In 1865, an American Company applied to the government for a licence for running a horse-drawn tramway service in the city. The licence was granted on certain conditions, but the project did not materialize just because a war ended rather abruptly. It was the American Civil War. The boom in trade brought by the war was suddenly over, and there was a financial crash. The city’s economic life was badly disrupted. A large number of firms went into liquidation. The disaster snuffed out the tramway project.
The Times of India of 27th November 1871 carried an announcement put out by the Bombay Omnibus Company. According to it, a bus service was proposed to be run between the Malbar Hill and Fort in the mornings and evenings for the convenience of the Europeans residing on the hill. The monthly season ticket was priced at thirty pounds. However, owing to unsatisfactory response, the scheme had to be dropped, as the Times of India of 8th December reported.
A few years had to elapse before a similar project was mooted. This time it went through rather smoothly, and the Bombay Tramway Company Limited was formally set up in 1873. The contract granted the Municipality the right to buy up the concern after the first twenty years, or after every period of seven years thereafter. After this contract was entered into between the Bombay Tramway Company and the Municipality, the Government of Bombay enacted the Bombay Tramways Act, 1874, under which the Company was licensed to run a tramway service in the city. The tram-cars were of two kinds : those drawn by one horse and those drawn by two. The Company started with a fleet of twenty cars and two hundred horses. When it closed down in 1905, it had as many as 1,360 horses.
Single compartment electric tram fare was brought down to two annas; it dropped down to one anna in 1899.
In the early days of the horse-drawn tramway, the novelty of it provided quite a thrill. But that was not the only reaction. There were those, like the drivers of ‘shigrams’ and ‘reklas’, who were agitated as they saw in this new means of transport a threat to their occupation. Some of them would express their protest and displeasure by inserting dust and bits of stone in the grooves of the rails so that they should be clogged, and the wheels should go off the rails. Naughty boys would enjoy themselves thus obstructing the tram-cars. Once, as reported, a man playing the trick was caught redhanded by the Company’s officials, and they administered a sound thrashing to him on the spot without bothering about the formality of an inquiry. They say the passengers in the tram-car thus sought to be obstructed were quite pleased with what they said was a proper lesson.
However, partly because of such incidents and partly because it was an unfamiliar vehicle, the tram-car was not at first received with the enthusiasm shown for the railway. The Company had to make a special effort to persuade the public that this mode of transport was fast and smooth, and that it was cheap too. The persuasion included free rides in the first few days. On the third day (12th May, 1874), the Times of India expressed its doubts about the prospects of the tramway. It offered some suggestions too : The vehicle must move faster; the fares must be brought down; more interesting than either, passengers should be prohibited from resting their feet on the seats. Characteristically for the times, a section of the educated people was suspicious of the innovations imposed by the white foreigners, and to them the tram-car was one such innovation. Dadoba Pandurang Tarkhadkar, renowned grammarian voiced the sentiments of that section when he wrote : "Our people here are in distress for lack of employment, and yet these seven or eight years some wealthy fellows from Boston in far-away America have been carrying on this business of running for hire vehicles are dwinding in number, and these fellows, sitting in America, are regularly making hundreds of rupees, by putting the wool over our eyes. The people of Mumbai should have at least resolved not to travel by these tram-cars, just as the people of Calcutta and Madras did. Instead, they are helping bring greater poverty to the country".
This is an extract from Shishubodh. Some eighty years later, in 1964, a move was organised to ask people to desist from travelling by buses as a protest against a rise in fares. It too met with a poor response.
It was only to be expected that people should air their grievances and suggestions about the tramway service through the newspapers. An interesting letter of the kind appeared in the Times of India of 28th July 1903. It would seem that there was a regulation that only four passengers should occupy a bench, and not five as usual, if even one of them was a woman. A soldier was fined fifty rupees for breaking the regulation. Referring to this, the letter-writer complained that officials of the company were habitual offenders in this respect. He appealed to the administration to clarify the regulation. In this connection, one Mr.E.W. Fox suggested in the Times of India of 1st June 1905 that the city fathers should get the company to limit the seats to four per bench. Obviously Mr.Fox had a sense of humour, for he added : "Five persons to a bench means friction. If such friction were to generate static electricity who would be responsible for it? But why should the city-fathers worry about it? They go about in their private vehicles as if they are Lords of the Bombay Parliament".
The Municipality could have taken over the Company in 1894 - at the end of twenty-one years - as stipulated by the contract, but it waived the right. This gave the Company a further seven years’ - till 1901.
In 1899, the Company applied to the Municipality for permission to run its tram-cars on electricity. The application inter alia pleaded that considering the heavy expenditure the company would have to incur on the new project, the Municipality should waive its right of taking it over in 1901. But even before the application was disposed of, the Municipality decided to exercise its right to take over the Company. This gave rise to several legal complications, but finally in 1905, a newly formed concern, "The Bombay Electric Supply and Tramways Company limited" bought the Bombay Tramway Company. During its thirty-one year’s tenure, the old company had served the city well with its network of tramway routes. From Museum, one route went south-west to Sassoon Dock, another north-east to Wadi Bunder, yet others to the central part of Mumbai, to points like Lalbaug. Jacob Circle and Opera House. Two east-west routes ran from Carnac Bunder to Dhobi Talao, and from the J.J. Hospital to Grant Road. On the first day (9th May 1874) of its service the number of passengers carried was 451 and the takings amounted to Rs.85. On the last day (1st August 1905) the number of passengers was 71,947 and the takings amounted to Rs.4,260. These figures should give a fair idea of how the service had expanded during the years.
Before starting work on a new route the Tramway Company had to secure the approval of the Municipality and the permission of the Government. These were given after due consideration was accorded to the views and recommendations of all those concerned with the new route. The correspondence all this entailed, and unexpected difficulties, often confined the project of a new route to files for years together. By then sometimes the need for the route would become so urgent that the Municipality had to step in and pursue the project on its own. One such project was of the Girgaon Naka-Gowalia Tank route. It was first sent up by the Company to the Municipality in 1905 for approval, which came promptly. But the improvement Trust had just planned a road from Chowpatty to Gowalia Tank. The Government directed that work on the new tramway route should not begin till the road was laid. It was also necessary to strengthen the Frere Bridge over which the route was to pass. The correspondence started, and had kept swelling when the World War started. The War ended, but the project had not moved. It did not move for a few more years.
