`Modernisation is a continuous process in OFB'

Published : Mar 28, 2003 00:00 IST

Interview with D.K. Datta, Chairman, Ordnance Factory Board.

The Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) is the largest production organisation run by a department of the Government of India. Engaged in the manufacture of arms and ammunition, transport and armoured vehicles, equipment spares and clothing; the OFB has a history going back to over 200 years. Known as India's `Fourth arm of defence', OFB meets the requirements of not just the Army, the Navy and the Air Force, but the para-military and State and Central police forces. It is also engaged in civil trade and exports.

The first of the ordnance factories was set up in Cossipor, West Bengal, in 1801, and became operational in 1802. Of the 39 existing factories 16 were set up before Independence. The distribution of the ordnance factories is as follows: Ten each in Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh, six each in Madhya Pradesh and Tamil Nadu; four in West Bengal and one each in Chandigarh, Andhra Pradesh and Orissa. The 40th factory is being set up at Nalanda, Bihar. All of them are departmental undertakings under the Ministry of Defence and are directed by the Ministry.

The OFB was formed after 1979, on the recommendation of the Rajadhyaksha Committee. It comprises a Director-General (DG) as Chairman and nine members, all in the rank of Additional DG. The factories come under five divisions: Ammunition and explosives; Weapons; Vehicles and equipment; Materials and components; and ordnance equipment and clothing.

The factories, mostly situated in remote areas, are all essentially self-sufficient units having their own hospitals, schools and recreational facilities. The OFB provides for 25 factory hospitals, 39 factory health clinics, 68 estate health clinics and 17 family welfare centres. With most of the factories located in areas away from city and town centres, the education of the children of their employees has been a major problem. To address this, the Board today runs 24 schools, including 11 high schools, six higher secondary schools, and the rest are primary schools, and 34 Kendriya Vidyalayas. Sporting infrastructure is maintained by a Sports Control Board, which also organises sporting events and tournaments.

The factories are inextricably linked to the modern history of the country. Apart from being one of the pillars on which India's defence stands, they have always delivered the goods whenever called on to do so by the country, right from the Second World War. The 16 factories that were operational during the Second World War provided the Allies arms and ammunition. In the early 1960s, during the India-China war, the factories were told to increase their capacities practically overnight. During the Kargil War in 1999, the OFB once again had to meet the enhanced requirement of the army. In the words of D. Rajagopal, former OFB chairman, "Kargil enhanced the OFB's credibility in the eyes of the users as a supplier who can be relied upon to effect enhanced supplies in a time-bound manner."

The most important day of the year for the OFB is March 18, which is observed as Ordnance Factory Day. It was on this day 201 years ago that the first of the ordnance factories started production. Though celebration of the day is a recent phenomenon, all the factories under the Board have observed it enthusiastically, which in its own way has strengthened the ties among the workers - more than 1.3 lakh of them - scattered across the country. D.K. Datta, the present Chairman and Director-General of Ordnance Factories (DGOF), in an interview to Suhrid Sankar Chattopadhyay, speaks of the Ordnance Factory Day and what it means to the organisation, and also of the current projects and modernisation initiatives undertaken by the Board. Excerpts:

What is the Ordnance Factory Day all about?

For the past few years, March 18 is celebrated as Ordnance Factory Day. The occasion is treated as an event to reaffirm our dedication to the nation by way of ensuring quality products for our armed forces, and also by ensuring better-quality working life for our employees. On this day our employees are awarded for their excellence in work. In line with other national awards, we have instituted awards such as Ayudh Ratna, Ayudh Bhushan, Ayudh Shri/Devi and so on. The event is observed in all the ordnance factories by holding programmes such as seminars and conferences on quality, productivity and other issues. Ordnance Factory Day also fosters a feeling of togetherness and unity among the employees. They truly feel that they are part of a big family.

The ordnance factories, situated in different far-flung areas of the country, also conduct welfare activities. We provide housing, schooling and healthcare to our employees. Our Women's Welfare Association contributes immensely for the betterment of the environment in the ordnance factory estates and the families of our employees.

What brought about the idea of having an Ordnance Factory Day celebration?

