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Queen Air 65 skeleton gathers rust, maintenance cost keeps off buyers

The steel plant authorities have not taken up any project to showcase the legacy and great heritage of IISCO and Sir Biren Mookerjee at Burnpur

Debajyoti Chakraborty | Burnpur |

At a time when The Indian Iron and Steel Company (IISCO), one of the oldest steel manufacturers of the country, celebrates its glorious centenary, the skeleton of the Queen Air 65, one of the two aircraft used by its legendary founder Sir Biren Mookerjee, is gathering rust under the open sky surrounded by weeds at the Nehru Park, which was created by FWA Lahmeyer, general manager and also the German architect who had planned the picturesque Burnpur Steel Township.

Queen Air 65 and Twin Bonanza D50C had been bought by Sir Biren from Beechcraft Corporation of USA in the early 1960s. As the monthly maintenance cost was very high (Rs 60,000), the IISCO management decided to sell them through a global tender, but nobody showed any interest.

The last managing director of IISCO, Nilotpol Roy, decided to keep the Queen Air 65 at the Nehru Park in 2006 and the Twin Bonanza D50C at the hangar of the Burnpur airstrip. Written on a board placed next to the aircraft are these words: Beech Craft Queen Air 65, first landed at Burnpur air strip on 30 October 1960 and last flight was on 28 December 1999. Total flying hours: 7,359 hours and 45 minutes. The Twin Bonanza was in the air for 6182 hours and 55 minutes.

In the heydays of IISCO, the only Indian blue chip company to be listed on the London Stock Exchange and the first company in Asia to get loans from the World Bank, Sir Biren used the aircraft to commute between the mother plant at Burnpur and the iron ore mines in Bihar and his home in Kolkata.

Anirban Dasgupta, CEO of IISCO Steel Plant (ISP), inaugurated a two-day cultural function at the Burnpur United Club Stadium on 6 April marking the 100-year celebration. Mr. Chandra Sekhar Sinha, Executive Director (P&A) of ISP after inaugurating the new office building of Paschim Bardhaman District Chamber of Commerce and Industry said there were only a few instances of such large companies that had a rich heritage of over 100 years and were still going strong.

“Though the installed capacity of the modernised plant is 2.5 million tonnes, we are trying to produce 3 million tonnes of hot metal. By 2024 the Steel Authority of India Limited has plans to augment the production capacity of ISP to 7.5 million tonnes of hot metal production per annum. The outdated century old plant and houses will be demolished and new seven storied buildings with elevators will be set up as per the master plan prepared by Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Kharagpur,” said Mr. Sinha. The central government had taken over IISCO during Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s rule in the early 1970s. But till date there has been no proper memorial built to mark the contributions of Sir Biren Mookerjee and his illustrious father, Sir Rajen Mookerjee at Burnpur, though they owned both the big industries of Burnpur – IISCO and Burn Standard. There is only a bust of Sir Biren Mookerjee at Bharati Bhawan.

Though Indian railways and Coal India have come forward to preserve its rich heritage and have been restoring heritage buildings and setting up heritage museums, so far ISP has not taken up any project to showcase the legacy and great heritage of IISCO and Sir Biren Mookerjee at Burnpur.

Incidentally, five former retired managing directors of IISCO were felicitated at the centenary functions. They include G.S Garcha, who was the last MD to use the two single-engine planes in December 1999.