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A retrospect: Glimpses of my association with Directors of IIT Kharagpur
By B.P. Biswas
[N.B. : This article has been abridged by the webmaster]


India became independent in 1947. The central Government under the leadership of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru had a difficult task: "to keep pace with developing countries we should strive to join the great race of excellence and one day become world leaders of the race". As per the Sarkar committee recommendations, IIT Kharagpur was started in 1951.

After saying good-by to my numerous friends and colleagues at Writers' Building and Calcutta, I landed at Kharagpur railway station on March 3, 1953 on a bright sunny morning. The IIT campus was almost a jungle with snakes and scorpions all around. Soon I was introduced to the Registrar, Shri P.N. Sengupta and the founder Director, Sir J.C Ghosh. On stepping into Director's room I was quite charmed by his affectionate reception. He was a man of great personality, a renowned scientist, a visionary, a planner and an able administrator.

In October 1955 Dr. Ghosh asked me to take over the work of his PA, as Shri Sen Chowdhury, his former PA had decided to go back to Delhi. Since then I was continuing to hold the fortress of Director's office, and I remember numerous memorable events.

Once in connection with the job of a person, Dr. Ghosh had commented "if a few lines from me helps a person why should I not do that -- please write to the personnel manager and put up the letter for my signature". My hats off to the startling qualities of a great scientist. Lady Ghosh too was a very pious lady and commanded respect from all cross-sections of people of the campus. Dr. Ghosh used to say, "the aim of the Institute should be to turn out graduates for the service of the nation, who will live and die for the cause of the country. It should produce a young band of men and women with qualities of leadership who serve the masses".

On March 2, 1953 Dr. Ghosh returned from Delhi. In the meantime, there was a rumour all around that Dr. Ghosh was leaving us to take another assignment at Calcutta at the instance or Dr. B.C. Roy, Chief Minister of West Bengal and Chairman of our Board of Governors. The next morning when Dr. Ghosh was engrossed with files and papers I politely asked him, "Sir, is there any basis in the rumour"? With a pleasing smile he simply nodded. At last it came true and Dr. Ghosh handed over charge to Dr. S.R. Sengupta, the then Principal of Bengal Engineering College, Howrah on 12 March. A students' deputation met Dr. B. C. Roy and appealed to him not to withdraw Dr. Ghosh from IIT Campus. But Dr. Roy patted the boys and said that the die had already been cast. "You will soon find a very able Engineer-Administrator who will replace Dr. Ghosh" -- said he. It was understood that Dr. Roy was trying to induct Dr. Ghosh as his Deputy in the West Bengal Cabinet but that was not possible because of some opposition form his colleagues and ultimately Dr. Roy appointed Dr. Ghosh as the Vice Chancellor of the Calcutta University. There he did some pioneering work for the good of the university and opened a number of students' homes for the poor and needy students. Subsequently, Sir J.C. Ghosh went to Delhi as a member of the Planning Commission.

Dr. S.R. Sengupta took over as Director of this Institute and reached the campus on 12 March 1993. He was a hard-core administrator with strong personality. He belonged to the generation of Indians, which put duty above everything else and became great builders. In fact, one after another, the construction of the Main Institute building and the Departments were completed during thirteen years of his tenure (1955-67). The Main Institute Building was designed by the renowned architect, Sri Akshay Bose of M/s Ballardie, Thomson and Mathews, Calcutta and constructed by Dalmia & Co. Soon after taking over charge in a meeting with some faculty members, he said, "A true administrator is one who is hundred percent impartial. He, who can train his students and others in courage, fearlessness, fair play, justice, truth, can pilot the ship well to the destiny. A bamboo can be bent when it is green and not when it is mature. So good or bad is the outcome of the habit inculcated right from childhood".

Some significant changes were introduced soon after Dr. Sengupta joined the Institute. By an Act of parliament in 1956 the Institute became an autonomous body and was declared 'Institute of National Importance'. Then he introduced Entrance Examination for admission to the Institute, JEE, which was followed by all IlTs since then.

On April 12, 1956 the first convocation of Institute was held -- Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru delivered the convocation address. Dr. B.C. Roy, our Chairman, Dr. J.C. Ghosh, the founder Director of the Institute and other dignitaries were present.