Finally the route came to be regarded as a ‘must’, and in 1922 it was the Municipality which started putting pressure on the Company to start work on it. Meanwhile, further difficulties cropped up. The estimate of the cost of the project had become out of date. Prices had soared, and the project was not financially viable any longer. At last, with some reluctance, the Company agreed to take up the project, and the track was laid by April 1924. But another two years had to elapse before the route was opened to traffic. This was because there was difference of opinion about the fare to be charged on the route. The route had its first tramcar on 11th February 1926.
Mumbaites gave a warm welcome to the electric tramcar. The service was formally inaugurated on 7th May, 1907 by Shri Vallabhdas Thakersey, the then Chairman of the Municipality. Among those who attended the function were Mr.Sheppard, the Municipal Commissioner, Mr. R.M. Philips, Deputy Police Commissioner, Sir Bhalchandra Krishna Bhatwadekar, the Collector of Customs, Sir Harikisondas Narottamdas, Shri Ibrahim Rahimtulla and Members of the Municipality, besides important officials of the Company like the Managing Director, Mr.Remington, and the Chief Engineer, Mr.Cooper.
At five-thirty that afternoon the first electric tram-car, specially decorated for the occasion, started from outside the Municipal Office, went as far as the Crawford Market, and returned to the point from where it had left. After this ceremonious, inaugural run, four tram-cars kept plying on the various routes till eleven in the night. People jostled one another to board them.
The service started regularly from the next day. It drew nothing but praise : praise for its speed, its comfort, and its low fares. But, unfortunately, there occurred a bad accident on the very first day. A passenger, named Shri Malvankar, fell off a running tram; one of his legs got under a wheel. The leg had to be amputated.
The accident was much talked about, and much written about too. Suggestions were sent in telling the Company how to prevent such accidents. One was that there should be something more effective than a chain on the ‘wrong’ side of the tram-car to stop intending passengers from getting in that way. Another was that there should be more stops than the six provided on the route from Colaba to Bori Bunder. And many more of the kind. But not all of the letters carried complaints and suggestions. There were bouquets too-plenty of them.
VARIATIONS AND MODIFICATIONS
Three compartment trams The order for the first electric tram-car had been placed with the Brush Electrical CompanyofLondon. The vehicle arrived in Mumbai in January 1906. There used to be an Upper Class in the tram-cars; it was removed after some time.
By 1910 the service was up against a problem no city transport service can hope to escape for long. The problem was of the rush-hour traffic. The commuters being mostly office goers, the pressure used to be particularly unmanageable immediately before and after the office-hours. There were not enough trams to cope with the rush. Trailers were attached to the trams, but they brought little relief. So the Company approached the Municipality for permission to run a triple car. But the Police Commissioner objected to it; and the proposal fell through. The pressure on the service kept on mounting. The next proposal was to use space which would provide for standees. It was approved by the Municipality. It worked till January 1914, when the approval was withdrawn.
The passing years aggravated the problem of rush-hour traffic. The solution next thought of was the double-decker tramcar. It was accepted, and the first vehicles of the kind appeared on Mumbai’s roads in Spetember, 1920.
THE SCHEDULE OF FARES
Fixing the fares used to be a constant ground for disagreement between the Company and the Municipality. The latter would seek to keep the fares low, and the former would argue at length how such fares were uneconomical and plead for a raise. The Managing Director of the Company issued a statement in 1909 which gave the fare-structures for local transport services in Europe, America and Australia, and in Calcutta to prove that the tram-fares in Mumbai were the lowest. He made other points too : The salaries paid to the Company’s employees and the other expenses were higher than those for a transport organization in any other city in India. More comfort and conveniences were available to the commuters than under the previous tramway organization. The service was more frequent, and speedier too.
With all such pleas and petitions proving of no avail, the Company applied itself to increasing its efficiency without affecting its profits. Mr.James Dalrymple of the Glasgow Tramways Corporation was invited as an expert to recommend ways of effecting economy and other improvements in the administration of the Company, after a detailed scrutiny of its working Mr.Dalrymple’s recommendations were as follows :
(1) The tramway service is excellent, except for its slowness. Between leaving the depot and returning to it, a tram-car moves, on the average, at only 4.8 miles per hour. It is only in the case of horse-drawn trams that so slow a speed can be defended. The present rate must be improved by at least one mile per hour. This will have to be done immediately. The people of Mumbai may not tolerate so sluggish a service for long. The Company should reckon with the fact that the local railway services are soon to be electrified.
(2) There must be a proper time-table for the trams. When it is enforced, conductors and drivers will not have unduly long breaks, as at present, after the vehicle has reached the terminus.
(3) There are more drivers and conductors in the company than needed.
(4) Not enough care seems to be taken by the officials of the Company to the appearance of the vehicles. This is not proper. The vehicles must have a smart turnout, paint and all. Bright-coloured tramcars will draw pasengers, and swell the income.
(5) The uniform worn by the running staff must be tidy. The starter must see to it that no one is allowed to be on duty if his uniform is slovenly.
(6) The far : A flat rate of one anna for any journey is the lowest fare you have anywhere. The cost of laying a new track is very high. The income from the route may be too small for it. Therefore careful thought must be given to every proposal to start a new route. In this connection, the trolley and the motor bus are worthwhile alternatives for consideration.
This brief story of the early tramways in Mumbai will not be complete without a mention of some of their characteristic features.
From the beginning the city transport was modelled on that of London. Horse-drawn tram-cars had started running in London in 1870. Four years later Mumbai adopted that mode of transport. This was the first time Indian city had such an organization. Mumbai was the first again in the use of double-decker tramcars. Thus Bombay Tramways all along gave the lead in securing effcieincy and punctuality in the service, and in charging low fare.
Change is the law of life. It has been very much so in modern life. Every aspect of human activity has to keep pace with the times. Mumbai’s tramways were no exception. They kept growing and changing in response to the environment with new routes to serve localities that had grown, enlarged capacity to meet greater pressure of traffic, better designed vehicles, and reforms in administration. Then another World War was on us. The city’s population suddenly started soaring, as never before. And soon it all gathered at such a pace that the tramcar was out of step, and seemed out of date, and it faded out one night. That was the night of 31st March, 1964. Those modest, if rather noisy, vehicles, had devotedly carried Bombayman up and down the city for ninety years. The last of them, packed to capacity, left Bori Bunder for Dadar at ten that night. Crowds lined the route all the way at that late hour to bid farewell to the much loved, if old-fashioned, transport of the common man. It was a sad farewell. --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
One of Mr.Dalrymples’ recommendations, made in 1925, was that the trolley bus should be tried out on some routes. However, the idea had occurred to Mr.Remington as early as in 1913. But with the outbreak of World War I, it had to be shelved like many other bright ideas. It was taken down from the shelf in 1919, and a trolley bus service between the Dadar Tram Terminus and King’s Circle was planned as an experimental measure. But the plan ran into difficulties, with its financial aspects causing disagreement with the Municipality. And finally, it was given up.
