From Jal Khambata

NEW DELHI: A set of four postal stamps was released here on Saturday as a part of "India's march towards progress and development" to pay tributes to four visionaries of modern India -- Arjun Balwant Walawalkar, who conceptualised Konkan Railways, Gujarati philanthropist Chhaganlal Parekh, better known as Chhaganbapa, economist A D Shroff and Syndicate Bank founder Dr T M A Pai of Manipal known for his contribution in banking and education.

Late Walawalkar, however, was in the limelight as the Konkan Railway Corporation (KRC) organised the show at the Rail Bhawan for the formal release of the stamps by Minister of State for Communications Kabindra Purakayastha. His son Ganesh, a retired IAS officer settled in his village, was on the dais while Dr Pai's son had to satisfy with a front seat and presentation of a momento.

Minister of State for Railways Rambhau Naik described how Walawalkar conceived the idea of the Konkan railway and campaigned for his whole life after retirement from an humble job in the then BB & CI Railways in its Drawing Department, though his concept has become a reality only now.

For that matter, Walawalkar's signatures are also left on a score of major works of remodelling of station yards he designed while in service for Ahmedabad, Surat, Sabarmati, Sevalia, Godhra, Viramgam, Indore the entire Mumbai suburban section.

For Konkan Railways, it was a second release of stamp for it as the Postal Department had already brought out one stamp on it at the time of its launch last year and now comes the stamp on Walawalkar remembered as the "Father of Konkan Railway." Purkayastha pointed out that 30 stamps have so far been brought out with the Railways as the theme and yet another would be out soon on the Churchgate station. Walawalkar was, incidentally, also involved in designing Churchgate as the terminal station.

In an informal chat with this correspondent, his son Ganesh felt the commemorative stamp would be end up in the philatelic collections while a long-lasting tribute to his father could be naming after him either the tunnel at Karbude, the longest 6.5-km ever built in India, or the longest 2-km bridge on the river Sharavati or the tallest 65-metre high viaduct at Panval.

Union Environment Minister Suresh Prabhu had suggested, in one of his speeches in Parliament, to name the Konkan Railway after Walawalkar but Ganesh said he would never ask for it since the very "Konkan Railway" name was conceived by his father and should not be changed. Ram Naik may, however, pursue to rename one of the stations on the Konkan Railways after Walawalkar to perpetuate his memory as nobody looks for names of bridges and tunnels on the way as one looks for names of railway stations.

Ganesh narrated how his father used to be ridiculed as a mad man for relentlessly espousing his dream of the Konkan Railway as totally impractical because of the terrain until the Indian engineers achieved the marvel. He said his father had taken up the Konkan Railway cause for two specific reasons"

ONE, the west coast had been traditional point of aggression in India and there was absolutely no rail link to support the Naval forces right from Mumbai to Cochin and naval ships had to depend on supplies by trucks;

TWO, entire network south of Pune was of only the meter gauge and as such lot of time and money was wasted in shifting goods from meter to broad gauge for reaching Mumbai. (Walawalkar had originally conceived a meter gauge project but it was taken up only as a broad gauge project since the move is now to have the broad gauge every where.

Ram Naik also took the opportunity to debunk those trying to belittle the Konkan Railways as a loss-making venture. Any capital-intensive factory takes two to three years to reach the breakeven point and so the Rs 3300-crore Konkan Railways project would also take some time to reach the breakeven point. The Railways were providing the financial support to it in the meanwhile, he said.

In an informal chat over a cup of tea later, Naik said all three trains to Vasco, Goa Express, Bangalore-Goa Express and Tirupathi Express, that were discontinued or curtailed because of the gauge conversion would be resumed latest by March 31. He pointed out that only early this week he cleared run of one train on the track closed in 1996 after the Railway engineers designed the automatic brakes that would guarantee a safe journey for passenger trains.

A brochure brought out by the Department of Posts lists contributions of the four visionaries who worked on their own to improve the lot of the people. It points out how Chhaganbapa retired from his diamond business and started a wandering career in service of the needy and helpless to take up the causes as diverse as that of the oppressed adivasis, flood victims of Assam and earthquake victims of Kutch.

Dr Pai, who died in 1979, had charted a new direction to higher education, converting the arid, rocky village of Manipal in Karnataka into a bustling township of higher education, medical care and financial and industrial enterprises.

A D Shroff, who died in 1965, was described as one of the earliest to propagate planned economic development of the country. In 1944, alongwith seven other leading industrialists, he had authored what is popularly known as the "Bombay Plan." He had also assisted in setting up of the Industrial Credit and Investment Corporation of India (ICICI). END.