There was a story about setting up the Institute at Kharagpur. A team of Central Government visited Mihijam in Bihar and Kharagpur, Kolaghat, Barrackpore, among others, to establish the first IIT. Dr. Rajendra Prasad persuaded the Government to establish it at Mihijam. Dr. B.C. Roy, sensing the situation, donated the Hijli Jail building and other buildings in Hijli, which were being occupied by Eastern Frontier Rifles to the Government in order to start the IIT right then. Ultimately he won the tussle. The headquarters of Eastern Frontier Rifles were shifted to Gopali about 3 km away from the campus.

There was an outbreak of hepatitis in mid 1950's among the students and residents of the campus. Dr. Sengupta brought a team of doctors from Calcutta through the good offices of Dr. B.C. Roy to curb the menace. In the past we had a good rapport with the Govt. of West Bengal and the Institute had been immensely benefited but slowly thereafter that sweet relation had disappeared, particularly after the retirement of Dr. Sengupta.

In 1959, the first Reviewing Committee was appointed with renowned educationists, administrators and Govt. officials under the Chairmanship Sir Willis Jackson (an electrical engineer) of U.K., to review the working of IIT Kharagpur and suggest measures for further advancement to suit the needs of the country. Dr. Sengupta asked me to assist the Chairman during about one and half month tenure of the Committee. I had to guide the team at the Institute during their stay here and maintain secrecy. After some spadework at Delhi the Committee members reached the campus. Before taking up the assignment I politely asked Dr. Sengupta, "Sir, please tell me, while working with the Committee whether I will be loyal to Institute or to the Reviewing Committee"? Dr. Sengupta said, "You should be hundred percent loyal to the Committee". During their short stay in the campus I had to work almost day and night. My satisfaction was that I could serve the Chairman and the Committee members and attained their admiration.

In 1960's, a PG Committee under the Chairmanship of Prof. M.S. Thacker, the then Director General, CSIR and the Education Secretary visited the Institute to collect first hand information about education -- he had meetings with Director and faculty members. The postgraduate course was for one year then. When the recommendations were discussed at the IIT Council meeting at Vigyan Bhavan under the chairmanship of the Education Minister, the Committee accepted the recommendations of the Thacker Committee. The recommendation was that from next session onwards the course would be structured for two years instead of one year. It was against the wishes of Dr. Sengupta. He was not happy and spoke to the galaxy of educationists and others, "Minister, Sir, I know consensus will prevail but please record the views of Director IIT Kharagpur that this will not help the students. The brilliant students will go to USA and other western countries and do their MS in a year and then go for Ph.D or join service". Finally it was recorded in the minutes of the meeting and again after some years the Nayadumma Committee restricted it to one and half years.

Dr. Sengupta was supposed to superannuate in 1967. There were requests from the Secretary, Education Department, Govt. of India asking him to continue on contract but Dr. Sengupta declined the offer. Even Minister's request had no effect.

Prof. V.N. Prasad, then Deputy Director took over as Director during 1967 and continued till 1969. His methodology of working was unlike others. He relied mostly on his few advisers who were close to him.

In early 1968, a Board meeting was scheduled in Chairman's (Sir Biren Mookerjee) office at Martin Burn House, Calcutta. Prof Satyen N. Bose, the world-renowned scientist, was a member of the BOG. He, however, expressed his inability to attend because of indisposition. But Director very much liked to have his support on two or three very vital issues. Since Prof. Bose was affectionate to me, I was asked to meet him at his north Calcutta residence and request him to attend the meeting for sometime at least. On reaching his residence in the morning I saw he was playing on a violin. He told me, "Biswas, I am unable to attend the meeting as I am not feeling too well". I replied, "I do realize your difficulty, Sir, but if you so desire for your convenience I can send the Institute vehicle to pick you up for attending the meeting for a while and arrange to drop you back to residence". Prof Bose smiled and told me that he would attend but at 11 AM (and not at 10 AM). Soon thereafter, I came back and reported to Director. Against my advice Prof. Prasad rang up Prof. Bose from our Calcutta office (then at Esplanade East) and requested him to attend at 10 AM. Prof. Bose was very much annoyed and rebuffed, "You have no consideration for an old and sick man. At the request of Biswas I agreed to come at 11 AM in spite of my ill health. I don't require your vehicle, I will come at 11 AM and submit my resignation from your Board of Governors -- I have no intention to continue". Prof. Prasad felt nervous and even though our driver reported at his residence, Prof. Bose declined and came by a taxi at 11 AM to Martin Burn House, sat for an hour or so and submitted his resignation in his own handwriting to the Chairman, Sir Biren Mookerjee. Though Chairman and other members repeatedly requested him not to resign, Prof. Bose was final in his decision. Director was much embarrassed in the meeting itself. Prof. Prasad superannuated in 1969 and settled in New Delhi.

