After three decades of struggle with the system Naseer is happy to put Kashmir on transformer manufacturing map. Shakir Mir narrates his journey
Naseer Ahmad, 56, overcame odds to realize his dream of manufacturing transformers in Kashmir.
Today, he presides over an enviable enterprise supplying a range of indigenously-built distribution line transformers to PDD covering almost all localities across Kashmir.
Established in 1986, Naseer Electricals Industries emerged as a reckoning business unit from North Kashmir with annual turnover exceeding crores.
Currently, it also manufactures state-of-the-art Steel Tubular Poles, AAC /ACSR conductor DPC wire and PVC cables. NEI also supplies transformers to small industrial units and regional enterprises.
Naseer, a graduate in physics, who hails from Azad Gunj in south Kashmir’s Baramulla district, always had that necessary zeal to pursue his ambitious goal.
During his youthful years, he set out to establish a transformer repairing unit in Srinagar. “Back then, even the repair-awaiting transformers were sent to Delhi, Hyderabad and other Indian cities, to say nothing about getting them manufactured here,” he says. “That was during 1980’s.”
Initially, the Directorate of Industries and Commerce, J&K expressed skepticism over his plans. “They wouldn’t believe that a mere graduate could set up a unit like this,” he says.
The department asked him to furnish a scheme of the proposed unit. Subsequently, Naseer took it up to himself to determine land and capital it would take. He studied at length about the subject without even enrolling himself in a college.
After winning over the apprehensions of Industries department, Naseer decided to set up the unit at Industrial Estate near Shalteng. “To my disappointment, all the space available with the estate was occupied,” he says.
He could not have opted for Industrial unit at Rangreth either in wake of its remoteness. “I thought it would be difficult,” he says. “Then I told them I have my own land in Baramulla and they told me to utilize it.”
After securing orders for the Transfer of location, Naseer went to his native place at Azad Gunj and put together the needful investment to establish the unit. “No formal registration was given to me yet,” he says. “It was just provisional.”
A third generation businessman of his family, Naseer was born to a forest lessee father. In 1980, when the nationalization of forests happened, the government banned the lessee system and cracked a whip of the existing units where timber was cleaved and furthered for trade.
Making use of their abandoned timber unit, Naseer made his own investment to the tune of rupees 1 lakh giving rise to the basic framework.
He got assistance of Rs 6.5 lakh from the State Financial Corporation. “First they came to inspect my facility which was in its infancy,” he says. Upon acknowledging a “certain promise” in him and the considerable investment on his part, SFC released the first disbursement of Rs 2 lakh.
“In that sum I built the edifice and procured machines,” he says. From the second disbursement, he brought raw materials.
Back then, Naseer was unfamiliar with the market in J&K. Soon, he reckoned that the electrical market was dominated by the voltage stabilizers. “So I first started with the stabilizers in 1989 catering private market,” he says.
But within a year, Kashmir witnessed armed insurgency against India’s authority, resulting in a slump in the private market.
With a large section of his clientele vanished, Naseer was left in a fix. “I had some friends in the PDD,” he says. “They told me that the department had some requirements and they would like him to meet those.”
Initially, Naseer received orders for supplying the spare items only: coils etc. Gradually, the department sent requisitions for the whole transformers. His enterprise thus became the first ever manufacturer of transformers in the valley.
Starting 1993, Naseer Electrical Industries began supplying transformers to the entire north Kashmir. Some of his engineer friends, who were transferred to other places and knew about his enterprise, sent him orders from as far as Budgam and Islamabad.
“They were happy that a young entrepreneur from Kashmir is doing great work,” he says.
Realizing a growing demand but shortage of resources at the same time, Naseer knocked at the doors of J&K Bank for assistance. A delegation from the Bank visited his facility and upon seeing an impressive turn over, sanctioned a loan to the tune of rupees 15 lakh in 1996.
By now, the duty to feed entire power grid of Kashmir with transformers was his. His success made the Jammu manufacturers envious. Until his initiative, they had maintained a near-total monopoly on the market. “They would often take the department for a ride,” he says. “They wouldn’t hand over the repaired transformers and hold them hostage until full payment was made. It was like a sort of extortion.”
Having sensed an alarming slump in work coming from Kashmir, the manufacturers from Jammu raised objections and employed their influence to stonewall Naseer’s stellar success.
“They asked officials how they had roped in a local entrepreneur when PDD was still in contract with them?” he says.
Subsequently, acting on the advice of his friend, he tried to go along the tendering process and, much to his delight, started winning the bids.
“Work was allotted to me on a large scale,” he says. “I started competing with manufacturers from Jammu because I had no competitor from Kashmir back then.”
By 1998, three firms came up in the valley and Naseer now faced local competition as well.
In 1999, NEI started manufacturing distribution line transformers. Until then, he had been producing small transformers and stabilizers. The PDD had expressed need for big transformers but its manufacturing required department approval and type testing that determined the product’s adherence to the safeguards of Bureau of Indian Standards.
Naseer sent them for getting type-tested at Electrical Research and Development Association in Vadodra, Gujarat in 2002. “They approved and issued us license,” he says. “Then we participated in the tendering process. We also began marketing our product under NEI trademark from the same year.”
In following years, Naseer produced conventional type transformers until few years ago when the BIS rolled out new ISO standards and announced expiry of the older one.
“The new ISO demanded more energy efficiency,” Naseer says. “We became the third firm in India who was issued BIS license for its production.” Naseer got the prototype of the new ISO adhering transformers type-tested in June last year. He is expecting orders “very soon.”
He employs a skilled and semi-skilled workforce of around 50 employees. His facility is spread over 10 kanals of land in Baramulla town. Currently, he also co-owns Asian Power Transformers, a subsidiary of NEI.
Naseer had also explored options to export his products to outside state but faces a key problem of transportation. “We get raw material from elsewhere in India,” he says. “When we furnish a product, it is priced higher than what a manufacturer from India would, considering that he has ready-access to the raw material.”
For Naseer, raw material and its transportation to Kashmir is what increases the cost of his transformers thereby making it difficult for him to compete outside.
“Raw materials needed are copper, aluminum, T-Oil, HD insulators, brass metal parts and Insulating material,” he says. “They come from different states. For instance T-oil comes from Mumbai. Cold Rolled Grain Oriented (GRGO) is imported from Japan, Russia or China. Rolls are silting and cut before being sold to dealers. However, insulating material comes from India.”