First bus in Mumbai
(1) It is not tied to the rails as the tram-car is. (2) The vehicles can be quickly moved to the points where they are urgently needed. (3) It can operate on relatively narrow roads.
The Great Debate started in 1913 : the trolley bus or the motor bus? And it went on cheerfully till 1926, with the Municipality, the B.E.S.T. Company, the Commissioner of Police and the others concerned with the problem joining the fray. Finally, 10th February 1926, the Company plumped for the motor bus. It was to run, as an experiment, on three routes. The routes were : Afghan Church to the Crawford Market, Dadar Tram Terminus to King’s Circle, via Parsi Colony, and Opera House to Lalbag via Lamington Road and Arthur Road. The approval of the Commissioner of Police and the Municipality having been obtained, the service on the first of these routes was scheduled to operate from 15th July 1926. The Times of India of 14th July carried the following announcement.
PUBLIC NOTICES THE BOMBAY ELECTRIC SUPPLY AND TRAMWAYS CO. LTD. MOTOR BUS SERVICE On and from to-morrow, 15th instant, a regular 10 minutes service will be run from AFGHAN CHURCH to CRAWFORD MARKET via WODEHOUSE ROAD and HORNBY ROAD from 6.30 to 23.20
As scheduled, Mumbai saw its first bus run on 15th July 1926. It received a hearty welcome from the people, just as the electric tram had. The Times of India of 16th July reported the inauguration of the bus service as under :
The Bombay Tramway Company’s new omnibus service commenced on Thursday, as already announced. A fleet of four buses plied from Middle Colaba to Crawford Market and back at an interval of about 10 minutes. The public took to the service favourably and, even allowing some margin for the initial rush due to the novelty of the thing, the public patronage appeared to be encouraging. The drive from Middle Colaba to Crawford Market occupied about 10 minutes and was generally comfortable.
An officer of the Company told a representative of the Times of India that the Company were closely watching the service with a view to making it perfectly agreeable to the public. Any of the slightest inconvenience felt by the public, he said, would be attended to by the authorities.
The buses will be disinfected everyday and kept neat and tidy. The quickness with which the distance is covered, the short intervals at which the buses are available and the regularity of the service, not to speak of the cheapness of the fares compared with a taxi or gharry, are factors which the public are likely to appreciate. Should there be adequate response and should the public demand warrant it, the Company are prepared to increase the number of buses. Two more are already in course of construction. The Company are also contemplating to run the service to the Parsi Colony at Dadar and it is expected the scheme will be materialised in a month’s time".
As was only to be expected, there were protests against the service by those whose interests were affected by it, just as many years earlier the introduction of the horse-drawn tram had provoked drivers of ‘reklas’ and horse-drawn vehicles into agitation. This time it was the ‘victoria-drivers and taxi-drivers’. But this agitation was mild and constitutional. The taxi-owners petitioned to the Commissioner of Police to give them protection against this fresh encroachment on their field of activity. They complained that the cheapness of the bus fare and the proximity of the bus stops to the taxi stands were depriving them of their income, and argued that the spread of the bus service to all the parts of the city would ruin the taxi trade, and also vest in the Tramway Company the practical monopoly of vehicular communication in the city.
The Police Commissioner rejected the taxi-owners’ representation firmly, if also persuasively. He stated that the competition of the bus service was absolutely legitimate, and that the police were under no obligation to help one class of public conveyance against another. He also pointed out that in all the big cities of the world taxi-cabs are in demand side by side with the buses, and that the class of people who ride in buses are different from those who use taxis. He added that if any kind of conveyance was going to suffer it was the victoria.
The victoria-owners followed the taxi-owners in their attempt to have the bus service withdrawn. The Chairman of the Victoria-Owners’ Association sent up a petition to the Standing Committee of the Municipal Corporation in this regard. It expressed the fear that the bus would soon drive the victoria off the roads, as the latter had already been facing serious difficulties on account of the rise in prices.
This petition too was ineffectual. Bus service started on 15th July 1926. The Times of India of 20th July 1926 commented on the bus service in its ‘Current topics’ column. It pointed out that buses were a particularly convenient mode of transport during the rainy season. It would seem from the note that in the first few days the service was largely patronised by the ‘Sahibs’. The taxi was expensive, and one could not be sure of getting it when one needed it. The victoria, of course, was much too slow a vehicle. Moreover, it had no fixed schedule of fares. All this seemed to make the Times feel confident that the bus was soon going to be popular.
This confidence of the Times was certainly not misplaced. The bus service did better and better, and within a year it started expanding. From January 1927, the Company started hiring out buses for private use.
Like the tram, the Mumbai bus established several ‘firsts’. For the first time in the country, the city had a bus running on diesel oil, a double decker bus and an eight-foot wide bus.
In the early days the bus fare used to be from two annas to six annas. There were no half fares for children till 1928. For some time return tickets used to be issued.
Another interesting feature : Between 1928 and 1930 each bus carried a letter-box for the convenience of the passengers, and the postal service as well.
PEOPLE TAKE TO THE BUS Tourist Bus
he people of Mumbai received the bus with enthusiasim, but it took quite some time before this means of conveyance really established itself. For several years, it was looked upon as transport for the upper middle class. Those were the days when the tram was the poor man’s transport. It carried you all the way from Sassoon Dock to Dadar for a mere anna and a half. The bus fare for the same journey was four annas. The organisation had to struggle to make the ends meet by drawing more and more passengers. However, they did come in growing numbers and the company kept expanding its service with confidence. In its first year - that is, by 31st December 1926 - about six lakhs passengers used the service; for 1927, the figure was about 38 lakhs. The Company started its operations with 24 buses. In 1927, the fleet had expanded to 49.
The next few years were uneasy years, with strikes (1928), communal riots (1929) and, most important of all, the Civil Disobedience Movement (1930-32). Inevitably, these events affected the transport system. 1930 was a particularly difficult year. The number of passengers carried by the service dropped rather suddenly, what with the strikes, the frequent ‘hartals’ and the trade depression. The Company had to be on its toes to meet all these difficulties. It also kept up its efforts to provide a faster and more comfortable service. In March 1930 concessional rates were introduced on short journeys. This worked immediately, sending up the number of passengers. It also enabled the company to fit in more trips per vehicle. Even then the income kept lagging behind the expenditure. But the company bravely kept the service going, for with its sense of commitment to the citizens it had always looked beyond the balance sheet. And it soon turned the corner. More and more passengers were attracted to the bus service. In those days of economic depression a large number of car-owners found that this public transport suited their pockets better.