Prof. S.C. Mitra, Deputy Director (Adm) and the seniormost Professor assumed temporary charge for a few months until Prof. S.K. Bose, a retired Brigadier and then Director, IIT Bombay took over charge at Kharagpur in mid-1969. Because of his charming personality and leadership qualities, he earned respect, admiration and whole-hearted cooperation from the faculty and staff. He had flair to do good work for the Institute and to the campus community at large. Mrs. Bose, a very good religious-minded lady, mixed with the campus community very easily. Prof. Bose once commented that after a long time he came back to this part of the country and this was an opportunity for him to render services to West Bengal.

Prof. Bose, through his effort and persuasion, hosted the Indian Science Congress at IIT Kharagpur in 1970. It was a very successful and meaningful Congress according to the opinion of the delegates and the foreign dignitaries. The Institute also hosted the UGC vice-chancellors' conference soon thereafter at the initiative of Director. During his tenure he put up a proposal before the Sahay Committee, which visited the Institute towards the late half of 1972, a programme of construction of new buildings. Before getting the signal of approval he soon started construction of Open Air Theatre and buildings for housing the Industrial Management Centre, Cryogenics Engineering Centre, Computer Centre, etc. Being a civil engineer, Brig. Bose used to inspect occasionally the construction work and hammer the contractors to expedite construction. Ultimately the Sahay Comniittee and the Ministry of Education approved his proposals and allotted funds for this purpose.

In 1972-73 some senior people, who did not like Director's attitude tried to create a rift between Shri A.N. Haksar, then Chairman, BOG (Chairman, ITC Calcutta) and Prof Bose. This damaged to some extent the reputation of the Institute. The Chairman earlier assured Prof. Bose that he would have to serve the Institute at least one more year beyond his contract period. However, he had to leave on completion of five-year contract service in 1974.

The Chairman had appointed one retired officer of ITC to probe into the administrative functions of the Director, even though there was no such post in the sanctioned cadre. Director with the approval of the Ministry of Education removed the officer within a short time after his appointment.

Prof. Bose and his wife Mrs. Sudha Bose were very much religious-minded and ultimately they happily settled at Prasanti Nilayam in Puttaparthi at Satya Sai Baba's ashram -- and they disposed of their properties at Howrah.

Once again, being the seniormost faculty, Prof. S.C. Mitra took charge temporarily as Director of the Institute. He had absolute confidence in me and I wholeheartedly and sincerely assisted him in the discharge of his duties as Director. Prof. Mitra on many occasions mentioned to me "you have every right to correct me if I am wrong in my judgment and decision".

Prof. C.S. Jha, Professor in the electrical engineering Dept. of IIT Delhi, took over as Director of the Institute on 6 November 1974. At the age of 40 years he was the youngest director IlTs ever had. A soft spoken person with strong conception Prof. Jha had the urge to straighten the problems faced by IIT and he did remove some of these intelligently and tactfully without disrespecting the sentiments of senior colleagues. He was the member of the Board of Governors at the Asian Institute of Technology, Bangkok as the representative of Indian Government and earned respect there.

On arrival at Kharagpur on 5 November, before taking over charge Prof. Jha spent the whole day along with me, visiting the Departments & Centres to pay respect to the seniors and acquaint himself with some faculty and others and solicited their cooperation for smoothly running the Institute. Soon afterwards Jagatguru Sankaracharya of Singeri visited the Institute and addressed the campus community on 9 November at the OAT. Prof. Jha was requested to receive the Guruji -- he did so bare-footed at the main entrance of the Institute and garlanded Jagatguru and escorted him to the OAT. Guruji addressed the jam-packed audience of students, staff and the campus community in Hindi and Prof. Jha was asked to translate extempore speech of Jagatguru in English. His lucid way of translation in brief and to the point earned admiration of all. In fact, this was the first public introduction of the newly appointed Director. He made a good impact among the staff and students of the institute.

