Khora Ramji Chawda (1860–1923), better known as Seth Khora Ramji, was a reputed railway contractor, coal mines owner, banker and philanthropist of the early 20th century in India, who worked from Dhanbad and Jharia.
|Seth Khora Ramji Chawda|
Khora Ramji Chawda|
Jharia, British India
|Other names||Khoda Ramji|
|Occupation||Coal miner, banker, railway contractor|
|Known for||coal mining pioneer, railway bridge constructions|
He was born in a small village called Sinugra in Cutch and belonged to small but enterprising Mestri community. He was one the reputed Railway Contractors of his times and his exploits were mentioned by British authorities. He is also credited by them to be the first Indian to break monopoly of Europeans in Jharia coalfields. He established his first Colliery name Khas Jharia Colliery in 1895 and moved on to establish five more by 1910. He was also a financing partner in many coalfields of Jharia coal belt and additionally worked as a Private Banker. With his half-brother, Jetha Lira Jethwa (1862-1932) he owned Khas Jinagora Colliery, which operated under name & style of J. & K. Ramji.
Seth Khora Ramji have done works of great magnitude :- Hundred Miles of Railway in Sindh & North west India. Twenty Miles of Railway lines on S.M. Railway. Twenty two miles of railway line on East Bengal Railway, loco quarters at Hubli including several bridges of great magnitude. His elder brothers were also carrying on at the same time railway works in Sothern India and they also won name as successful contractors. All them joined hands in business and formed themselves in syndicate and completed works in MSM Railway but later unfortunately he lost all brothers but one. So he was left almost single handed. Seth Khora Ramji deserved much credit for the satisfactory completion of the above works because they involve much skill and labour and many mathematical calculations. Though uneducated he grasped clearly all the principals underlying these constructions and worked all the contracts entrusted to him to the satisfaction of railway authorities. In 1900 there was a turn in his business life. Just a that time Jharia coal fields were being exploited by Europeans and Seth Khora Ramji was first Indian to seize the opportunity. He purchased two collieries to begin with. Gradually others from Kutch and Gujarat followed suite and now Jharia has been changed into a Gujarati settlement with about 50 Kutchi out of 92 Gujarati collieries proprietors with Seth Khora Ramji as head of them all. He is now sole proprietor of two collieries and a financing member of about eight colliries. Several District official have remarked him as "Multi-millionare, one of the first class parties in Jharia."
Some of the works done by Khora Ramji Chawda of Sinugra are : 1880 : Hubli Loco Shed & other Works, 100 Miles work in North Western Railway, 20 Miles Work in Southern Maratta Railway, 177 miles in 1182–84 Hotgi to Gadag with his brothers in SMR, 22 Miles Railway in East Bengal Railway, 1888 – 128 miles in Bilaspur to Jharsuguda with fellow Mistris section including Bridge over Champa River in BNR, in 1894 Jharia Branch line of EIR, 1895 : Railway line in East Coast Railway & Bridge over Ganjam. His last Railway work was in 1903 : Bridge over Ganges river in Allahbad – Lucknow section. While working for this bridge, he was harassed by Engineer I.L. Gail, so he decided to stop Railway Contracts. By this time since 1895 to 1901 he had already started two collieries in Jharia. I.E. Gail later realised his mistake and offered him contracts in other section. But Khora Ramji declined the offer and diverted all his energy to Coal Mining business, in which he was assisted by his & his brother's son. He also became a Private Banker. He rose to such a height by 1920 and became Seth Khora Ramji from Khora Ramji that British had to mention his name in Encyclopaedia of Bengal, Bihar & Orissa. He had studied up to fourth standard in his native village school but still managed to erect & build Railway bridges requiring deep technical knowledge and mathematical calculations.
Khora Ramji and Brothers established collieries at Khas Jharia, Jeenagora, Jamadoba, Balihari, Fatehpur, Gareria, Bansjora & Bagadih. In Pure Jharia Colliery Khora Ramji and brothers were partners with Diwan Bahadur D.D. Thacker. Khora Ramji was also partner with Khimji Walji Chauhan of Reha in Khimji Walji & Company's Indian Jharia Colliery located at Tisra.
