The Bhishma Pitamaha of DTI!

Tell me, who does not like a story?

So, when Arun Lakshman volunteered to share a kahani, I jumped at it. What’s the story? Here it is:

A man went to a tailor to get a topi (cloth cap) made.

How much kapda is needed?

One meter said the tailor.

He agreed, paid for the cloth, and got out, promising to collect the topi the next day.

He is the cloth seller and topi-maker also, right? What if he is cheating and saving cloth? thought the man.

He re-entered the shop to ask the tailor: “Can you make two topis in same cloth size?”

Yes, possible, told the tailor.

So the new order for was two topis.

Again, the buyer felt he was short-changed.

Re-enter and re-negotiate to get ten topis made out of the same one-meter cloth.

He returned the next day to find ten topis were ready, but those caps could fit only the fingers. Not his head!

Why did the August 16, 1960-born eldest son of the Indian Army officer tell me this story? My question earlier in the day triggered the topi story. How many acres is the barest minimum needed to conduct theory and practical classes for wannabe truck/trailer drivers at any Driver Training Institute (DTI)?

The setting of DTI is one of the key bullet points to mitigate the 22% driver shortage in India. There has been no consensus on the ideal requirement for such a skill training institution. Purists such as Lakshman would not settle for anything less than 15 acres for the truck driver and 20 acres where trailer drivers can be trained. Another set canvasses for between 3–5 acres, citing the high land acquisition cost.

Who is Lakshman? The five feet 11 inches Delhiite dreamt of a career in cricket or basketball. But fate destined him to emerge, hold your breath, as the Bhishma Pitamaha of Driver Training Institutes and driver training! Yes, the Father of now DTIs in India. Holding a mechanical engineering diploma with a post-graduate diploma in marketing and sales management, he entered Eicher Tractors as Junior Engineer to spend the first four years of his long career before shifting base to Maruti Udyog Limited — now known as Maruti Suzuki Limited — in 1984, a few months after the late Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi handed over the key to the maiden Maruti 800 passenger car to Harpal Singh.

Lakshman would spend the next three decades at India’s numero uno passenger car manufacturer in various capacities and be involved in many firsts while in Maruti at various verticals like the first person to drive Gypsy until he hung up his boots. Hard-working, sincere, dedicated, and passionate, under late Jagdish Khattar’s stewardship, Lakshman was selected to run the Driver Training institute, owned by the Delhi Transport Department but given to Maruti Udyog, at Wazirabad. That’s when his tryst with Driving Training began that has not ended even post-retirement.

He was instrumental in building several such institutions across India under the Institute for Driver Training & Research or IDTR, an organization fully anchored by Maruti Suzuki. “The Wazirabad facility up was one small unit when Maruti took over and built it as the premium Driver Training Institute in India today with state-of-the-art facilities to train drivers in every type: two, three, and four-wheel passenger vehicles, commercial vehicles of various capacities, etc.,” tells Lakshman. Today, the IDTRs trains forklift drivers too.

Lakshman’s popularity, even being in the Automotive Skill Development Council (ASDC), increased, and acknowledgment of his DTI prowess and road safety can be judged when bureaucrats in some states could give in-principle approval for setting up DTI in their state with Lakshman is part of the visiting team. The inclusion of Lakshman in those preliminary meetings only means ‘yes’ to start the project. “No wonder he was called the “Pitamah” of DTIs! What an honor!

Therefore, when he narrates the tailor and topi kahani, one gets the gist. He is a prominent and ardent advocate of the barest 15–20-acre land for DTI. “Trucks are not passenger cars. They need more space to turn around. The recommendation of 2–3 acres is acceptable for car driver training. Certainly, not for truck driving,” argues the soft-spoken Lakshman.

Sunil Chaturvedi, the maiden CEO of the Automotive Skill Development Council (ASDC), set up by the National Skill Development Council (NSDC) in the early 2010s, was one of several proponents recommending that the truck drivers can do their practical on highways. Therefore, the Lakshman formula of 15–20 acres can be done away with. At the same time, Lakshman suggested using such premium institutes as mother institutes in the state and establishing small ones as spoke and mother institutes to ensure driving training quality.

“His recommendation is unworkable in Indian conditions given our road user behaviour,” recollects Lakshman. He is in his elements. The cozy conference room on the eighth floor, his office at Samvardhan Motherson corporate headquarters is semi-dark, and the steaming hot tea served adds to the warmth of the tone and tenor of the hour-long discussion. Post-retirement, he was corralled by the multi-billion dollar automotive-focused giant to advise them, you’ve guessed rightly, on setting up a full-fledged skill training institute using CSR funds. There will be no surprises that Lakshman would stick to his guns: minimum 20-acre track for trailer driver training. North or south?

The man who played cricket and basketball at a reasonable level, and helped build cricket teams at the corporate level, has much gyan to share and shape an accident-free India through good driver training. The nation perhaps lost an excellent cricketer or hoopster. Someone’s loss is someone’s gain. Right?




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