Our master story teller RK Nagar shares the story of building NDDB Campus at Bengaluru
In his own words;
“ When my former ecolleague from planning-Gopal Srinivasan read my story on BOHO Shishu Vihar and ANANDALAYA on Facebook, he wanted me to write and share a story on NDDB Bangalore campus.
So, this one is on demand !”.
Photo courtesy Google, Sathish MN
It all began with my transfer to Bangalore as the Regional Director in May 1986.
I went to call on Dr. Kurien before shifting my family to Bengaluru.
Dr Kurien asked, he asked “ Where is land for my campus? How long are you going to take to acquire it? “
I turned back to see if he was addressing my predecessor thinking that he has probably followed me and I may be in for a brief on the issue in presence of Dr. Kurien. This was because as NDDB we were striving to get land for building a Campus at Bengaluru for several years.
But there was no one there. Dr. Kurien said, “Where are you looking? I am asking you”.
This was funny since I was barely a week old in my new position. I knew this was leg pulling so I lightheartedly replied, “Give me at least three months”.
“Done. Three months and I take it as your promise”, he said but I knew neither of us were serious. Getting a land allotment from government and that too in a metro city is a daunting task. But then, when the ‘divine power’ wishes, things do move at unprecedented speed. This is exactly what happened.
It all began with a courtesy call
I called on Shri P R Rao, Additional Chief Secretary, government of Karnataka a couple of days after I had taken charge of my new role at Bengaluru.Shri Rao was also the Agriculture Production Commissioner and as such all our dealings with both dairy and oil seeds projects in Karnataka were with him. As I entered his office, he said, “We met in Anand last month. You were next right to Dr. Kurien in the meeting. So, you have taken over from my good friend Behla. Nagar, feel free to call me anytime you need any help from the Government”. This was indeed a very warm welcome so I seized the opportunity and said, “Sir, I have only one priority agenda and that is the land for our campus”.
“Ok, ask someone from your office to find out where is the file and meet me again. I know that Mr. Behla was following up allotment of a piece of land in Koramangala tankbed with PWD. Then let us see if this parcel of land earlier allotted for a slaughterhouse project is still available. If not, look for another plot of land on the outskirts of the city”.
This was a very encouraging response from Shri Rao. I was aware that Behla had done a lot of legwork especially to get a piece of land in Koramangala tankbed due to its easy approach from most parts of Bengaluru. I was naturally not going to let go his hard work in vain. So, I decided to ‘search’ the file in PWD and my engineer colleague Shri M S Shankar offered to help. His uncle was a very senior IAS officer and he could relatively easily trace the ‘missing’ file.
Shankar did an excellent job. He not only found where the file was but also found why the PWD was not wanting to let go of the land despite the shelving of the slaughterhouse project following non clearance by the civil aviation ministry as the proposed project fell in the ‘tunnel’ (landing/takeoff route) of aircraft’s. So when I again met Shri Rao, after a fortnight, I was able to update him on the status.
Despite nearly eleven weeks of rigorous follow up, we were unable to see any movement of the file. It was getting frustrating and I decided to meet Shri Rao again. I called his secretary and sought an appointment. Unexpectedly Shri Rao himself took the phone from his secretary and asked me “Nagar, what is the agenda”?
I intuitively answered “Sir, I have drafted a letter from Dr. Kurien to the CM Shri Hegde about allotment of land for NDDB campus and I wanted you to have a look at the draft before I send it to Dr. Kurien”. I didn’t have draft, but in that situation, that was the best reply that came to my mind.
“No Nagar, you are not sending any draft to Dr. Kurien. I will call you back” was his reply.
Knowing that there is no chance of meeting Shri Rao, I left for Karnataka Milk Federation to meet the MD, Shri Munniswami. As usual, we smoked and had a cup of tea, Munniswami said, “Let us go to the office of Chief Secretary for the meeting”. “What meeting?”, I asked.
To this an amused Munniswami replied that following my talk with Shri PR Rao earlier today, a meeting has been fixed to allot land to NDDB and KMF in Koramangala tank bed. “This is a crucial meeting as the Chief Secretary cancelled his other appointments for it. We must reach there immediately.” “How come you don’t know about it”?
