After the bifurcation of the state, I think there are 28 sugar mills
in Bihar. More than half are closed, primarily those belonging to Bihar State Sugar Corporation (BSSC). The BSSC
was formed in 1974 to manage, operate and control sick private sector sugar mills
and distilleries and subsequently, 15 sugar mills
and two distilleries were nationalised. As is often the case, sick private sector continued as sick public sector. In this column, we aren’t concerned with revival/privatisation options for BSSC
mills. One of these nationalised units was Darbhanga Sugar Company Limited in Lohat in Madhubani district, established in 1914-15, acquired in 1977 and closed since 1997-98. The Imperial Gazetteer of India tells us, “The famine of 1874 gave a great impetus to the construction of railways, and the district (Darbhanga) is on the whole well off in the matter of communications. Its south-west corner is traversed for 29 miles by the main line of the Bengal and North-Western Railway (BNWR), and also by 25 miles of the new chord-line from Hajipur to Bachwara, which runs parallel to the Ganges embankment from east to west. From Samastipur a line runs to Darbhanga town and there branches off in two directions, the first north-west to Sitamarhi through Kamtaul and Jogiara, and the other due east to Khanwa Ghat on the Kosi.” In other parts of India too, railway construction was sometimes triggered by immediate famine relief concerns and desire to counter famines in the future.
Illustration by Binay Sinha
This takes us to Lakshmeshwar Singh (1858-98), the then Maharaja of Darbhanga and Tirhut/Tirhoot State Railway (TSR). Lakshmeshwar Singh seems to have had a role to play in ensuring that the railway line from Darbhanga to Bajitpur was built in 1874, apart from he himself engaging in public works, especially after the Bihar famine of 1873-74. Who built that railway line between Darbhanga and Bajitpur? It couldn’t have been BNWR, which was formed in 1882. It was built by TSR. Samastipur-Darbhanga was also built by TSR. These, and other meter gauge lines, were worked and taken over by BNWR later. Unlike other railways, not much has been written about TSR. From a book written by Simon Darvill (Industrial Railways and Locomotives of India and South Asia)
, it seems that the Lohat sugar mill was opened by TSR in 1914. By then, the Maharaja of Darbhanga was Kameshwar Singh (1907-64) and in 1917, an agreement was signed between BNWR and TSR for a meter gauge siding between Pandual station and the sugar mill.
Why a sugar mill in Lohat, for which the nearest railway station is Pandual? I recommend a 1908 book by Minden Wilson, titled, History of Behar Indigo Factories. “I have not recorded Pundoul, Nurharh, Joynuggur, or Kumtoul. All these factories belong to the Maharajah of Durbhunga…That cane will grow in Behar there is no doubt, for I find, in documents of 1793 and after, nearly all the old indigo factories in Tirhoot are spoken, of as being sugar and saltpetre, as well aa indigo manufactories... Planters who generally grew a few bighas of cane as fodder for their bullocks knew from this experience that indigo grew well in lands where cane had been sown and vice versa, and they therefore did not see why cane should not be made a success, and after some study the conclusions come to were that cane to be a paying crop must be grown in new lands.” There was that large indigo factory in Pandual. Lakshmeshwar Singh had virtually banned cultivation of indigo in the Tirhut region. Therefore, why not set up a sugar mill? Because of the link with Pandual station, railway lines were laid inside the Lohat sugar mill too. If there were railway lines, there had to be locomotives and these steam locomotives hauled sugar and some indigo.
The IR (Indian Railways) is much more conscious of preserving heritage now and there is a reasonably good inventory of heritage locomotives (not just steam), provided they are part of the IR system. However, if these are held by entities outside the IR system, the register is not yet complete and such unlisted old locomotives may still exist, particularly in collieries and sugar factories. Try a Net search for images of Lohat sugar mill, but don’t look for recent reports. The probability is high you will chance upon a photograph of a dilapidated metre gauge steam locomotive inside a shed. (Under the Whyte notation, this is a 0-6-0 engine.) When we think of assets of sick public sector enterprises, we think of land or plant and machinery. But there are locomotives too. Initially, I asked you to avoid recent reports, because this locomotive has recently been in the news. BSSC
means the locomotive is owned by the state government. The Bihar government has now granted permission and it has been moved from Lohat to Darbhanga railway station, so that people can see and admire it. This has been widely reported. According to reportage, the locomotive is narrow gauge (It should actually be metre gauge). According to reportage, it was built in 1913 and brought to the sugar mill in 1914. That might not be true either. Trawling the Net, I find this locomotive identified as something built by Bagnall (the famous locomotive manufacturer from Stafford) as number 2120 of 1919. Once in India, it was renumbered 253. The only other Bagnall 0-6-0 in IR’s inventory is probably from 1942 (National Railway Museum).
The author is chairman, Economic Advisory Council to the Prime Minister.
Views are personal