04 January 2017
If it is anything, Isakhel Estate near Kot Samaba in Rahim Yar Khan district is a museum – a museum of industrial and agricultural machinery. Here are sheds crammed with lathe machines, steel fabrication presses, furnaces, shelf upon shelf of die-cutters and dies for the production mostly of farming implements and allied spare parts.
Outside in the open is scattered such a variety of farming machinery that even experienced farmers would not know existed. Here are curiously shaped ploughing machines to turn the soil up from a depth of a metre below the surface. Here are antiquated sowing machines; and reapers of the kind called cutter-binders that harvested wheat and bound it into sheaves. These are implements scarcely known to most other farmers in Pakistan.
To one side is a shed with a padlocked door that contains rack after rack of replacement parts for John Deere tractors as well as for the variety of farming machinery, some of them still wrapped in butter paper and smeared thickly with grease. Here one can find brand-new alternators, ball bearings of all sizes, crank shafts, clutch plates, axle half-shafts, that is, every possible spare part that can keep the machinery in good fettle. Despite their mint condition, many of these spares are forty years old.
The estate, in what was then part of the State of Bahawalpur, was purchased in the second decade of the 20th century from the Nawab of Bahawalpur by a well-heeled Niazi landholder from Isakhel in Mianwali district. For nearly twenty years it was farmed fitfully by the family until in 1936 this man’s young grandson, Ghazanfarullah Khan, heard of its impending leasing out by his father. Thinking the annual lease amount was far too less for the four thousand seven hundred acres, Ghazanfarullah somehow convinced his doubting father to let him try his hand at turning it into a profitable farm.
With a mere twenty rupees in his pocket and no farming experience other than having grown up on a farm, the young man set of from Isakhel. He named the estate after the ancestral village and set to with a small band of workers. His dream was to transform a land of sand dunes from a liability to an asset. The fourteen-page history of his endeavours that Ghazanfarullah Khan left behind does not mention it, but there seems to have followed a twelve-year period of great struggle trying to turn this land around with traditional farming methods. With a view to changing his farming methods, he purchased two John Deere tractors with ‘one single-action harrow, one double-action harrow, one integral cultivator and one disc tiller.’ The year was 1948.
Keeping a thorough record of inputs in running and maintenance of the mechanical fleet and his farm outputs, Ghazanfarullah Khan had worked out the cost-benefit ratio within two seasons. And so by the end of 1950 Isakhel Estate had a fleet of twelve tractors. Now, those were days when the estate lay well beyond the road network, consequently no auto-mechanics were to be found anywhere nearer than the National Highway some twenty kilometres away. The breakdown of machinery therefore spelled long lay-offs in which mechanics had to be brought in against heavy payments.
In 1952, Ghazanfarullah Khan came up with the idea of establishing a repair and manufacturing facility at Isakhel Estate. Beginning with a few auto-mechanics to fix broken machinery, the facility expanded virtually within weeks of its advent. Agriculture then being largely animal-assisted, the most one needed was an ox-drawn wooden plough with steel-tipped share or a wooden harrow and other simple winnowing tools. There were few farms that required threshers or multi-blade ploughs. Established in 1953, General Tractor Machinery Corporation (GTMC) at Isakhel Estate became the first ever firm in Pakistan to manufacture agricultural implements.
Within no time at all, the corporation began catering to an expanding market of users all across East and West Pakistan. Shortly after beginning operations, the manufacturing side at GTMC went into overdrive working three eight-hour shifts six days a week with each shift employing no fewer than a hundred and fifty skilled and semi-skilled workmen. At the same time the remarkably perceptive Ghazanfarullah Khan saw the need to create his own bank of spare parts in order to minimise periods of inaction owing to breakdowns. This repository was so well-stocked that mechanised farmers from around the country began to resort to it for their needs.
Meanwhile, so diverse was the expertise offered by it that the 1965 war with India found Pakistan Army tanks of locally engaged units resorting to GTMC for minor repairs. This success on the engineering side did not relegate agriculture into the background however: by the mid-1950s, owing to its low-cost high-yield working the government acknowledged Isakhel Estate as the Demonstration Farm of Pakistan. Things went so well for it that despite the so-called land reforms of Ayub Khan and Zulfiqar Bhutto, the Isakhel Estate was worked by no fewer than forty-five tractors in the 1970s.
In 1994 Ghazanfarullah Khan passed away and with him the glory days of Isakhel Estate came to an end. The passing of this remarkable man who was trained neither as an agriculturist nor an engineer but who by sheer dint of acumen yet excelled in both fields was the death knell for GTMC. The firm closed down that same year. Nearly five hundred trained artificers moved on to set up their own businesses and the machinery in the sheds at the estate fell silent for the first time since installation forty years earlier.
It is easy to create something new, impossible to revive a dormant function. Also, with the manufacture of farm machinery having become a virtual cottage industry across Punjab, GTMC now may well be redundant. And then again, those who have inherited the set-up may not be up to revitalising it. The establishment that provided daily bread to five hundred skilled workers and which in its forty-year lifespan trained several thousand more has finally come to the end of its road.
Today the silent, rusting equipment, some of it already museum pieces, is a tribute to the good sense and initiative of Ghazanfarullah Khan.
posted by Salman Rashid @ 12:00 AM,
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