We just made it in time for this crucial meeting.
The Chief Secretary, Shri Satish Chandran (I hope I am recollecting the correct name) brushed asides all the arguments of the PWD against allotment of land to NDDB and ordered that he should get a copy of the allotment letter delivered to NDDB Bangalore by the close of the day.
By the time I reached my office around 5.30 pm the allotment letter had reached my table. I just couldn’t believe my eyes. And it all happened on the 89th day of my tenure as the regional director. I promptly sent a message-“ Just received government of Karnataka order allotting 6.5 acres of land in Koramangala tank bed for NDDB campus” to Dr. Kurien and faxed the allotment letter.
This was unbelievable, but then, the divine wish prevails. A miracle had just happened. Munniswami later told me that soon after I called Shri Rao, he walked-barefoot- to the Chief Secretary’s office, requested him to cancel all his afternoon appointments and urgently convene a meeting to decide on land allotment to NDDB. I must say, he kept the promise he made to me in our very first meeting in Bengaluru.
Building the campus; Initial Hiccups
NDDB was allotted 6.5 acres as requested in the original application. When we reached to get the area marked, we found that a 100 ft road, according to the Bengaluru Urban Development plan was cutting right across the survey numbers allotted to us. That would have effectively left just about 4.5 acres for the campus. Moreover, it would have meant a campus divided into two pieces- one on either side of the road.
When I approached Shri Rao to get us a revised order that would give usall 6.5 acres on one side of the road, his first reaction was, “Is it not it better? You may keep the office and residential areas apart. When I explained that managing two independent campuses would be problematic, he agreed to have a revised allotment order issued. I received it in the next couple of days.
During this time my mother was with me in Bangalore. I asked her if she would like to see the campus site. When she saw the site (she didn’t even step out of the car), she was horrified and exclaimed,” what, you are going to build a campus at this site? This is stinking filthy. Who would want to come and live here? You better look for some other site”. Imagine how horrible it must have been. So much so that every time our project engineer Shankar reached home after visiting the site, his wife allowed him inside only after he took a bath outside the house. She always kept a full bucket ready for him to ‘disinfect’ himself following his visit to the ‘stinking’ site.
Even before we started any work on the campus, Dr Kurien during one of his visits that incidentally happened to be via Mumbai (he normally used to take the Ahmedabad-Bangalore direct flight), told me somewhat sternly “Nagar, this campus is your project and I will hold you directly responsible for the quality of construction”. With this he not only set the agenda but put my entire campus project team on high alert.
Once we got the consolidated piece on one side of the proposed road, we had to get it surveyed and marked. When the survey team reached the site, they found it extremely difficult to do the job as a naala (it was probably meant to be a storm water drain) carrying sewerage from behind NDRI campus was flowing in a zigzag manner right through the site and the entire area had become a shallow swamp. Survey and marking work was however done and we were on to our next task- get a boundary wall build. But before we could do that, we had to raise the land to the road level. Being a shallow tank, it’s level was about two feet lower than the road. So, we decided to get the land filling and boundary wall done simultaneously.
Naala flowing across our plot
Land filling: with the naala flowing with full force, land filling became the most challenging task for the contractor. The land had actually turned into a shallow swamp and in the very first week, two of the contractor’s trucks ended up with broken axels. Moreover, all the filling material he dumped in got washed away in the current of the naala. The frustrated contractor offered to pay the penalty and walk away unless the flow of the sewage was diverted. We found that the naala was created by illegally blocking the main open drain that carried the sewerage so that the tank bed can be used for grazing animals owned by the people staying in nearby slum huts.
We tried our best to get the concerned government department to attend to it, but they had their own issues. Who would want to initiate it, ask for budget, take responsibility and account for it in the government? In this situation, I had to do something very quickly else , I feared that the contractor would run away and the campus project will come to a grinding halt.