In response to the pleas made by the Government and the Municipal Corporation, the Company extended its service to the northern part of the city in 1934. The first routes to be added were : (1) Byculla Bridge to King’s Circle, via Dadar and the Parsi Colony. (2) Lalbaug to Worli via Curry Road and Fergusson Road (3) Dadar to Mahim. Whatever doubts the Company had about public patronage were now set at rest. The number of passengers carried by the buses kept steadily increasing, and so did the income. The total expenditure, which had not increased at the same rate, was distributed over more vehicles. The Company was soon in a position to reduce the fares, particularly for the longer journeys. The bus routes were reorganised with a view to meeting the needs of the travelling public. An interesting experiment was the issue of a Whole Day Ticket during the Christmas Holidays. The ticket entitled one to travel anywhere in the city on the day - and that for just twelve annas. Started in 1935, this scheme achieved great popularity. It was withdrawn when the Second World War broke out.
Double-decker buses were introduced in 1937 in order to cope better with the growing traffic. The single-deck vehicle carried 36 passengers, the double-decker could take as many as 58. This, and its sheer size and look made the double-decker popular as soon as it was put on the roads.
The Second World War started in 1939. It had a sharp and immediate impact on the life in a city like Mumbai. There were the inevitable shortages. Road transport was hit by the shortage of tyres and the rationing of petrol. Owners of motor-cars found it rough going, and many of them switched over to the bus service. This created a problem for the service : too many passengers and too few buses. It was almost impossible to procure more vehicles. And the cost of running the buses, and maintaining them, kept on mounting. The Company however faced this situation resolutely.
Ways had to be devised to minimise the inconvenience caused to the passengers, and they were. The structure of the single-deck bus, for example, was so modified as to provide seats on top of it - without a roof, above them, of course. This enlarged the capacity of the bus to sixty, but the unlucky ones riding on the top were exposed to sun and rain. The sun they could brave, but not the rain. Why not put up a temporary roof, suggested the Regional Transport Authority. But the Engineering Department of the Company was sceptical : Could the chassis take all the additional weight? This should give some idea of the woeful insufficiency of buses in relation to the volume of traffic. The Company then came out with a novel proposal. The office in the city, it suggested, should stagger their working hours so that the pressure on the service during rush hours would be distributed a little more evenly. The pressure had, by pre-war standards, become almost alarming. Intending passengers would storm a bus when it had hardly pulled up at a stop. There would be sharp exchanges between conductors and passengers, and they did not always remain purely verbal. As a result the buses were often held. up. The overcrowding put a strain on the vehicles, and they were soon in a sorry state. Something had to be done about it, and that too quite soon. The Motor Vehicles Act had no provision for imposing a limit on the number of passengers a bus might carry. The very necessity for the provision brought it into existence before long. Accordingly no more than six standees were allowed on the lower deck. Those breaking the regulation were liable to prosecution. The regulation, a creation of the war years, became a permanent feature.
LIMITED BUS SERVICE
Limited stop service
A trolley bus service for the city was thought up for the first time by Mr. Remington in 1913. Once again, in 1937 one Shri S.R. Prasanna proposed to the Mayor that the trams and motor-buses should be replaced by trolley buses. The Mayor forwarded the proposal to the B.E.S.T. Company for its opinion. Scrapping of all the trams and motor-buses and acquiring a whole fleet of trolley-buses to take their place would have landed the Company in very heavy expenditure. Apart from it, it would have been impossible for a trolley-bus service to cope with the heavy traffic in a city like Mumbai. There was also a practical difficulty : Unlike a tram car, a trolley bus cannot change its direction without actually turning round. A trolley bus service would have been financially feasible only when new rails had to be laid to replace the worn-out ones on all the routes. But with the efficient way in which the tram tracks were maintained, this was not likely to happen in the near future. As for their capacity, three trolley buses would have been required to carry the load of two tram cars. The much appreciated convenience of ‘Transfer Tickets’ would have to be withdrawn. The fares would have to be increased A trolley-bus is more prone to breakdowns than is a tram car, as its electrical mechanism is more complicated than that of a tram car. If a road was under repairs the trolley bus service using it would have to be suspended. These and other objections of the kind were raised by the Company. They worked, and the trolley bus project once again came to nothing. And it all confirmed that the motor bus had come to stay and would stay for a long, long time in Mumbai.
The B.E.S.T. Company launched its motor-bus service on 15th July 1926 with a modest fleet of twenty-four vehicles. On 7th August 1947, the Municipal Corporation took over the Company. During the twenty-one years in between, the fleet had swollen to 242 vehicles.
Mumbai saw electric lighting for the first time in 1882. The place was the Crawford Market. The following year the Municipality entered into an agreement with the Eastern Electric Light and Power Company. Under the agreement, the Company was to provide electric lighting in the Crawford Market and on some of the roads. But the Company went into liquidation the following year, and the Market reverted to gas lighting. Thus ended the first scheme to provide electric lighting in the city.
Another scheme was taken up for consideration in 1891; and in 1894 the Municipality sanctioned funds for installing a plant to generate electricity. Thecurrent was to be supplied to the Municipal offices and Crawford Market. It was, and the two places were fitted up with electric lights. But by 1906, with the wear and tear of all those years, the machinery at the plant was in a bad way. The current would stop off and on. So, once again, Crawford Market went back to gas lighting. The Municipal offices, however, arranged to get the electricity it needed from the newly established "Bombay Electric Supply & Tramways Company".
This Company was originally established in England, as a subsidiary of the British Electric Traction Company, which had been trying since 1903 to bring electricity to Mumbai. The Brush Electrical Engineering Company was its agent. It applied to the Municipality and the Government of Bombay in 1904 for a license to supply electricity to the city. With the municipality approving the Company’s schedule of rates, the Government issued the necessary license : "The Bombay Electric License, 1905. When the Bombay Electric Supply & Tramways Company came into being, it entered into a contract with the original licensee to take over the right of supplying electricity to the city.
The Bombay Electric Supply & Tramways Company (B.E.S.T.) set up a generating station at Wadi Bunder in November 1905 to provide power for the tramway. The capacity of the station was 4,300 kws. The needs of the city and of the tramway in respect of electric power were bound to grow. At a rough estimate the full capacity of the Wadi Bunder plant was not going to be adequate beyond 1908. The plant could not be expanded much either. So it was decided to set up another generating station, one with a higher capacity, near Mazgaon (Kussara). It started functioning in 1912. The pace at which the demand for electricity grew can be gauged from the fact that within three years the Wadi Bunder Station proved to be inadequate. The tram service had been expanding, and more and more power was needed for the industrial and commercial establishments, as well as for domestic purposes.
