Jan. - Feb. 2002   
  Vol. 2 No.1   
Message from J. N. Godrej
Know Your Founders Oddities, Eccentricities, Etc. Of Enduring Interest Corporate Commentary Back to Main Page Editorial

 

INDUSTRIALIST AS Farmer
1918 – Godrej
Farm, Nasik

After successfully launching the lock, safe and soap industries, Ardeshir Godrej turned his attention to farming. But time was against him.

Ardeshir Godrej’s interests were wide and varied. After successfully setting out in 1897 to manufacture Locks, which was followed by the manufacture of Safes in 1902, he was keen to go into Mining in Kangundi Zamindary in Mysore State in South India (1907), where he was interested in obtaining a prospecting license for three years and a mining lease for 30 years. Whether it was for himself or for his brother Munchersha, four years his junior, is anybody’s guess, as his papers reveal very little in this regard, except for some documents which were left behind by him relating to the Lease of Mines sent by the Mysore Government.

It was in 1918 that Ardeshir turned his attention to Farming. He was a staunch supporter of Gandhiji and took a very keen interest in agriculture, which he was eager to develop on scientific lines and on a large scale, but for a different purpose which we will come to later.

Ardeshir purchased in all 582 acres (1164 ‘bighas’) of land. At Pimpalgaon Garudeshwar, he bought land measuring 420 acres (840 ‘bighas’), a village situated at a distance of about ten miles from Nasik, and also at Mashrul measuring 162 acres (324 ‘bighas’), a mile from Panchwati on the outskirts of Nasik for dairy produce. He invested a considerable amount of capital in improving and developing these lands. It was his cherished desire to build and form a colony there for young unemployed Parsis, who by devoting themselves to agriculture and allied industries, including dairy farming and poultry breeding, would have a means of livelihood. In this way they would not only maintain themselves and their families, but also contribute in a small way to the prosperity of India where 80 per cent of its inhabitants are farmers.

Ardeshir’s objective was to make the ‘Godrej Farm’ a nucleus of garden colonies for unemployed Parsi families who were fast deteriorating in Bombay on account of poverty and unhealthy surroundings, and their numbers with outstretched hands kept on increasing for charity and alms. Poor mothers were expected to send their sons to this colony or else they might lose the dole they were getting. Ardeshir wanted their sons to work with energetic young Parsi boys coming from the villages of Gujarat and grow into self-respecting men.

The best way to attract the right kind of people for farming was two-fold. There would be a mixture of peasant farmers from the villages of Gujarat and the unemployed between the ages of 20 and 50 from Bombay city whose parents or wives lived on charity. These men would be given accommodation and food by Ardeshir for six months or even a year, till they were given complete training in all agricultural matters.

Once a person took on such a job, he was given five acres of land, of which at least on one acre he was expected to grow irrigated crops and vegetables. He would be given seeds, two bullocks, a plough and manure, plus an allowance of Rs.25/- per month as advance till the harvest was ready. He would be in-charge of his own plot and live on his own as indicated above, a large percentage was deducted from the price fetched of the crops sold, and the balance given to him for his sustenance, till the entire debt was cleared. In this way, he was made to stand on his own two feet. He was at liberty to bring his own family, when an entire cottage would be given to them to live in. If he was a bachelor, he was entitled to one room, and the cottage shared with other bachelors. In either case no rent was charged.

The Finance of Farming:
Once a week the farmers with their families would be taken in a van to Nasik for a drive or a cinema show.

In his own simple way Ardeshir drew up a plan in his own hand as to what would be cultivated on 20 acres of land, and even worked out its estimated cost. With 582 acres at his disposal, he was clear in his mind that his yield would be nearly 30 times if his plan succeeded, and would also entail an expenditure of the same magnitude. His produce would include Cereals (like wheat, gram, maize, ground nuts, tobacco, ‘jowar’ etc.); Vegetables (like ladies finger — ‘bhendi’, brinjals, french beans, green peas, onions, tomatoes, potatoes, sugarcane etc.); Fruits (like grapes, apples, peaches, mangoes etc.) and Lucerne Grass. A well for water would be required for this purpose and, most essential, housing for the comfort of the farmers and their families, which was uppermost in his mind.

He went about executing his plan by working out the estimated cost of Rs.10,000/- on purchase of major items like land (Rs.2,500/-); construction of cottage, furniture etc. (Rs.3,000/-); cost of digging a well and other expenses (Rs.2,500/-); 2 bullocks cart, engine and pump (Rs.2,000/-).

He was clear in his mind as to how he would divide 20 acres of land. Five acres for growing fruit. Four acres for growing vegetables and lucerne grass. Ten acres for cereals and one acre for cottages to live in, besides cattle sheds and a barn.

