First-Hand:Negotiating Communications Center Construction in India


Submitted by Leonard A. Karr

As a Senior Electrical Engineer with Burns and Roe (B&R), an international engineering and construction firm, headquartered in New York, specializing in power plant design and construction, I was assigned to go to Calcutta, India in March of 1962. There I was to meet with representatives of the Damodar Valley Corporation (DVC, the regional electrical utility) in company with B&R's marketing representatives, both international and local. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss DVC's request for a proposal to review world wide tenders for furnishing and installing a central load dispatch and communications center.

The center was to provide telemetered and status information from two major coal-fired generating stations, a hydro-electric facility, and the major transmission substation. The center was, also, to include a dynamic system diagram board, economic generation control equipment, as well as teletype and voice communication facilities. Incoming information and outgoing control signals were to be carried over the existing power transmission system, using available, unused carrier frequencies.

Travel to India was via PanAm from Kennedy (in those days first class was authorized for long flights). A full day and two nights made this a long journey. Needless to say, I was ready for the sack when I checked in at the Grand Hotel in Calcutta. B&R's local marketing representative showed up. He was a retired general of Calcutta. The General was used to giving orders, and the staff hopped to it whenever he demanded something, including preparation of special meal items, not necessarily on the menu. The meals with the General ordering were excellent.

The next morning, the General, Jack Kelly (the U.S. marketing representative), and I met to discuss strategy for the forthcoming meeting with the DVC people. This was scheduled for the early afternoon. The meeting with DVC went well, and, as a consequence, I was to visit DVC's major generation and transmission facilities on the following two days, in company with DVC's System Engineer.

The General hired a vehicle and driver to take us on the tour. The General also advised that we take along some lunch, including fruits that could be peeled. In fact, he ordered this for us from the hotel.

Our destination the first day was the Maithon hydroelectric facility, located some two hundred miles north of Calcutta. We travelled on the Grand Trunk Road after crossing Hoohly River into Howrah. The Grand Trunk Road had a good surface but was narrow with little room to spare when two vehicles passed each other. The practice of playing chicken was common (i.e. who would move over first). On one occasion, we came upon two buses that were locked together, neither having moved over quite enough.

At one point, we came upon a highway bridge that was under major reconstruction with an incomplete span. Undaunted, the driver, without hesitation, drove off the road, down the embankment, across the river bed (a shallow stream at this time of year) and up the opposite bank. The car promptly got stuck.

An army of would be helpers swooped down to offer assistance. Some conversation with the driver ensued. I presume he had negotiated an acceptable fee for help, since enough hand power was enthusiastically exerted to push us up and out. We arrived at Maithon rather late, but did visit the hydroelectric plant before winding up for the day.

Economic dispatch of hydro-generators, as related to other generators on the system, presents a particular problem, as the need for water management might take precedence. Water conservation during dry periods, flood control, irrigation requirements, maintenance of minimum flows-any or all may influence system economic dispatch requirements.

For security reasons and to enable quick mobilization in emergencies, living quarters were provided for the permanent staff. Facilities for transients and visitors were also provided. I was provided a rather large room, open to the outside, with a ceiling fan and (something I took particular notice of) a mosquito netting to enclose the bed. Duty at Maithon is considered a plus for its quiet, resort-like setting. A welcome respite from the humanity, hustle and bustle of Calcutta.

We planned an early start the next morning, anticipating a stop at the Chandrapur coal-fired generating station. We arrived at the station before noon. As the generator had been installed at different times, similar but customized devices would be required for each machine. The return trip to Calcutta included a stop at a typical junction transmission substation. Subsequent arrival at the Grand Hotelwas well after dark.

The next day I met with B&R's international representative. He had prime responsibility for preparation of the proposal and asked me to prepare my input. His main interest, I learned, was to get the job and not to worry too much whether the job could be done at the price and terms quoted.

My viewpoint was somewhat different. I too wanted to get the job. But as I probably would be assigned to this task, I wanted to be reasonably sure it could be done as proposed.

In this case, however, there was an overriding marketing strategy involved. B&R was primarily interested in getting the larger projects of generation expansion at the two major coal-fired power plants. Hopefully, the system control center project, if done satisfactorily at minimum cost to the client, would smooth the way for the larger projects. This strategy was, of course, followed and the proposal submitted was pared to the bone. There was nothing left to do now but to return to good old U.S.A. and await the results.

As it turned out, B&R did get the central headquarters project and the two generation expansion projects. As I had anticipated, I was assigned the job of performing the central headquarters work.

Once DVC authorized the project, some eight months after the proposal was submitted, work had to begin immediately, per DVC's insistence. Hence, I prepared for departure to Calcutta in December, 1962. I was not too keen on being away from home over the Christmas holidays, but resigned myself to the inevitable.

The project, that had to start in such great haste and ruin my holiday, took many years to complete.