Within a year since the B.E.S.T. Company started generating electricity, the Government proposed to issue a license to another concern for the supply of electric power to the city. It was the Tata Company. Its capital and resources were such that the B.E.S.T. Company could hardly stand up against it, as a competitor. The B.E.S.T. Company had cause to worry as to what was going to happen to what it had set up, and its shareholders. Its interests were going to be very badly affected if the Tatas were given a license. It therefore asked for the appointment of a Local Inquiry Committee, under the Electricity Act of 1903, to which it would submit its objections in detail. The Chairman of the Municipality too expressed himself against the proposal to grant a license to the Tatas. There were informal discussions between the representatives of the Tatas and Mr.Remington, Managing Director of the B.E.S.T. Company, with a view to finding out if the differences regarding the proposed license could be settled. A settlement was finally arrived at. Under it, only those whose requirement of electric power was above 5,00,000 units were to be served by the Tatas. This agreement was to be effective for a period of ten years, to begin with. The Tatas were given a license, and they started generating electricity in 1911. The B.E.S.T. Company itself drew on the Tatas when its own production was inadequate. The generating station at Kussara was, of course, functioning. In 1918, owing to insufficient rainfall, there was not enough water in the dam which fed the Tata Plant. The B.E.S.T. Company had to come to the help of the Tatas to maintain their power supply.
Though the B.E.S.T. Company had to take some of the electric power it needed from the Tatas, it was trying to be self sufficient in this respect. But with the outbreak of the First World War, the whole situation changed. The price of coal shot up and the generation of electricity became an unprofitable business. This led the Company to close down its Kussara Station, and it began to get all the power it needed from the Tatas.
The agreement, under which this was done, was made in 1923. It was to be in operation for a period of fifteen years, initially. It could then be extended by a five years’ notice for further ten years. After that an annual renewal of the agreement was provided for. The supply of power under the agreement actually started in January 1925. When the first renewal was due there arose sharp differences of opinion between the Tatas and the B.E.S.T. Company. The most important of these related to those customers who needed more than five lakh units. The Company maintained that the condition in respect of such customers applied only to factories. Whether those whose needs of power increased to more than five lakh units in course of time were customers of the Tatas or the Company was a disputed point. About the same time, the Bombay Port Trust invited tenders for the supply of power. This set off a fierce competition between the Tatas and the Company for the contract. The Tatas quoted a lower rate than they were charging the Company, and the Company quoted almost the same rate. But the rate could have only meant a loss. And the Tatas would have run into legal trouble too, for the Port Trust was not ‘factory’ as required by the old agreement. Moreover, the rate quoted by the Tatas was unfair to the Company. Both the sides now recognised the need for a compromise, and the dispute was settled by leaving to the Company all the customers, except factories, who required more than five lakh units.
Even the Port Trust, which indirectly served as the cause of the compromise had to secure a ‘distributing license’ from the Government to avoid possible legal complications.
1905 to 1911 formed the first stage of the use of electricity in Mumbai. It was not so easily available then. And, of course, the common man could not just afford it. An electric bulb cost two rupees. To have electric lights in your home was status symbol. The luxury was within the means of only the affluent, and most of even those were not mentally prepared to bring this strange thing into their homes.
The second stage was from 1911 to 1920. It made the people of Mumbai fairly familiar with electricity. Electric lighting, everybody agreed, was a good thing, but the importance of electric power to industries was yet to be accepted. The textile mills and other industries still continued to use steam and oil engines for the power they needed. Once electric motors of high power were available, the resistance of these industrialists to recognise electricity as a blessing and a convenience weakened. The Company appointed load canvassers to visit homes and factories for this purpose. The impact of their persuasion was particularly registered by the domestic consumption, which went up considerably. Electrical appliances used in the kitchen and elsewhere drew more and more people to them.
The next phase - 1930 to 1947 - saw tremendous progress in the supply of electricity. A variety of electrical appliances were to be had in plenty. The common man realised what a great help electricity was, and yet, how cheap. The efforts of the B.E.S.T. had achieved their objective. An important development was the setting up of a show-room.
A show-room was set up in 1926 on the ground floor of Electric House, to give advice to customers on the use of domestic electrical appliances and of electric power, in general. The service was free of charge; but it was aimed at promoting the use of electricity. This service was modelled on similar lines as in England.
A good deal of useful work was achieved by the showroom, apart from instructing people in the use of gadgets. For example, it designed a special kind of electric iron for dhobis, and the tribe of dhobis took to it enthusiastically. Similarly, the showroom fabricated for individual consumers such apparatus as air blowers, sizing tanks and drying cabinets, according to specifications suited to their particular needs. These were not easily available in the market, as the demand for them was limited. With the import restrictions brought by the Second World War, such apparatus were even more sought after, and therefore the service offered by the show-room was even more appreciated.
The Lighting Bureau of the Showroom used to give special advice with regard to the lighting arrangements in offices and factories. The experts on the staff of the showroom would visit the place to see things for themselves before giving their advice. The showroom also started renting out electrical appliances. Refrigerators, which were included in the scheme, became so popular, right from the beginning, that the demand for them could hardly be met. Soon after the inauguration of the showroom. The Times of India of 14th July, 1926 carried a letter about the new service from a reader who signed himself ‘Electric’.
The letter said : ELECTRIFYING THE HOME To The Editor of The Times of India, Sir,
The Bombay Electric Supply and Tramways Company deserve to be congratulated on their organisation and speedy inauguration of an up-to-date motor bus service for the City of Bombay. Close upon this comes the news of the arrangements that are being made by the same concern to convert, "the poor men’s cottages into prince’s palaces". The report that the company is shortly opening a "showroom" at their Head Office at Colaba for the demonstration of domestic electrical appliances fit for Indian conditions will be received with great joy by all who, though poor, yet possess sufficient "sanitary conscience" to wish to do away once for all with the foul odour of coal and charcoal gas. The millennium does not seem to be far away when one reads that even at "Hackney, one of the most unattractive and depressing parts in London, the local authorities, by assiduous service, have so developed the use of electricity for cooking and heating in these small homes that it is becoming the universal agent, and the supply system contributes between thirty and forty thousand pounds a year to the relief of the rates". But how far the citizens of Bombay will avail themselves of the facilities offered greatly depends upon the efforts the organisers make to spread the "electrical idea" into the home of every family as well as upon the economic efficiency of the "new order of things". - ELECTRIC
It was in July 1921 that the Municipality proposed for the first time that the B.E.S.T. Company should undertake to provide street lighting. A scheme was drawn up for installing electric lamps at 47 street junctions. On 1st August 1923 the first lot of 36 lamps was on. They had tungsten filaments. Sodium vapour lamps were tried out on the Horn by Vellard (now called Dr.Annie Besant Road) in 1938.
