For all that he has achieved, Dr. Vijaya Kumar is an unassuming personality. Seated in an office where one wall is fully lined with books and another adorns his favourite autographed poster of Grand Slam title winner Chris Evert, one can instantly understand him a little better. A true academician, who is crystal clear about his choices and a leader who believes in empowering others; Yo! interacts with him.
The man, his mission
‘I was born near Vijayawada and lived around the area during my early years. During the China war in 1962, I wanted to be part of the army and save the country. However, it was a school trip to Nagarjuna Sagar in the eighth standard, that set the course of my life. I was enamoured with the engineering marvel and from then on would actually write ‘BE Civil’ next to my name. The first hurdle came when I wanted to get into Engineering and my father put me in a science course at Loyola college. My repeated requests to him went unheard, and so by design I would score less marks in every subject except Math. I finally told them that it was either Engineering or farming, there would be nothing in between. A family friend helped convince my parents and finally I took up Engineering. During my studies I remember working on two projects distinctly. One was a project on disaster management that I took up at IIT Madras and planned out construction of shelters and also a helipad. I learnt to predict the weather using isobars, and could actually predict the Divi cyclone three weeks in advance. Another project that was important to me during my study days was my thesis at Andhra University in 1987. I worked on the usage of industrial waste for construction.’
Vijay Nirman’s beginning
‘The organisation started operations on 23rd June, 1982, however, my work had started well before then. After my ME in 1977, my Professor was starting a construction project and wanted me to be part of the design team. I asked only for a hostel seat, library ticket, project timelines, the freedom to work at my own timings and to be answerable only to him. During that time I realized many things. I saw the gap between professional and contractor works and chose the latter. I also learnt how perception of quality and appreciation of technology differed for different people. I saw that innovations needed knowledge, coupled with conviction and courage. I was lured into contractual work right then, because I realised it would give me all that I wanted.‘
Working on Projects
‘Vijay Nirman Pvt. Ltd. works by focusing on empowering people. First the leaders need to be trained. We conduct a workshop for the leaders and lay the guidelines of what is expected of them. We ensure that each person adds to the quality of the end product and that each person knows his or her role. In fact, this isn’t exculsive for us alone, but translates to all kinds of work. However it’s often missing. For example, NSS volunteers would not know their role if they don’t know what is expected of them. So, if they aren’t trained on the difference between a medicinal plant and a weed, they would end up uprooting both. However if they are trained on what plants to cut and what to do with them, their efforts will be fruitful. Even in construction, you need to have a mock drill so the leaders know what is expected of them. Today we have done many projects across the country, and even outside. Even within the country, the quality standards and acceptance are different. So while some projects give you the freedom to innovate, in others you just have to follow the standards. For example, in the case of nuclear reactors, any mistake would lead to disaster. We also work towards being environment friendly. Times are changing and by now statute measures to make everything environment-friendly with green rated buildings have come in. We do our bit by using improved materials and acquiring technologies, so that we match environmental standards. We harness new concrete technologies too, add organic elements like fly ash, rice husk, slag, etc. and also use industrial waste productively.’
I saw that innovations needed knowledge, coupled with conviction and courage.
‘I came into the field to enjoy my freedom and realised that I’m better as a leader than a follower. I have enjoyed most of the projects that I’ve undertaken. However there are two that specifically stand out. One was the Kadalundi Rail Bridge which is the only rail linkage to North Kerala. Heavy rains had caused one of the rails to break, resulting in perhaps the biggest accident of the Indian railway network. Many people had died too. We were called in and we had to restore the bridge in 45 days. It wasn’t a straightforward project, and after going there we realised that the initial methodology we thought of had to be changed. Existing methodologies would not work. Despite rains we innovated, divided the work load and achieved the goal on the 43rd day itself. Another project was the Godavari Gas Plant. Here too, we made a new system at a lesser cost. When we started work on our innovative idea, we faced many problems initially and people would come and laugh at us too. On the third day we could find the logic to overcome the problem. We had lost a week but had found the solution. We finished the project in 54 days.’
‘I have seen Vizag transform from being a town to a metro. From the Engineering College to Jagadamba, nothing would be there during my college days. In fact, Pithapuram did not exist back then. Beyond the zoo is all new development as well. Speaking of the city’s changes, I’d say that on the minus side, there’s plenty of pollution today, increase in traffic and effects of urbanisation. On the plus side, previously we were more of a cultural centre; today we have the Steel plant, expansion of Eastern Naval Command and industries, giving the city an edge. Urbanisation is unavoidable. When population rises, you need to give them avenues for work. However, Vizag could preserve its original culture too along with urbanisation. We have the ability to absorb change; with better adaptability and balance, unlike other metros.’
The youth, our future
‘It is focus that got me here, and today’s youth need it in plenty. Without focus we would not achieve anything. My advice to the youth is that they should develop listening skills and should know how to convey what they want with clarity. They should respect others and not be rude with family. They should also try to realise their passions, which should be wedded with their natural skills. And if that happens, you will find a career opportunity that you would stick with and also put in genuine effort.’