC began when it took birth and I had the opportunity to work as its first Public Relations Officer. I served in this capacity for three years –first in Baroda and then in Sibsagar in Assam. Although I left the job after three years, my association with ONGC has been life-long. I have been in the Doon valley almost all my life and thus had the opportunity to be in constant touch with all officials, as a journalist and as the head of my company SK Oilfield Equipment. I felt that the early history of ONGC, which few are aware of, must be recorded in the context of the Doon valley.

You have explained in your book how Dehradun was chosen to be the headquarters of the ONGC. Can you tell us about that?

This is indeed an interesting story. There was very little likelihood of oil being discovered in and around Dehradun. Barrister JM Chatterji was then an eminent citizen of Doon. KD Malaviya, the founding father of ONGC, was his friend. Another friend of Malaviya was Mahavir Tyagi, who was then the deputy defence minister. They both lobbied for Dehradun. This is how Dehradun was put on the world oil map. Nehru’s fondness for the Doon valley was well-known. The plus points for Doon were its proximity to Delhi, its excellent schools and a salubrious climate. Like Nehru, Malaviya too had a fondness for Dehradun and would often visit the town with his wife.

Tell us about  Pundit Nehru’s and Malaviya’s role in the creation of ONGC.

Even in those early years, Nehru had realised the importance of oil and declared that it was vital not only in world economy but also in world politics. He was always there for the ONGC and gave Malaviya unqualified support. If Malaviya was the undisputed father of the Indian oil industry, Nehru was undoubtedly its godfather. ONGCians always deferentially remember him. Malaviya was not only a great dreamer but also possessed the determination to fulfill his dreams. By the middle of May 1955, he had the nucleus of the ONGC Directorate in place.

What do you remember about the early relationship between ONGC and the valley?

Those were Doon’s glorious days. Many of the employees had come in from Kolkata and stayed in accommodation available in the Connaught Place area of the valley. The early appointees included B Guha Roy, Prabhat Ranjan Aich, Amiya Kumar, Preo Kumar, PK Ganguly (a photographer)  and Santosh Kumar Sinha. The Kolkattans took up lodgings in some of the flats. The monthly rent of Rs 40 seemed high at that time. Some lived in Dalanwala. The Bengali Sweet Shop in Connaught Place became very popular among them, especially the bachelors who had their breakfast and dinner at this eatery of the Badoni family. In fact, AMN Ghosh, then a senior geoscientist, was a regular customer.

Patiala House was chosen as the  ONGC campus. How did that come about ?

The “Patiala House”, on 6, Young Road, where the ONGC’s “Tel Bhawan”  is still housed in the Doon valley’s  cantonment area had a crucial role to play in this story. ONGC’s first name was Oil and Gas Division that was attached to Kolkata-based Geological Survey of India (GSI). And it was mainly from GSI that the first nucleus of ONGC’s leadership came- Austin Manindra Nath (AMN) Ghosh , Mandagere Bhardwaj Ramchandra (MBR) Rao, a geophysicist, LP Mathur, BS Negi and BC Deshpande. The scene shifted from Chowringhee Road in Kolkata to Patiala House which was hired at the monthly rent of Rs 2,500. It was finally bought from Maharani Yadunandan Kumari on April 2, 1957. The Patiala House litchis were considered among the most delicious grown in the Doon valley. Almost all employees cycled their way to office. There was a cycle stand at the rear of the main building that now houses the Subir Raha Museum. Only a handful of employees had cars. At that time, ONGC started with 60 employees.Now it has more than 33,000 staffers on its rolls.

How was your experience of penning down all these memories of ONGC’s early and later years?

It was a sentimental journey for me as my life and ONGC’s evolution have always been linked inextricably. Dehradun is the common denominator in this relationship. The history of ONGC is rich and eventful. It deserves to be recorded for posterity. It was my dream to do that. I put in a lot of hard work into this book. The story of the birth of ONGC has a lot to do with the development of Dehradun. Dehradun’s relationship with ONGC has always been a strong bond and will remain so. Saturday, 05 January 2019 | JASKIRAN CHOPRA | Dehradun–

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