The credit of being first Indian to break the monopoly of British in Jharia Coalfields goes to Seth Khora Ramji Chawda of Sinugra. In the life sketch of Khora Ramji given in Encyclopedia of Bengal, Bihar & Orissa – the British have noted this fact in year 1920 – "In Jharia Coalfield he was first Indian to seize the opportunity and by his prompt entry into colliery business, he was able to remove the stigma that would otherwise be levelled against his community as backward class." Further, details are given in the book Diary of Golden Days at Jharia – A Memoir & History of Gurjar Kashtriya Samaj of Kutch in Coalfields of Jharia – written by Natwarlal Devram Jethwa -Quote:
The East Indian Railway in 1894–95 extended its line from Barakar to Dhanbad via Katras and Jharia. Messrs. Khora Ramji in 1894 was working on railway lines contract of Jharia branch line and with his brother Jetha Lira. He was also building Jharia railway station. Messrs. Khora Ramji was a HUF of five brothers & their sons : Khora Ramji Chawda, Pachhan Ramji Chawda, Akhai Ramji Chawda, Teja Ramji Chawda & their half-brother Jetha Lira Vela Jethwa. The Jharia coalfields was discovered while digging up the earth for laying this railway line. Khora Ramji while working near Jharia Railway station immediately realized the gold he had struck and purchased the lands from Raja of Jharia.
He similarly purchased about eight coal-fields from years 1895–1909. Further, he also encouraged fellow Mistri contractors to purchase the land and even financed them to do so. He later approached Raja of Jharia for lease of mining rights and laid foundation of his colliery business. The location of his three collieries named Jeenagora, Khas Jherria, Gareria is mentioned also in 1917 Gazetteers of Bengal, Assam, Bihar & Orissa.:- Unquote As per details given in Diary of Golden Days at Jharia – A Memoir & History of Gurjar Kashtriya Samaj of Kutch in Coalfields of Jharia – written by Natwarlal Devram Jethwa – Quote: "Seth Khora Ramji headed the first association as mentioned by British authorities in Encyclopaedia Bengal, Bihar & Orissa (1920).
Khora Ramji died in year 1923. Several after his death two of his collieries, Khas Jharia & Golden Jharia, which worked on maximum 260-foot-deep shafts, collapsed due to now infamous underground fires, in which their house & bungalow also collapsed on 8 November 1930, causing 18 feet subsidence and widespread destruction. The coal mines at that time were run by his sons Karamshi Khora, Ambalal Khora and others. Ambalal Khora also carried on father's legacy as a railway contractor, who died in a railway accident. The Khas Jeenagora mine was later on run solely by sons of Jetha Lira Jethwa, Karsanjee Jethabhai and later Devram Jethabhai till 1938–39 after which the mine was sold.
His son Karamshi Khora, was among the dignitaries, who shared dais in historic All India Trade Union Congress meeting held at Jharia in 1928 hosted by Ramjush Agarwalla along with D. D. Thacker, Chhaganlal Karamshi Parekh and others.
However, business of some other coal mines of Seth Khora Ramji were carried on by his brothers and successors, which were finally taken over by government when the coal mines in India were nationalised in 1971–72.
Seth Khora Ramji and brothers also owned a fleet of ships, which used to deal in import and export dry fruits and spices, trading from Tuna Port and Mandvi with Muscat, Mombasa, Mzizima, Zanzibar and other countries.
As a philanthropist, in his native village Sinugra, he had built and donated in year 1910 a Hindu temple, wells, welcome-gate, Chabutro and a primary school, which is now named Seth Khora Ramji Prathmik Shala. He also donated major fund along with some other Mistri colliery owners to start a Gujarati school named the Jharia Anglo-Gujarati School at Jharia in 1905. He also owned farm-lands, the produce of which was given away to poor and needy. In the year 1920, when he held a large public charity event and a yagna at Sinugra, he was honoured by Maharao of Cutch, Khengarji III, who sent him a Paghdi. Further, at Mathura he along with Jetha Lira Jethwa of Sinugra had built and donated a Dharamashala now named Kutch Kadia Dharamshala in the years 1889–1900, when they were stationed there for railway contract job.