Ardeshir had made a complete list of his requirements and the cost of accommodating 20 Parsi families which worked out to Rs.81,000/-, excluding the price of land. As and when the need would arise to accommodate 100 Parsi families, the cost would increase to Rs.3,35,000/-. This budget of Rs.81,000/- included a number of items like a tractor, agricultural tools and implements, a workshop, dairy shed, quarters for the 20 families, dispensary, small school, 15 pairs of bullocks, 20 cows, 20 buffaloes, 6 horses, 200 head of sheep or goats and poultry, seeds, wages, salaries, railway fares, etc.

Ardeshir knew at that time of the small Parsi population of 50,000 residing in Bombay, of which nearly one-fourth were poor and destitute leading to unemployment, and felt most concerned at the sad state of affairs. This number was fast increasing with every passing day. In practice, these people gradually drifted into becoming paupers, and became a permanent burden on the community. Ardeshir felt depressed that hardly 50 years ago in 1864 when a Census was held in Bombay there WASN’T A SINGLE PARSI BEGGAR.

Even at that time Parsi charity flourished in plenty. But Ardeshir took a different and practical view of the meaning of the word charity. He firmly believed that it is better to LEND rather than to give away, and was of the firm view that any advances given must be fully recovered.

He felt that much of Parsi charity was misdirected. To him ‘‘the poor will always be with us, and our problem is to feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, and clothe the naked’’. He agreed with the Bombay Parsi Panchayat when they said: ‘‘This kind of charity has further perpetuated pauperism in our community. Is it not an irony of fate that in such a wealthy community of 10,000 families in this big city, there should be 1,000 families receiving doles from public funds? We have been frittering away annually Rs.2,50,000/-. This antiquated and pernicious method of charity has only tended to increase the number of paupers every year’’.

What Ardeshir felt 70-80 years ago, continues to be true even today. He wanted to change the methods of administering relief. Parsis had failed to understand the genesis of ‘Parsi Poverty’, the foremost cause according to him being unemployment, and the only solution to such a problem was — Farming.

Ardeshir knew if his scheme were to succeed, it would pay handsome dividends in the not too distant future, and it was essential to ascertain which of the paying crops would suit the soil. The two most important requisites being patience and perseverance.

Ardeshir knew that Agricultural Colonies had been conducted most successfully in Europe and America, and also by the Salvation Army in different parts of the globe. If these could succeed in other parts of the world, why not in India? Like Jamsetji Tata, Ardeshir, too, was a ‘‘One-Man Planning Commission’’.

The good work which he had started under his personal attention, in spite of his preoccupation at Lalbaug, kept him busy right through the day. Right upto his death on 10th January,1936 he was deeply involved with the Godrej Farm at Nasik. In his WILL, which he drafted in 1934, he mentions therein in Clause 4 :

‘‘I am the absolute owner of a large piece of land in the Nasik District where I am carrying on agricultural and horticultural work and I have erected buildings thereon in connection with the said work. I direct my Executors and Trustees not to sell the said pieces of land but to continue the work I may be doing there in my lifetime, and if my Executors and Trustees are not able to secure any better site for starting the agricultural and horticultural Institution* hereby directed to be started by them, I direct them that a beginning shall be made of such an Institution on the farm on Mashrul which is about a mile from Panchwati on the outskirts of Nasik City.”

Even after his death, his brother Pirojsha, with the assistance of the Trustees of the Bombay Parsi Panchayat, formed the Godrej Farm Management & Advisory Committee consisting of five members, Pirojsha Godrej (Chairman), Dr. J. F. Bulsara, Dr. J. A. Daji, Dr. F. P. Antia and Mr. S. D. Motafaram. The committee took a very active and keen interest in the working of both the farms at Pimpalgaon and Mashrul.

Just to give an idea as to what was cultivated on these farms and the expenditure involved for six months ending 30th June, 1941 is summarised below :
(a) Income from the sale of Milk, Grapes, Onions, Potatoes, Tomatoes, Mangoes, Wheat, Grass, Tobacco, etc. Rs.8,930/-.
(b) Expenditure by way of Salaries, Conveyance, Rations, Messing, Advertising, Purchase of cattle, Utensils, Crockery, etc. — Rs.19,050/-. Loss of Rs.10,120/-.

From the above it became obvious that both the farms were incurring a loss, which became very difficult to maintain in time to come.

As far as the dairy on the Mashrul Farm is concerned, it had been functioning on the most scientific lines, and it is interesting to study the way it was run.

The milk given by each buffalo was graded thus :
>> First 80 days the output of milk kept increasing after calving.
>> The second 80 days the output remained steady. The third 80 days there was a gradual decrease.
>> From 270 to 300 days after calving, the buffaloes continued to give milk.
>> It was found that they needed 35 buffaloes to give five maunds of milk every day.
>> They also used a pasteuriser with a cooling plant, if milk was to be sent from Nasik to Bombay.
>> Besides the pasteurising plant, to sterilise the milk vessels, they used a complete boiler with accessories. If not properly sterilised the milk could smell and get spoiled.
>> It was essential to have at least 10-12 hours difference between the morning and evening milking.
>> Testing machines for testing fat were used at both, Nasik and Bombay depots, to prove that no water was added on the way. All this was Ardeshir’s brain-child.