The Indian Electricity Act of 1903 was repealed in 1910, and the new Act took its place. In 1922 the Indian Electricity Rules came into force. The State secured greater control on electric power. The generation of electricity came to be ranked among the major industries. One of the Rules required every concern producing electricity to supply it to whatsoever applied for it.
WHAT ELECTRICITY COST TO THE CONSUMER
In its application to the Municipality for permission to supply electricity, the Brush Electrical Engineering Company proposed the following tariff :
(1) For lighting : eight annas per unit upto a specific limit (maximum demand). Three annas per unit for consumption in excess of it.
(2) For Power for Industries : eight annas per unit upto a specific limit (maximum demand). An anna and a half per unit for consumption in excess of it.
The tariff was approved. However, the Company’s method of fixing the specific limit was quite complicated. Somehow the pace of growth of consumption fell short of expectations. So an expert was invited to examine the tariff. Following his recommendations the rates were reduced in 1907. For lighting, the basic rate was kept at eight annas, but the subsequent rate was reduced from three annas per unit to two annas; and for industrial power the rate was slashed down to a uniform two annas per unit.
But the Company’s billing procedure continued to be complicated. And the consumers too continued to complain. Finally, in 1908, the Tramways Committee of the Municipality, which had Sri Pherozeshah Mehta as its Chairman, invited Mr.Remington, Managing Director of the B.E.S.T. Company, for a discussion of the matter. Apart from the billing the rate schedule was unfair to those consumers who did not have to keep their lights on late into the night. For them, electric lights cost one and a half times as much as gas lights. The tramway Company therefore wanted the specific limit to go and a uniform rate to be introduced. There were further discussions, and proposals and counter-proposals were bandied, for a good two years till a new tariff emerged. It was as under :
(1) Four and a half annas per unit for lighting, fans and small appliances, per every 250 units consumed in a month, one per cent discount in the bill, 35 per cent being the maximum discount so allowed.
(2) 3 annas per unit for hospitals. (3) 2 annas per unit for industries.
This schedule was based on the assumption that the payment for the bills would be made at the Head Office of the Company on the Colaba Causeway and that it would be punctual. It was therefore specially stated in the schedule that those consumers who failed to pay their bills promptly would have to pay a deposit.
This schedule was introduced as an experimental measure for two years. It was then confirmed by the Tramways Committee after careful deliberations.
An interesting suggestion was made by the Greaves Cotton Company in 1912. It was regarding the use of electricity to supply heat. If concession rates were offered, the Company pointed out, dhobis would readily use electricity for ironing clothes, and so too would many industrialists. The prospect persuaded the B.E.S.T. Company to lower the rate to one anna per unit for such consumers. This was in 1913.
About the same time Mumbai had its first cinema houses, Four of them - the Alexandra, the Coronation, the Edward and the Gaiety - used to get their electric supply from the B.E.S.T. Company. It first struck the management of the Edward that putting up their own generating plant would mean a cheaper current. It promptly said that it would discontinue the use of its electric power unless a concession in the rate was granted. The Company, realizing what the loss of such customers would mean, promptly reconsidered the matter, and brought down the rate to three annas a unit. Electric illuminations at weddings were coming into vogue; they also were put in a special category for concessional rates. In 1915, the rate for cinema houses was further brought down from three annas to two annas per unit.
Then there was the shortage of electric meters in 1917. It meant that no new connections could be given. Undeterred, the Company announced that it would charge a rupee per point. If your flat had four points, you would have to pay four rupees to the Company every month, no matter how much current you consumed. The rate had been fixed on the basis of the average of all the bills for six months. This exposed the Company to the possibility of a loss, but it preferred some loss of revenue to the loss of consumers, the only alternative in the situation.
Soon the cost of generating electricity started going up, and in 1922 the B.E.S.T. Company approached the Municipality for permission to levy a 15 per cent surcharge on its bills for the supply of electricity. The Tramways Committee of the Municipality refused to oblige. In 1930, the Municipality asked the B.E.S.T. Company to lower its rates on the ground that an essential item like electricity should be available to the people at a cheap rate. The Calcutta Electricity Company was cited as an example in this respect.
The Company’s stand in this respect was explained by its General Manager in his letter to the Municipality in 1930. The points he made were : (1) The rates in force had been fixed in 1910, and there had been no increase in them since. In Bombay, electricity was the one item of which the price had not gone up for years together. (2) The Company got its electricity from the Tatas at so much per unit and it supplied it to its consumers as so much per unit. It was naively thought that the difference between the two rates was the Company’s profit per unit. It was not all that simple. The voltage of the power received from the Tatas had to be reduced, and this operation cost the Company quite a bit. Then there was the leakage on the lines carrying the current to the consumers. Such wastage ordinarily amounts to 15 per cent. That is, for every 100 units drawn from the Tatas, only 85 actually reached the consumers.
There was yet another point. What profit the company made on the supply of electricity helped it run its tramway service, which charged a flat rate of one anna, the lowest for any transport service in the world, as had been pointed out by Mr.Dalrymple. The bus service too was a liability, but it was being run to supply a real civic need. The attention of the Municipality was drawn to this fact.
Meanwhile, an expert was invited from England to examine the Company’s schedule of rates. He arrived in Mumbai in December 1929. His conclusion was that the rates were generally fair. Some modifications were made in the schedule on the lines suggested by him. Those were the days of a trade depression, and the Company showed its awareness of it by cutting down its rates wherever it could.
The State Government appointed a committee in 1938 to study the Company’s tariff and advise the Government on what the maximum rates should be for the various categories of consumers. The Government accepted the committee’s recommendations and asked the Company to give effect to them from 1st April, 1939. The revised rate were : 2 annas per unit for lighting and fans, three quarters of an anna per unit for electrical appliances; and four annas per month as the meter rent. There was a similar reduction in the rates for the other categories.
However, the Government gave an undertaking to the Company that it would not ask for further reduction for five years, and that the Company would be exempted from the Sales Tax during this period.
