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Writing about Pirojshanagar, one realises how impossible it is to contain or compartmentalise greatness. Manufacture of safes, safe deposit vaults, steel cupboards and furniture, library stacks, steel shelving and partitions, hospital equipment, steel windows and doors (the last three given up due to steel shortage) were taken up one after the other. Having done this, Pirojsha was now to show that he too was a visionary, in fact one of the great visionaries of the time. Among the factors responsible for this was Pirojsha’s deep concern as a humanitarian with the problem of industrial slums and the degradation to which they could lead. He had read hardly any books on management, but instinctively, with unerring insight, he was conscious that working in a modern well-laid-out factory in pleasant surroundings and with amenities would make work less arduous and more rewarding.
Lalbaug left no room for large-scale expansion. In the late 1940s, there were indications that India would soon be free and freedom would open up undreamt-of opportunities and create unforeseen demands for growth. There was no alternative to reduce congestion but to shift the factory to new and vast grounds. With characteristic energy, Pirojsha set to work. He bought a tract of land in Vikhroli village at a public auction. There were several pockets of settlers in the neighbouring areas whom he bought off one after the other, paying more in the process than he had done for the original piece of land. Considering today’s prices, what he paid was a pittance, yet he had to sell his shares and almost everything he had to defray the cost, besides taking loans.
He did this against the advice of friends and well-wishers who believed he was throwing money away and being unmindful of his children. Others went to the extent of writing in the press that Pirojsha could have better utilised the amount to provide relief to the poor in the community! But Pirojsha went ahead regardless. His prescience told him he was right. His vision of India’s industrial future couldn’t be confined to a Parel back lane.
How Naval, acting on Pirojsha’s behalf, came to acquire the land at Vikhroli is quite a story recorded in the dusty files of the Bombay High Court. It was on 7 July, 1835 that Nathaniel Hornby granted, by way of perpetual lease, the entire villages of Vikhroli (including the eastern boundary of Vikhroli, which is a creek) and Kanjur to one Framji Cawasjee Banajee. Nearly 95 years later, on 28 October, 1929, one Moolji Haridas and others assigned, conveyed and released two-fourths share in the village of Vikhroli, freed and discharged of all mortgagees and charges and trusts, in favour of Amratlal Amarchand. Approximately 14 years later, on 18 January, 1943, the Commissioner of Accounts in the High Court of Bombay (in Suit No. 918 of 1935), put up for sale the village of Vikhroli, at which sale Naoroji Pirojsha Godrej was declared the highest bidder and purchased the rights, title and interests of Amratlal Amarchand in the Vikhroli village.
On 15 April, 1943, the High Court in Bombay passed the order confirming the sale of the land at Vikhroli, measuring over 3,000 acres, in favour of Naoroji Pirojsha Godrej, and the Court Receiver was ordered to hand over possession of the village of Vikhroli to Naval. This was confirmed by a letter on 16 July, 1943 from the Collector, Bombay Suburban District to Payne & Co., attorneys for Naval, stating that the Government of Bombay had accorded their sanction to the transfer of the village to the name of Naoroji Pirojsha Godrej. In the same month, actual possession was handed over by the Court Receiver to Naval’s representative, together with its title deeds and maps.
Five years later, on 7 January, 1948, Naval transferred and assigned to Godrej & Boyce Mfg. Co. Pvt. Ltd. all his rights, title and interests in the village of Vikhroli together with the pieces of land purchased by him earlier on 15 April, 1943. This was recorded by a letter received from the Collector of Thane dated 7 January, 1948, and duly recorded in the High Court of Bombay on 30 July, 1948.
It all began with a tree. Characteristically, Pirojsha planted trees before laying the foundations of the factory plants. In doing so, he was being true to the spirit of his Aryan forefathers, who loved and venerated nature and never destroyed what they believed to be the creations of God. Pollution of the elements of nature was considered by them to be a grievous sin, and hence, amazingly, they practised the science of ecology and conservation thousands of years before modern science invented these words.
The first thing the Aryans did on settling in Iran was, according to P.H. Havewala (The Saga of the Aryan Race), to plant trees and flowers: "Wherever the Aryans settled in the land, they made a paradise around them by planting beautiful trees and flowers. Iran 20,000 years ago was transformed into a garden land, each family cultivating its own huge garden with roses, tulips, marigolds, sunflowers and pretty little fountains sprinkling water everywhere. The concept of a garden originated from the noble Aryan race; the very word garden in English would derive thousands of years later from the Avestan word Garo-Deman or Garo-Nmaane, the paradise of Ahura Mazda."
The dream was now beginning to be blueprinted. But the blueprint, while establishing the dream’s contours, gave but a dim idea on paper of the immensity and complexity of the effort that would be required, the ingenuity and skill, sweat and tears that would have to go into transforming this huge wasteland into an industrial garden township. Levelling the land, building roads, airy plants, residential quarters and schools, vast lawns and gardens — and the many problems attendant to running and maintaining a township of this size — laying of pipes, drains and cables, provision of water and power, fencing the area, dealing with industrial effluents and sewerage, recycling waste…
Proof of the implicit faith Pirojsha had in Naval is shown by the fact that in spite of the heavy debts incurred by him and the very high stakes involved in the project, instead of taking the easy way out by getting an established contractor to do the planning and building, he entrusted the entire work to Naval.
Naval’s work initially was confined to planning the township along with Pirojsha. Later, particularly after Pirojsha’s death in 1972, he became involved in the total execution of the project. He had to decide on the priorities of construction, which was a complex, expensive and location-specific activity. The Godrej Construction Department was in itself quite unique with multifaceted activities ranging from new construction projects to construction maintenance, treatment of industrial effluents, sewage and water and gardening activities. Emphasis was laid on the adoption of a quality system for design and execution of industrial and residential construction projects, property investment, industrial and domestic works management, landscaping and gardening of the township. The end was to make the township a unique one, maintaining a balance between man and nature: a self-sufficient township with its own water supply, sewerage and effluent treatment systems. Well developed too, with infrastructure such as roads, towns, landscape gardens, forestry and, of course, the manufacturing plants with machines thundering away to their industrial destiny.
Naval realised the importance of selecting tried and trusted men for this seemingly impossible undertaking. H.N. Baria, Retired Chief Engineer of the Bombay Port Trust, was appointed Chief Engineer in charge of Projects and Development on 2 April, 1948. This was just in time for construction to begin for, on an application made by Godrej & Boyce on 2 March, 1948, permission to start construction of Plant-1 was given on 16 April, 1948.