Problems and Difficulties:
The running of these two farms was not without its problems and difficulties, particularly after Ardeshir’s death. To cite three examples:
(1) As seen from Pirojsha’s letter written on behalf of the Bombay Parsi Panchayat on 26th July, 1939 addressed to the Minister to the Govt. of Bombay, In-charge of the Public Works Department, wherein he says:

‘‘There is however one difficulty in the way of development of the Farm, and it is this. The farm is situated on the important road to Harsul, which, I understand, the Government proposes to project further to Bulsar. The river Godavari crosses this road at Savargaon, at about eight miles from Nasik, the farm being on the other side of the river. In the rainy season, all communications on both sides of this long road, are virtually cut off, and the farm has to suffer on account of this. A bridge across the river at Savargaon is an absolute necessity, not only for the development of the Godrej Farm, but also in the interests of the agriculturists and others living in the large number of villages served by this long and important road. An Irish bridge will serve the purpose and it will not cost more than about Rs.12,000/- for which provision may be made by re-appropriation in the current budget or by a separate allotment in the budget for the next year’’.

It is doubtful if the bridge was ever constructed.

(2) Mr. S. R. Gandhi, one of the Committee members wrote in his report dated 3rd November, 1941 :

‘‘I agree with you in all what you say in your scheme for settling Parsis on the Godrej Farm; but I am not in favour of going so fast as you seem to go. I would put these ideas before the public only when we are satisfied that everything goes well on the Godrej Farm for at least a continuous period of three years. At the end of the period, if we have made substantial profits, we shall have a very convincing argument and we shall not have any difficulty in finding settlers of the right type’’.

This was a clear indication that all was not well at the Godrej Farm and the two farms were incurring losses, particularly the dairy farm at Mashrul. The tragic part was not finding the right settlers.

(3) On 23rd October, 1942 the Management and Advisory Committee also considered an offer made by one Mr. B. D. Vakil in his letter dated 7th October, 1942 to purchase the Godrej Pimpalgaon Farm at a cost of Rs.1 lac to be paid in 10 equal installments, but this was to be finalised only after Mr. Vakil visited the farm at the end of October, which perhaps he never did. It was because of the continued losses, the Committee was willing to sell the farm.

A day earlier, Mr. B. B. Lam, M.B.E., also a member of the Management Committee wrote to the Bombay Parsi Panchayat on 22nd October, 1942. Relevant extracts of his letter are reproduced below :

‘‘We should enter into an annual contract. We must not demand a very high price as we know from our 3 years bitter experience that we are making heavy losses and to save further loss and to keep the Farm we must accept for the first year a very nominal price. If we demand a high annual price we shall never get any good offer, and will incur further losses, and a time will come when the sale price will be wiped off in the debt."

‘‘We must take into consideration the distance and the failure we met with upto now in the management and it is no use hoping against hope."

‘‘The inexperienced lads left to themselves will never make the farm a paying concern and the Managing Committee will be responsible to the Parsi community for the heavy losses they are incurring, so I think it is better to give the farm for one year rather than lose Rs.10,000/- to Rs.15,000/- every year’’.

At Ardeshir’s birth centenary on 26th March, 1968, Dr. Jal F. Bulsara who was one of the members on the Godrej Farm Committee in 1941, has paid a fitting and rich tribute to Ardeshir in his letter of 16th April, 1968 to Pirojsha.

‘‘I recall to memory my unforgettable trips to Nasik with Ardeshir, my stay with him on week-ends on the Godrej farm, and my long talks with him there and whenever we met either at his or my house or at Juhu. I loved and admired his burning zeal for the progress of his country and countrymen, his sheer contempt against begging and insistence on self-reliance and honest work, his overflowing love for the community and its march to more sterling achievements. Though we both argued our points and often stuck to them, we both liked each other and were happy in each other’s company."

‘‘I never realised he would be snatched away suddenly from us. I lost in him a very dear friend and elder in the best sense of the word.’’ 

It’s a pity that such a noble and lofty idea of Ardeshir of making the fit and able to work on the Godrej Farms at Nasik rather than they beg and live on charity in Bombay, did not bear fruit. Ultimately after 24 years of tilling the soil, the two farms had to be wound up by the Parsi Panchayat under compelling circumstances. Before his death did Ardeshir have a premonition of what was forthcoming? The last testament in his WILL reads:

‘‘If however my Executors and Trustees deem it advisable of my estate to sell off my said property at Nasik at any time they shall be entitled to do so.’’

The Bombay Parsi Panchayat did exactly that.

P. D. Muncherji

 

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