Any organisation supplying electricity tries to encourage its use by offering attractive rates. So did the B.E.S.T. Company. But it had to abide by its agreement with the Municipality which stipulated that such reduction in rates should apply to all the types of consumers.
The Company’s agreement with the Tatas regarding the supply of electric power was renewed in 1938. Now the power cost less to the Company, which in its turn passed the advantage to the consumers. For example, till 1934 the rate for lights was four annas per unit. By 1938 it had come down to 3 annas upto 14 units, and two and a half annas thereafter. There was a similar lowering of the rates for the other types of consumption.
Electricity was generated for the first time in Mumbai in 1905. During the next forty years its consumption went up from 1,50,000 kilowatts to 60,00,000 kilowatts. Used for a variety of purposes, both domestic and industrial - and that at a low rate - electric power assumed an important place in the life of the people. This underlined the necessity for some kind of a state control on its use, in the interest of the consumer, as well as of the producer.
TAX ON ELECTRICITY
The Government imposed a tax on electricity for the first time in 1932. The tax was imposed to help the State tide over the financial difficulties created by the trade depression, as the official explanation went. However, like several other taxes, the tax on electricity settled down to become a regular feature. The Municipality, as well as many other public bodies, protested strongly against the new imposition, but it was of no avail. With the tax added, electricity bills went up by more than fifty per cent and, as an inevitable result of it, the growth in the consumption of electricity slowed down. In 1936, and again in 1940, representations were made to the Government for repeal of the tax. Actually, the half annas impost of 1932 moved upto three quarters of an anna in 1938, and to an anna and a quarter in 1939! The latter jump was designed to cover the expenditure on prohibition.
This is the story of the early days of electricity in Mumbai - of its arrival and the expansion of its use. In modern life electricity is next only to air, water, food and shelter as a necessity. Electricity is certainly a blessing, but it can very nearly be a curse if man depends too heavily on it. All that he can do is to take every precaution against the blessing turning into a curse.
It has been stated in the last chapter that the B.E.S.T. Company Limited purchased from the Bombay Tramways Company the right to run the road transport services in the city. However, it was not a direct transaction between the Bombay Tramways Company and the B.E.S.T. Company. On behalf of A, B bought some rights from C, and the rights finally came to D - D, in this case, being the B.E.S.T. Company quite a circuitous operation, wasn’t it?
On 12th March 1901, the Municipality informed the Tramways Company that it was taking over the transport system under the agreement concluded between the Company and the Municipality on 12th March 1873. Simultaneously, by a contract, the civic body gave the Brush Electrical Company of London the sole right to run an electric tram service in the city as well as to supply electricity. The Tramways Company then filed a suit, its plea being that the Municipality had not given it a proper notice as required by the agreement between them. But the plea failed, although the matter went up in appeal to the Privy Council. Meanwhile, on 27th June, 1905, the Bombay Electric Supply and Tramways Company was established in London under the English Companies Act, and on 22nd July 1905, it was registered in Mumbai under the Indian Companies Act of 1882. The Bombay Tramways Company, the Bombay Municipality, the Brush Electrical Company and the B.E.S.T. Company signed an Agreement on 31st July 1905 by which the B.E.S.T. Company was granted the monopoly for electric supply and the running of an electric tram service in the city. The B.E.S.T. Company bought the assets of the Tramway Company for Rs.98,50,000. They included horse-drawn tram cars and horses, bullock-carts and bullocks, immovable property, tramway lines and goodwill. The deed of sale was executed in London on 1st August 1905, and the very next day the B.E.S.T. Company started functioning in Mumbai.
Some of the important items in the agreement signed by the Municipality and the B.E.S.T. Company, granting the latter the monopoly of road transport in the city, were as follows :
(1) All the existing tramway routes will be taken over by the Company.
(2) The Company will have the right to start new routes, with the prior approval of the Municipality and the permission of the government.
(3) If the Municipality desires that a new route should be started, and the Company is not prepared to lay the track, the Municipality will get it laid at its own expense, and it will be handed over to the Company for operation on mutually agreed conditions.
(4) The tram fare between any two points on the system will be one anna.
(5) The maximum charges for lighting will be six annas per unit.
(6) The Company will be required to provide transport for the Municipality, if necessary. The rates for it will be special. They will cover the cost of the electric energy consumed, the wear of the machinery, and the incidental expenditure on the transport, and no more, Transporting night soil will not however be included in this agreement.
(7) For the existing routes the ground rent will be rupees three thousand per mile for a double track, and rupees two thousand per mile for a single track. When new routes are started, the rent will be fifty per cent less.
(8) The Municipality will have the right to purchase the Company 42, 56 or 63 years after the date of the agreement. Notice of intention to purchase will have to be given at least six months in advance. If there is no mutual agreement on the price to be paid, the matter will be left to the decision of an arbitrator. If the Municipality exercises the right of purchase after 42 years, it will pay, as compensation to the Company, rupees forty lakhs, over and above the price; after 56 years the compensation will be twenty lakhs, and after 63 years nil.
THE B.E.S.T. BECOMES MUMBAI-BASED
The B.E.S.T. Company had been established in England under the Companies Act of that country. Its registered office was in London and its Board of Management met there. As a result, the Company had to pay income-tax to the British Exchequer on the profits it earned in India, and as it was registered in Mumbai it had to pay a similar tax in this country too. This double taxation hit the shareholders in India rather badly. The Directors of the Company in London, drawing the attention of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to this in 1909, pointed out the likelihood of the Indian shareholders insisting on shifting the Head Office of the Company to Mumbai. Nothing came of it. And, later the Indian shareholders did insist on the winding up of the B.E.S.T. Company in London. The First world War started about the same time. The rates of the British income tax went up sharply, as did those of the other taxes. This made the double taxation even more unbearable to the Indian shareholders. The Company’s Directors made another fervent plea to the Chancellor of the Exchequer stating that there would soon be no alternative to closing down its London Office. They further argued that the Company made all its purchases in England, thus contributing handsomely to the country’s Treasury. Nothing came of this plea too.
And the London Directors’ apprehensions proved to be right! The Indian shareholders met, with Sir David Sassoon in the Chair, and passed a resolution to the effect that the Board of Directors in London should be abolished and the affairs of the Company should in no way be managed from London.
The British shareholders, meeting in London, passed the following resolution :
(1) The direction, control and management of the company’s affairs will vest in the Mumbai Office, from 1st April 1916, and meetings of every kind of the General Body, the Board of Directors and the shareholders of the Company will be held in Mumbai.
