Saturday, March 22, 2003
M A I N   F E A T U R E

It’s difficult to dilute the tradition of IITs
Dharam Vir

The Indian Institute of Technology in Kharagpur was set up in 1950
The Indian Institute of Technology in Kharagpur was set up in 1950

AS my train pulled into the familiar Kharagpur railway station recently, I was instantly teleported into the world of a 20- year- old lad, who had left the portals of the Indian Institute of Technology located here about 33 years ago to spread his wings. It appeared that the time had not moved— the same old familiar railway houses, narrow roads, South Institute, etc. But as my taxi moved into campus, I was rudely jolted out of my reverie and teleported back to the present. The place has certainly grown, nay, raced with time.

It is not widely known that the origin of the Indian Institutes of Technology lies in the report of a committee of industrialists, scientists, educationists and administrators, set up after the World War II, under the chairmanship of N.R. Sarkar.The committee included the famous Sir S.S. Bhatnagar, Sir J.C. Ghosh and Dharam Vira, ICS. In its report, submitted in 1946, the Committee suggested setting up of not less than four institutes.

The first institute was set up near Kolkata. The West Bengal government donated 1200 acres of land at Hijli, Kharagpur, part of coastal district of Midnapore.The British had used the Hijli Jail to lodge freedom fighters. Unlike the other four IITs, Kharagpur has been set up indigenously with a small assistance from UNESCO.


The Institute was born in May, 1950. It was then called the Eastern Higher Technical Institute and started functioning from Esplanade, Kolkata. The present name, Indian Institute of Technology, was adopted shortly before its inauguration on August 18, 1951 at Kharagpur. The first session started with a batch of 224 students and 42 teachers. Class rooms, labs and offices were lodged in the Hijli Detention Camp.

When we were students, the Institute was the most diversified and perhaps the largest engineering college in India. It used to offer programmes at undergraduate, postgraduate and doctoral levels in five physical sciences and nine engineering subjects.

During the last three decades, there has been massive development all over. Several new departments and centres have come up and the students number 3500. It was the first Indian Institute of Technology to start a School of Management and it was named after a distinguished alumni Vinod Gupta. Inspiring, legendary and always impeccably dressed Prof G.S. Sanyal, in spite being a very old man, continues to provide valuable guidance to this School. He is a link between the golden past and the vibrant and dynamic present.

Recently, the institute has established a new computer centre, which is perhaps the biggest in the country. The IIT also took lead in establishing campuses at two other locations — Salt Lake in Kolkata and Bhubaneshwar, to conduct diploma programmes in IT.

A feature that I recollect vividly is the extreme sense of nationalism in some teachers, for instance H.N. Bose of Physics. During the British Raj, Kolkata became the most prominent centre for philosophical, scientific and literary work. Famous scientists C.V. Raman, J.C. Bose, S.N. Bose, P.C. Ray and many others worked here. Besides being outstanding scientists, they were great nationalists too, who refused to go out of India and work. Some of our teachers such as H.N. Bose belonged to that era. They represented the rich nationalistic tradition of Bengal.

Bose was a great teacher. He would not move from a topic unless everyone had understood the basic concepts. There was another teacher, Prof. B.G. Chatterjee (popularly known as Bomchat), of Chemistry Department. He used to say, "Don't bother about English, it is not our mother tongue. Learn Chemistry properly." Everyone respected him for his superb delivery and the explaining of difficult concepts in a simple language. Only teacher of my time, G.P. Sastry, then a young Physics lecturer, is still with Institute. One rarely comes across teachers like Bose, Sastry, and Chatterjee.

There was strong gurukul type of schedule and discipline. Classes used to start from 7.30 a.m. onwards and end by 3 p.m., followed by NCC or sports during the first two years. Every teacher was fond of giving substantial homework. Bunking class was not easy. Teachers maintained a close watch over students' performance.

The Director was the most respected person. There was a tradition that the Director would address students at the beginning of the session. As soon as he would enter the auditorium, there would be pin-drop silence. However, once there was some noise. He walked out and refused to address the students. With a lot of persuasion and apology, he returned to tell us how we should behave with our teachers. Dr Sengupta, the Director, told a few shabbily dressed students, "We not only produce scientists and engineers here, we also make men out of them. Go and give yourself a wash and wear clean clothes." With the passage of time, such traditions do get relaxed, but the training still continues to be very rigorous in several ways.

One of the hallmarks of IIT, Kharagpur, has been the strong bondage with Halls. Whenever two Kgpities meet each other, their Hall is the first thing they inquire about. Shifting from one Hall to another was very rare. The five years of stay in one Hall in a secluded place like Kharagpur, well structured Inter-Hall competitions and the general rivalry amongst several Halls led to a strong Hall- based loyalty. The three old Halls, Nehru, Patel and Azad, which constituted the old campus, were known for intense inter-Hall rivalry.

Of all the IITs, the Alumni Association of Kharagpur has been the most active. The Association conducts social and other programmes at regular intervals at several locations. The Bay Area Chapter seems to be the most active. Kgpites, as they are known, settled in the USA and Canada have set up the Indian Institute of Technology Foundation for enhancing the capability of IIT, Kharagpur. It is a non-profit organisation and raises money to fund various academic and non-academic projects of the Institute. Today the alumni are occupying top positions in government, industry, institutions and even in politics. They are the true ambassadors of the Institute.

After visiting my alma mater, I realised once again that the tradition of Indian Institutes of Technology is very strong and it is very difficult to dilute or break it. Some people have talked of privatising them, but there was sharp reaction to such a proposal. The true owner of these Institutes is the Indian public. They are the pride of India and must be nurtured by everyone.