Prof Jha wished to rope some of his senior colleagues in his fold to help him in administering the affairs of the Institute. He made his senior colleague Prof. T.C. Bagchi to take charge as Deputy Director (Adm) and Prof. K.B. Menon, Head of the Dept. of Electrical Engineering was appointed the Dean (Postgraduate Studies). Prof. Jha was very happy to say that both Prof. Bagchi and Prof. Menon gave solid support to him in achieving results. By dint of his perseverance and intellect, he could smoothen the administration wherever possible. Chairman, BOG was very happy to see the improvement and all were appreciative of the leadership qualities of the Director. The Chairman, BOG requested him to stay and steer the Institute for a little longer but Prof Jha had no intention to do so and wished to get back to IIT Delhi as a faculty.

In the meantime, in 1977, Shri B.P Poddar, an industrialist from Calcutta was appointed as Chairman, BOG during the regime of Janata Dal Govt. at the centre in place of Shri A.N. Haksar.

In February 1978, Prof. Jha handed over charge to Prof. Shankar Lal, Head of the Mechanical Engineering Dept. of Roorkee University and left for Delhi. On the day of departure Prof. Jha requested me to accompany him to Calcutta so that he could pay his respect to Dr S.R. Sengupta, former Director, at his Lake Town residence. Dr. Sengupta entertained us with tea, snacks, etc. He was not too happy to know that Prof. Jha was leaving the Institute so soon. I saw them off at Howrah Station.

Prof. Shankar Lal started well with grace and ease. One advantage was that he could speak Bengali and other eight regional and foreign languages. Things were much easier for him to pilot the affairs because his predecessor did a lot of groundwork to smoothen the administration of the Institute. A dynamic personality, Prof. Lal made a good impact with the students, faculty and staff in the beginning. He had an American wife (Yugoslavian in origin), a sweet spoken lady who preferred to stay in and discharge household responsibility. They used to lead a very simple life. I had no difficulty in working with Prof. Lal as I knew him earlier while working with the Govt. of West Bengal at Calcutta. His father was known to me who was then Director of Personnel at DVC Headquarters, Alipur, Calcutta. Once I noticed that Prof. Shankar Lal was wearing a stitched bush shirt in office. When I pointed out to him he simply kept his hand on my shoulder and remarked, "My eldest son is studying in USA, youngest son and daughter are studying at Roorkee University and the eldest daughter at Jawaharlal Nehru University at New Delhi -- more than half of my earnings is spent for their education. So how can I afford to live in luxuries"? Prof. Lal had smooth sailing with Chairman Shri B.P. Poddar who expired in London after protracted illness.

Prof. S.N Sen, the retired Vice-Chancellor of Calcutta University took over as Chairman BOG in 1981. At the beginning Prof. Lal maintained good and harmonious relations with the Chairman. But as days went by, they had some difference of opinion. Prof. Sen then onwards directly involved himself with faculty and others and even entertained them at his Calcutta residence. At times Chairman overruled the decisions of Director in administrative matters. Due to such relation between Director and Chairman, some senior faculty members desired to support the Director and wished to start a Faculty Forum. Prof. Lal welcomed the idea to maintain pressure on the Chairman and somehow got the Faculty Forum approved in a meeting of the Board of Governors in 1982 without the full support of the Chairman. The Board's decision was circulated the same day to individual faculty of the Departments / Centres at the behest of Director. I was asked to see that BOG resolution is circulated to individual faculty in all the Departments / Centres of the Institute by the same evening -- though it was a Herculean task I did it with the help of all my colleagues in Director's office. Prof. Lal anticipated that Prof. Sen on reaching Calcutta might alter the decision and ask the Director not to implement it. It did so happen that Chairman telephoned him in the evening. Prof. Lal told him it was already circulated. This action created an unhealthy atmosphere in the Institute for sometime. Thereafter, Prof. Sen was reluctant to meet Prof. Lal. I had to meet Chairman often at Calcutta for obtaining his approval, orders or otherwise on important official matters. Chairman used to like me and I had free access to his residence. Prof. Shankar Lal's contractual agreement was coming to an end in February 1983 and the Ministry of HRD was in action to find a new Director. Ultimately, they had screened two persons, namely Prof. A.N. Bose, ex vice-chancellor Jadavpur University and Prof Biswajit Nag, then Chairman of WEBEL Calcutta and ex-Professor of Jadavpur University.

