Kolkata: Inder Mohan Thapar, who till the early 1970s expanded his family’s coal mining business to make it Asia’s second largest, died in Kolkata on Tuesday after a brief illness. He was 93.
The nationalization of coal mines in the early 1970s robbed Thapar of his 19 mines, a shock he fought hard to cope with; yet, he remained riveted to the coal business for almost four more decades.
Inder Mohan Thapar
From being one of the biggest miners in Asia, Karam Chand Thapar and Brothers (Coal Sales) Ltd, the firm he headed as chairman till his last day, was overnight reduced to a coal logistics company.
He took pride in KCT Coal Sales, as his firm is commonly known, maintaining pole position in coal handling all through its life. Coal was so dear to him that he sacrificed shares in more promising businesses developed by the extended Thapar family to hold on to KCT Coal Sales.
“There was little that father could do to save his mines,” recalls his son Vikram Thapar, KCT Coal Sales’ vice-chairman and joint managing director, who had at the time of nationalization just entered the family business. “Even the constitution was amended so that the government didn’t have to pay any meaningful compensation.”
Because the government didn’t have any expertise in coal handling and distribution, the newly-formed Coal India Ltd immediately partnered KCT Coal Sales to move coal from the mines.
“Even when we lost our mines, we had in our hand export orders from several countries,” says Vikram Thapar. But one by one, these contracts ended, and KCT Coal Sales turned to managing coal logistics largely in the domestic market.
In fiscal 2011, KCT Coal Sales handled 70 million tonnes (mt) of coal, making it the biggest in India.
The only son of Karam Chand Thapar from his first marriage, Inder Mohan Thapar was brought up by his grandfather, having lost his mother three days after he was born.
Thrown out of several schools for being “mischievous”, Inder Mohan Thapar went to a college in Lahore before being brought into the business by his grandfather. He was then in his early twenties and married.
Karam Chand Thapar, who was among the first Indian businessmen to invest in coal mines, put his eldest son at the helm of the then booming mining business. In 1943, when Inder Mohan Thapar was 25, his father carved out of the principal family holding company, Karam Chand Thapar and Brothers Ltd, the coal business—KCT Coal Sales was founded. He had thus created for Inder Mohan Thapar a firm that he could independently drive, while the group expanded in other businesses such as chemicals, molasses and paper.
Karam Chand Thapar had married again after the death of his first wife, and he had three sons from his second marriage. Under the stewardship of various scions of the Thapar family, several businesses emerged as industry leaders such as Crompton Greaves Ltd and Ballarpur Industries Ltd.
The business of the extended Thapar family remained yoked by common holding companies, until they were separated at the end of the 1990s. For Vikram Thapar, it was a choice between the more promising paper and coal businesses, having led Ballarpur for years as its joint managing director.
He had to settle for coal, he says, because his father couldn’t emotionally bear to tear himself away from it.