We, as in the Ordnance Factory Board, are called the `fourth arm of Defence'. The other three arms - the Army, the Navy and the Air Force - each have their own day of celebration, and as the fourth arm, we felt we too should observe one day of the year as Ordnance Factory Day. March 18 was selected because it was on this day in 1802 that our first factory - Gun and Shell Factory - started production in Cossipur. At that time, though, the name of the factory was Gun Carriage Agency.

What are the important projects that are under way at the OFB, and what are the projects that it has identified for the future?

We have drawn up a Perspective Plan in consultation with the various wings of the armed forces to meet their requirement of existing and new products during the 10th Five-Year Plan period. Although, Russia is the chief provider of technology, and lately, to a smaller extent, Israel and South Africa, we are gradually changing our role from being technology recipients to technology producers. For this, we are giving more emphasis on in-house research and development (R&D) work. Through our projects - which include transfer of technology (TOT), defence research and development and inhouse R&D - new items such as 155 mm ammunition, 5.56 INSAS rifle, 5.56 LMG (light machine gun), .22 rifle and .22 revolver have been developed. We are also making mine-protected vehicles.

Recently, we started working in collaboration with some of the defence-related public sector units (PSUs). Notable among them is a project we have taken up along with Bharat Electronics Ltd (BEL) for the upgradation of L-70 anti-aircraft gun for air-defence artillery. The gun will be upgraded with an electronic fire control system, autopositioning, electronic eye, and laser range finder. The mechanical subsystem will be developed by the ordnance factories; the final integration will be done by our Gun Carriage Factory at Jabalpur, and BEL will supply the electronic subsystem. The updated system will be offered for trial sometime around June this year.

The OFB has also entered into a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Electronic Corporation of India Ltd. (ECIL) for the development and manufacture of electronic fuses at the ordnance factories. Some of the other projects in hand are T-90 tanks, Main Battle Tank (MBT) Arjun, extended range mortar, rockets for the Air Force, and clothing items for use in extremely cold climates.

What are the modernisation projects that are currently under way at the OFB?

Modernisation of infrastructure is a continuous process in the ordnance factories. With the changing of times, technology needs upgradation both for the product and for the process of manufacture. During the 9th Five-Year Plan, we invested more than Rs.1,000 crores in the modernisation of various wings of engineering, metallurgical, weapons, equipment, ammunition, and armoured vehicles divisions in the OFB. Around Rs.1,800 crores will be invested during the 10th Five-Year Plan in ongoing projects and for future weapon and ammunition requirement.

What is the status of the 40th ordnance factory, which is being set up at Nalanda? When will it become operational?

It is still in the project stage. Civil work has started. The factory will produce modular charges for 155-mm-range ammunition.

Around two years ago, the OFB's civil trade was worth around Rs.206 crores. Where does it stand now and what has been done to increase it?

As far as civil trade is concerned, we are working towards reaching a projected figure of Rs.300 crores this year, which is considerably more than what it was two years ago. Some of the new additions to our range of products in the civil trade market are the .22 rifle and the .22 revolver. Sporting rifles and sporting ammunition are the products that are mainly boosting our civil trade. We are also developing new sports products in line with international standards.

How does the OFB fare in the export market?

We are exporting our products to Nepal and friendly countries in Africa and South-East Asia. In 2001, our export figure was around Rs.11 crores. This year we plan to do business worth around Rs.60 crores, an increase of more than five times. We are concentrating on broadening our customer base.

How far has the Defence Production Technology Society been successful in forging closer ties between the OFB and other defence-related public sector units?

The Defence Production Technology Society has been created to act as a forum for the exchange of technical and technological information and also for the exchange of ideas to solve problems. This is done through interactions and seminars. I think this is very important, because people cannot work in isolation. They come together in a forum. For example, at one point we had some problem in getting quality rubber components, and we raised this issue in a forum. We realised that we were not alone, and that some other PSUs were also facing similar problems. The solution to our problem came about from the Rubber Research Institute.

What are the human resource development work carried out by the OFB?

We have the Ordnance Factory Staff College and eight regional training institutes (RTIs), where we impart training to our officers, staff and workmen. At the factory training institutes, the stress is on training the workforce in different areas for their best utilisation. This way we ensure that the new technology that we are introducing and the technology we are updating continuously are properly utilised by the skilled workers. One of our main aims is to optimise the utilisation of human resources and to improve the quality of the working conditions and the work life of the employees. Our emphasis is on human resource development so that it can help us achieve these goals.

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