Chairman had likes and dislikes -- he preferred Prof. Bose for the post but the Ministry had some reservations because of his age. Prof. Nag, knowing this refused to join Kharagpur even at the request of the Ministry -- he categorically said that so long Prof. Sen remained as Chairman he would not be wiling to be at IIT Kharagpur. Ultimately, Prof. Shankar Lal left the institute in February 1983 after handing over charge to Prof. C.N. Lakshminarayana, then Deputy Director. Soon thereafter Prof. S.N. Sen suddenly died at Calcutta after a brief illness.

Shri Russi Mody, then Managing director of TISCO was appointed as Chairman, BOG in April 1983. Prof. Lakshminarayana wanted to have someone as Chairman who had a strong personality and able administrative quality. I obtained brief bio-data of Shri Russi Mody, from the Institute library and handed over to Prof. Lakshiminarayana. He wrote a personal letter to Prof. C.S. Jha our former Director and then Educational Advisor (Tech) in the Ministry of HRD. Sometime later a telegram was received (April 1983) conveying the appointment of Shri Russi Mody as Chairman, IIT Kharagpur. In mid-April Prof. Lakshminarayana and myself went to Calcutta to meet Shri Mody on prior appointment at his Tata Centre office. He welcomed us cordially. We explained to him the function of the Chairman and presented a copy of Acts & Statutes and some other documents for his perusal.

Prof. Lakshminarayana superannuated in June 1983 and handed over the charge to Prof. M.A. Ramlu, then Deputy director on the advice of the Ministry or HRD.

Prof. G S. Sanyal, a very renowned teacher of IIT Kharagpur was invited by the Ministry of HRD for discussion and he was appointed as Director in August 1983. Prof. Sanyal had no difficulty in discharging the responsibilities by virtue of his long association with the Institute. He maintained excellent relations with all cross-sections of the people. In a short time, he earned respect from the students, faculty, staff and others.

Mr. Mody had a different style of administration. He was quite humorous too. In the beginning he used to come to Kharagpur to meet the staff and the students community and at times he shared meals with the students in the Halls of Residence in a relaxed mood. He has a soft corner for the students and they too loved and respected him just like 'Dad'. Shri Mody occasionally helped the students financially in the extra-curricular activities, spring festivals, etc., and offered employment to quite a number of students after graduation in TISCO and Tata's other organizations. A very cordial atmosphere prevailed during the period within the Institute and in the campus. He used to meet the representatives of Employees Union and Teachers Association and tried to solve the general problems with the help of Director. Being the Chairman of the Tata Group in later years, a very busy person moving from east to west and sometimes abroad, he used to monitor the affairs of the Institute through Tata Bearing Division at Kharagpur.

IIT Hall workers Union was very active in 1970s and 1980s before Shri Modi took over as Chairman. The hall workers' Union with support of the local political leaders was trying to put pressure on Chairman to meet their demands. Earlier quite often the union went on strike just before the examination of the students, thus disrupting the academic activities and the schedule of the Institute. Once in 1984 just before the mid-term examination the Union served notice for one day's token strike and the same day at dead of night they handed over a notice to continue the strike from the next day, i.e., the day the examination started. Director hurriedly called the contractors to feed the students. The contractors agreed but the Union leaders threatened them.

Shri Mody was apprised of the situation and as a challenge he asked a catering contractor, Shri Man Singh from Jamshedpur to immediately proceed to IIT Kharagpur with instructions to feed the students of the Halls of Residence. The West Bengal Government assured Shri Man Singh of police protection for any untoward incident. The contractor started a gruel kitchen in Technology Students' Gymkhana building and served meals to more than two thousand students not only during their exams. but also for three months and academic schedule of the institute was maintained as usual. Ultimately, they had to withdraw the strike unconditionally. Most of the workers, except a few leaders, were taken back to work after signing a letter of conditions of joining as instructed by Chairman BOG. Since then there was no strike or suspension of work by the Hall workers and the local political workers could not poke their nose in the Halls of Residence.

