I started my engineering career as an Apprentice Engineer in the Heat Treatment shop of PITAC (Pakistan Industrial Technical Assistance Centre) in January 1977. Located on the Canal Bridge on Ferozepur Road the centre was notified by the Government of Pakistan on March 26, 1962. There were several shops that provided technical assistance to emerging engineering industry of the country. State of the art technologies were available both for training and development of new products. Specialty metals and materials were also available for local outfits
The Industrial Engineering Department interacted with the customers to initiate projects which were then sent to the respective shops for processing. Expertise was available in: design, foundry, heat treatment, metal finishing, machine shop, metal working and technical training. Hostel facilities were available for trainees while the Chief of Operations lived on the facility. It was one of a kind facility and most engineers of my generation benefitted from its knowhow.
As Apprentice Engineer, I had to spend time in all the shops for hands-on training before I could take up my responsibilities in the Heat Treatment Shop. The level of engineering expertise was quite high. I was impressed by the Metal Finishing or Plating Shop as it was called. All kinds of electroplating were carried out here. Design area was equally impressive. In the pattern shop of the Foundry, Haji Bashir Sahib was a tough task master. I was required to produce functional patterns for castings which were cumbersome.
In the seventies the metals industry was being developed. Pakistan Steel Mills ( PSM) were being erected at Port Qasim. A special cell was developed within PITAC to focus on this sector; it was called Metals Advising Service (MAS). UNDP and UNIDO were also helping in this effort. An Egyptian Metallurgist Dr. Kamal Hussain was appointed Project Manager and Team Leader. As the task was challenging I moved from the Heat Treatment Shop to this cell. Dr. Kamal became my professional mentor and role model. In the late seventies I left for higher education abroad. On my return MAS had moved out of PITAC to its own facility in Kot Lakhpat.
After my term ended at Pakistan Science Foundation (PSF) I briefly returned as General Manager (GM) PITAC in 2005. I found the organisation in bad shape. Its land had been grabbed both by “qabaza groups” and Punjab Government. A restaurant had been set up on the Canal side together with local government offices. Recently the Metro or ‘Jungla Bus’ also took PITAC land on the main Ferozepur Road side. Its autonomy had also been encroached upon by a new organisation called TUSDEC (Technology Upgradation and Skill Development Corporation). The ‘whiz kids’ of Musharraf created this new entity for up gradation of technology. Instead of upgrading PITAC together with the local industry, TUSDEC had a narrow focus to suit vested interests only. Billions have been wasted by this aimless and frivolous organisation. NAB should investigate its shortcomings.
While TUSDEC is being investigated by NAB, PITAC should get back its autonomy and work independently. The engineering industry needs an upgraded and viable organisation like PITAC that once led from the front. All encroachments both land and technical have to be stopped and restoration work started without delay. The “qabza groups” must be dealt with an iron hand.
I am quite disappointed with the beneficiaries of PITAC who have remained silent at its destruction by vested quarters. PITAC is the mother of several technologies in the country. Its heat treatment shop was second to none for a long time which included carburisation and case hardening as well. The foundry had a major impact on the metals casting industry. The plating shop was way ahead of the local knowhow at that time.
I remember as a young engineer interacting with the great technical leader and entrepreneur, engineer Ajmal Hussain who was an institution in himself regularly visited the plating shop for electroforming technology. He was the first maverick to produce ballpoint pens in Asia, the famous ‘Piano’ and ‘Tempo’ were his brands. Today the enterprise is a major producer of stationery items.
The engineering industry of the country needs organisations like PITAC that have a track record of service. They can certainly do without the gimmickry of “technology upgradation” as claimed by ill-conceived and poorly led organisations like TUSDEC that have failed to make a difference. The ‘whiz kids’ of Musharraf have left long ago but the mess they created has continued. It is time to clean this debris. PITAC should stand on its own feet to continue its service to the engineering industry of the country, its autonomy should not be encroached upon. It needs protection from ‘qabza groups’ who are after its land and its technical knowhow with TUSDEC being one of them.
The writer is Ex-Chairman Pakistan Science Foundation.