On the Friday evening of the week (Government offices were to remain closed on Saturday), I went to the main drain along with our engineers and the contractor. I instructed the contractor to immediately put his workers on the job and remove the earthen embankment that diverted the flow from the original path to our site. The contractor was hesitant and not sure if he could do it as it needed the permission of the concerned government department.
At this I told him, “I am the Government and these are my orders. Finish the job before midnight”.
The contractor did as I instructed him and on Saturday morning, when he visited the site, he found that the flow of sewage had stopped and he could resume earth filling. We had crossed a big hurdle.
Soon after this incident I was on a visit to Anand as the then dairy minister of Karnataka Shri Siddhramaiah was visiting NDDB HQ. As we came out of TEQ after lunch and saw off the minister, Dr. Kurien asked me, “Have you been able to get the Government to solve the naala problem?”. To this I told him what I had done to get the problem out of the way. He was aghast. He turned to Mrs Kurien and told her, “This fellow Nagar is taking state laws in his hands and will end up in jail one day”. We three had a jolly good laugh when I told him that by the time the Karnataka government discovers it, I probably will be transferred out and if any one has to go to jail, it would be my successor.
Reworking the earlier approved Design
A Madras based architect, P T Krishnan was retained for the campus project by Shri Behla in anticipation of early acquisition of the land and they had the architectural drawings prepared and approved.
The only problem with the design was that it did not have a provision to repeat a part of the design in case of a needed expansion.
We had to therefore redo the designs. Krishnan was initially not very happy with the idea of starting de novo but he understood the logic and agreed to my request. I told him that whereas he has the experience of designing, I had the experience of living in various types of accommodations on the Anand campus and let us combine our experiences while designing this campus.
I asked him to design the housing keeping in mind 3 things: one, excellent cross ventilation so that we don’t have to use fans for more than 2 months in a year; two, plenty on natural light for plants to grow indoors and three, privacy-the lady should be able to move between her bedroom and kitchen without having to cross the living room just in case there was a visitor in the house.
I then added two more requirements- provide a second bedroom in D type and additional privacy so that the bedroom fights between the couples remain private- they shouldn’t be heard by neighbours residing below or above.
This last requirement was tricky, so I suggested reorientation of the bedroom in the middle floor, and it worked.
Additional features I wanted in the C and D type buildings were- two wheelers parked must not be visible from the road and, clothes drying in balconies must also not be seen from anywhere.
In the revised design, Krishnan accommodated all my requirements. The drawings were sent to the Chairman for his approval. We were careful in accommodating all the requirements within the specified area limit for each type. Since all the designs were within the specified area parameters, the plans and budget were approved without delay. We had cleared all the internal hurdles but the approvals of concerned government agencies still remained.
Thankfully all the senior bureaucrats that I had come in contact with were willing to go an extra mile and they helped me speedily get all the statutory clearances. We were now all set to begin construction.
Naala bothers us again
This was entirely unexpected. When we started work on the foundations, we found that every building planned was to come up on one or other curve of the naala that used to flow through the site and building with a conventional foundation on filled up site would be dangerous. We had to then go for pile foundations.
Thank you my friends
Finally the campus was ready for occupation- both residential and office buildings with landscaped garden by middle of 1989.
And this wouldn’t have been possible without a very dedicated efforts of three of my former colleagues that formed the core team- late S P De, site engineer Setu Madhavan and the project engineer M S Shankar.
I owe much to all three of them for the tremendous effort they put in to ensure quality construction. Their honesty and integrity was highly praised by the contractor when he came to meet me after completion of the project.
In his words, “Sir, I have done many projects for PSU’s around Bangalore, but have never worked with a team like yours. They are so honest that they didn’t accept even a cup of tea from my office. And believe me sir, because of their honesty, this is the first ever project where I have incurred a loss”.
Wherever you are my dear friends, I, R K Nagar am very proud of you.
Finally, the design left some people baffled. A few months after we occupied the campus, one day a passerby was heard asking the watchman, “Is this place occupied by humans or ghosts? During day time, I don’t see any vehicle or clothing around any of the buildings but as it turns dark, light turn on. Is this place haunted?”.
That’s the story. Hope you enjoyed it.