Prof. Sanyal retired from the service of the Institute in February 1987, and Prof. K.L. Chopra, a senior Professor and well-known scientist from IIT Delhi took over. Immediately on joining Prof. Chopra was active to organize the Convocation of the Institute. Prof. S Nurul Hassan, the then Governor of West Bengal was the Chief Guest and delivered the Convocation address. Soon thereafter Prof. Chopra went abroad for three weeks as per earlier commitment at IIT Delhi, of course with the permission of the Chairman. On return, in the process of settling down at the Institute, I could know his style of administration. He was a renowned scientist no doubt, but his dealings with the Heads of Depts., faculty, officers and others were not praiseworthy. The learned Heads and faculty were slowly trailing behind rather than coming closer to Director. It was due to his manners, and lack of courtesy -- contrary to what one expects from his leader. On many occasions I pointed out to him with instances. Temporarily it worked well but it was difficult for one to change him. Deputy Director, Prof M.N. Faruqui, a very decent personality, did not find pleasure to work with him. Registrar, Shri S.R. Acharyya, at times showed his displeasure and protested to Director on few occasions. Ultimately, Prof. Faruqui left the Institute to join as Vice-Chancellor of Aligarh University and Shri Acharyya as Secretary at the Costs & Works Institute of India at Calcutta. These were losses to the Institute. Staff of the Institute and the campus community started to speak ill of Prof. Chopra. At times I used to tell him the sentiments of the faculty and staff who expect human relationship from their Director.

Prof. Chopra used to go out of campus very often. He hardly declined any meeting or seminar, discussions, etc. During my tenure as Secretary to Director a complaint came from Chairman's office in 1988 about frequent absence of Director. He wanted to know the period and dates of absence from headquarters. On going through the records in Director's office, I found that Prof. Chopra was away from the campus for 160 days during that year, and it was conveyed to Chairman, BOG. On enquiry from Shri Mody, Prof. Chopra said that his absence did not affect the working of the Institute.

Prof. Chopra had many sided qualities, did good things, cleaned the campus, solved the housing problems by constructing more flats, brought changes in the academic activities of the Institute, and diverted the perimeter road for bus, truck and other private vehicles. He did a lot for the Institute, yet he was not praised for his leadership qualities. He was in the habit of giving benefits to his 'yes men' in many ways but denied them to others. He failed to boost the morale of the faculty and others in the Institute. He had a fascination for putting marble stone on occasions of laying foundation stone, inauguration of institutional buildings, etc., all around the Institute and campus. Even sensible people from outside were laughing at it. Prof. Chopra's contractual appointment ended on 3 March 1992 but he got extension for another term till March 3, 1997.

My superannuating date, i.e., 31 May 1988 was coming closer but Prof. Chopra urged me to stay on for at least two years more on contract. Though I had no inclination or desire to continue any more, I could not say 'no' to Prof Chopra. I told him politely that I prefer to withdraw but agreed to continue for one year in the first instance. Unlike others, he liked to control everything himself, and expected faculty and others to be submissive to him whether he was right or wrong. Though responsibility, authority and some financial powers were vested in Deputy Director, Deans and Heads of Departments and Centres, hardly anyone could exercise these without the knowledge or consent of the Director. Sometime I had to face many awkward situations and embarrassment due to such a situation and I found no other option but to submit my resignation from contract service in September 1988. But Director did not accept it and requested me to continue till the end of my contractual appointment. I expressed my unhappiness to Registrar who was a good friend of mine. Director again requested me to continue for another year but politely I refused the request as I felt one should leave the chair with grace well in time. Then Prof. G.S. Sanyal, who was then Executive Director of Science & Technology Entrepreneur's Park (STEP) requested me to assist him. I could not refuse the request of Prof. Sanyal, since we knew each other for long.

Prof. Amitabha Ghosh joined the Institute after Prof. Chopra left and is doing an excellent job as Director. To conclude I am extremely happy to note IIT Kharagpur has been adjudged the topmost Engineering Institute in the country for consecutive years. The credit goes to all the Directors, teachers, staff and students of the Institute.

I wish great success of IIT in years to come.

 

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