(2) From 1st April 1916 the Board of Directors of the Company will be constituted by Sir David Sassoon, Sir Shapurji Bharucha, Sir Ibrahim Rahimtoola and Mr.G.S. Wardlaw. A Local Board will be set up in London to look after the Company’s legal affairs there.
REORGANIZATION OF THE B.E.S.T. COMPANY
As a result of handling the entire management of the Company from Mumbai the Board of Directors planned to convert the Company’s capital in pound sterling into its corresponding/value in rupees; but, under the Company Law, the only way of achieving it was by winding up the old Company in London and establishing a new one in Mumbai. As the B.E.S.T. Company was registered under the English Companies Act, the law required that the shareholders meet in London in order to wind it up. Thus they met in London on 9th June 1920, and passed a resolution to wind up its affairs. The shareholders in Mumbai met on 30th June 1920, and approved the resolution passed at the London meeting.
The newly established B.E.S.T. Company had a total capital of Rs.3 crore and 90 lakhs, divided into 6 lakh ordinary shares of 50 rupees each, and 1 lakh 80 thousand preference shares of the same value.
The new Company got the formal approval of the Municipality. During the next twenty-seven years it underwent no fundamental changes. It is just a story of expansion. The city kept growing, and the Company’s activities kept pace with it, as was inevitable. The growth of the Company in fact provided a fairly accurate measure of the growth of the city, so closely linked they used to be. So they are even today.
It was an all-round expansion. There were more and more people working in the Company’s head-office, and the need for a spacious enough building for them became more and more pressing. So the Company purchased a plot of land situated on the Ormiston Road, and next to the Electric House, for one lakh and forty-four-thousand rupees from the Municipality to whom it belonged. Soon a modern structure started coming up on the plot.
This office building had Messrs. F. Mekint as the architects and Gannon Dunkeley & Co. as the contractors. The building work was supervised by Shri G.G. Lazaras and Shri K.M. Khareghat, the Company’s engineers.
The new building, named BEST House, was very modern in more than its facade. It was so in a variety of items from the doors and windows to the minor fixtures, not to speak, of course, of the furniture. On the first floor was a spacious auditorium equipped for the screening of films. An upto date device was an electric indicator on the ground floor which repeated, from the name plates outside the chambers of the officers, the ‘engaged’ or ‘out’sign. Near the indicator was the inquiry clerk’s counter. Another special feature was that the entire office building was air-conditioned. it was the first office building in Mumbai with this convenience, and served as a model to many in the years that followed.
The building was ready for occupation in 1936. Into it moved all the departments accommodated in the Electric House till then. Such departments as Consumers’ Services, Cash, Shares, Provident Fund, Audit and Accounts, which had to deal with the public, were housed on the ground floor, and the office of the General Manager on the first floor. The Traffic Department was housed in Electric House. When the BEST House was inaugurated, it received warm praises from the newspapers and leading city architects as a handsome structure.
It was an American who first thought of setting up such a concern in Mumbai to provide electricity and transport. Messrs Sternes Hobart, an American Company, first applied for permission to set it up. That was in 1865. The permission was granted. But it proved to be unavailing, because the economic life of the city was badly upset following the end of the American Civil War. The application was renewed in 1872, but there were two more applicants this time : Messrs. Lawrence and Company, and the British and Foreign Tramway Company.
By 1905, the British seem to have become more alert and enterprising, for in that year a British concern bagged the twin monopoly of supplying electricity and transport to the city. Oddly enough, Mr.Remington, the Managing Director of the Bombay Tramways Company, the American concern, was British and he became the Managing Director of the B.E.S.T. Company.
The B.E.S.T. Company won repute as a model organisation. It served the city well, by efficiently supplying two very real needs of its people. But ‘service’ was no more than a means to it, the end being making profit. And profits were made using every legitimate way! Legally an Indian concern, the B.E.S.T. Company somehow always bore a British impress!. The ‘Sahib’ cast a long shadow on it, - this was understandable, considering those days. All the equipment the Company needed used to be imported from England; so were the technical experts! Even when, after the reorganization, the London Office was closed down, Mr. A.T. Cooper was appointed Agent to the Company in London, in 1924, to make purchases on its behalf. Mr.Cooper had been earlier Managing Engineer of the B.E.S.T. Company. On retirement he went to London, where the Agent’s job seemed to be the very thing for him! There was another assignment for him too as consulting Engineer to the Company! The emoluments were generous; and, of course, there were the other benefits like gratuity and provident fund. Finally on 1st January 1945, Mr.Cooper retired from these posts. But by then, the times had changed. A new era was round the corner. May be because of this, or perhaps because it was more convenient, the London agency of the Company was entrusted to the London Office of an Indian concern, the Tata Company.
The Company had "Sahibs’ raj" till 7th August 1947, and that not merely in its administration. Even the social and festive occasions showed it. The New Year was ushered in with a ball dance in a big way, and a large number of Indian officers joined it, several of them with dutiful zest! Nowadays the Dassera is celebrated in the Head Office with lovely rangoli patterns decorating the floor. Times have changed indeed! One ‘Peel Sahib’ was the lord in the Kingsway Depot area. The Officers’ Quarters now house twelve or thirteen families. In those days, just three officers used to occupy all the space between themselves, each one being allotted about three thousand square feet of area! Even their poultry enjoyed spacious accommodation, right next to the masters’ flats. To enable Peel Sahib to reach the Workshop directly from his residence, a special staircase was put up.
This is not intended to cavil at it all, but to bring you the flavour of those spacious times. We must not forget that these ‘Sahibs’ did not just enjoy the good things of life, they also put in hard work. And in work, they laid down valuable traditions, and they gave the organization a strong foundation.
In course of time, the Board of Directors of the Company had a majority of Indians on it. But they did not meddle with the structure of the Company or with its norms of working.
It would seem that, on the whole, the ‘Sahibs’ had little faith in the efficiency of the ‘natives’. A glance at a list of the Company’s employees in those days will make it clear that a ‘native’ occupying a responsible position was an exception. In the workshops, even such relatively lower posts as foreman or assistant foreman were virtually reserved for whites. In fact, outside the administrative section, all the important posts were occupied by ‘Sahibs’.
The B.E.S.T. Company came into existence on 7th August 1905; it was dissolved on 6th August 1947, to make room for the B.E.S.T. Undertaking. Once before there had been a similar taking over when the Bombay Tramways Company ceased to exist. But this take-over was not quite ‘similar’. Now the ownership of the concern came to the Municipal Corporation. This was a week before the country became free. it was therefore a significant event in several ways. The B.E.S.T. Undertaking was the first ‘public’ enterprise in the country. To run it successfully was a national duty.