I came back to India in 1978 to set up Biocon and it was the pre-reforms era. India was very averse to foreign investments or joint ventures. Under the Licence Raj, it was quite a hostile environment for people in business. Everything was done through the Directorate General of Trade and Development under the Ministry of Commerce — it was highly bureaucratic. Udyog Bhawan in Delhi was where it all happened. I would go there every day to figure out how to get all the permissions, permits and licences. Everyone warned me that getting all the approvals would mean paying a lot of bribes. In fact, when I was waiting to see Nirmal Biswas who headed DGTD, touts would approach me asking for Rs.10,000 for completing my project report. I had Rs.10,000 but that was the money I had set aside to start the company. So I refused to pay them. Every time they would see me, they would taunt me saying, I would be sitting in the corridors for a long time for my turn to come if I didn’t pay up. I finally got to meet Nirmal Biswas. I told him that I wanted to set up a company but I was told that it involved a lot of bribes; I had no way of paying those bribes, and if I had to, then I would rather not set up the company. He was horrified when I was so direct. Instead, he said, “Don’t listen to others. You don’t have to pay anyone anything.” He actually helped me write that whole application, running into multiple pages. He patiently explained to me that the only way to get the approval was to have either import substitution or export the required quantity. I figured out what my company’s product could substitute; the exports bit was also fairly clear since we would be shipping to Ireland. Every day I would finish one part of the application in his office. After I would return home, my poor mom would sit and type it on her typewriter. I would go back and show it to him the next day, and if it was fine, I would move on to the next part. After nearly three weeks of daily visits to Udyog Bhawan, I submitted my entire application to him. I only had to wait for the approval, then.
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