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Aura of excellence

Print edition : Aug 28, 2009 T+T-

Bangalore has the distinction of playing host to a number of premier research institutions in the country. Several factors have helped the capital city of Karnataka achieve this. One is its location, far away from the borders and away from the coast, which is ideal for sensitive scientific and defence institutions. Another is its pleasant climate.

In the early years of Independence, several public sector companies were set up in Bangalore and some existing manufacturing units in the city were taken over by the Central government. These include Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL), Bharat Earth MoversLimited (BEML), National Aerospace Laboratories (NAL) and Hindustan Machine Tools (now HMT). The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) was set up in 1972.

No discussion of Bangalore's premier institutes will be complete without mentioning the Indian Institute of Science (IISc). Set up in 1909, it has consistently set benchmarks in terms of quality in scientific research. The institute was the result of the vision of Jamsetji Nusserwanji Tata. Krishnaraja Wodeyar IV, the progressive Maharajah of Mysore, enthusiastically contributed the land required for the institute.

The role of the rulers of Mysore has been immense in the development of the State as a centre of education and research. Before Independence, the princely state had a reputation of being led by enlightened kings in the company of far-sighted diwans such as Sir K. Seshadri Rao, Sir M. Visvesvaraya and Sir Mirza Ismail, and it was one of the most progressive states in the country. A modern system of education was established in Mysore in 1833. Maharaja's College (a constituent college of the University of Mysore now) was founded in 1864 and became a first-grade college in 1894. The University of Mysore, the first university in the region and the sixth founded in the country, was established in 1916. An engineering college was founded in 1917.

Among the Central research institutes situated in the city are the National Tuberculosis Institute; the Coffee Research Centre; the National Dairy Research Institute (South); the National Institute of Animal Nutrition and Physiology; the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences; the Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Bangalore; the Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research; the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research; the National Centre for Biological Sciences; the Central Institute of Medical and Aromatic Plants; the Indian Institute of Horticultural Research; the National Council for Teacher Education; the Indian Statistical Institute; the Regional Institute of English; the National Power Training Institute; the Project Directorate on Animal Disease Monitoring and Surveillance; the Society for Integrated Circuit Technology and Applied Research; the Indian Veterinary Research Institute; the National Bureau of Agriculturally Important Insects; and the Central Inland Fisheries Research Institute.

Apart from these, there are a few institutions that have achieved a special place for themselves in the areas of research and training. These include the Central Power Research Institute (CPRI), the Institute of Wood Science and Technology (IWST), the Indian Plywood Industries Research and Training Institute (IPIRTI), the National Law School of India University (NALSIU), the Raman Research Institute (RRI), the Indian Institute of Astrophysics (IIA), the Apex Hitech Institute (AHI), the National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC) and the Institute for Social and Economic Change (ISEC). The Central and State governments consult these institutions regularly and they play an important role in policy formation.

The role of the CPRI becomes paramount at a time when the country is facing a severe power crisis. The institute was established by the Government of India in 1960 and comes under the Ministry of Power.

Says P.K. Kognolkar, the Director-General of the CPRI: The institute functions as a centre for applied research in electrical power engineering assisting the electrical industry in product development and quality assurance. It also serves as an independent authority for testing and certification of power equipment.

With its state-of-the-art establishments, the CPRI has full-fledged facilities for testing power equipment up to 400kV class and facilities are being set up for testing equipment up to 1,200kV class. Armed with all the national and international accreditations and affiliations, including the prestigious membership on the Short Circuit Liaison International Forum, the CPRI is fully geared to meet the growing requirement of the Indian power sector.

One of the major functions of the CPRI is to conduct research in the areas of generation, transmission and distribution of power in order to assist the utilities to supply reliable and quality power to consumers. Besides in-house R&D, the CPRI also undertakes sponsored research projects from manufacturers and other agencies in different areas of specialisation, said Kognolkar.

Over the years, the institute has successfully executed over 300 research projects. This has led to the publication of over 450 technical reports and the presentation of more than 2,200 research papers at national and international fora. The CPRI manages the Research Scheme on Power, a research fund of the Power Ministry, to carry out need-based research, including solving operational problems encountered in the power system. A second scheme under which the CPRI gets funds is the Research Contingency Fund. This focusses on augmenting and improving power generation and distribution. A third, and more focussed, source of funding for the CPRI, is the National Perspective Plan.

The CPRI established the Centre for Collaborative and Advanced Research (CCAR) in 2006. It has signed memoranda of understanding (MoU) with the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Roorkee, IIT Madras, and Banaras Hindu University, among others for undertaking collaborative research. The comprehensive testing facility on its spacious campus enables the testing of power systems using real-time digital simulation. The testing of direct-cooled and frost-free refrigerators and air-conditioners are done as per the standards stipulated by the Bureau of Energy Efficiency (BEE).

The CPRI has established a mobile diagnostic facility for power plant-specific equipment. All these services helped it achieve an all-time high revenue of Rs.73 crore in 2008-09, an increase of more than Rs.20 crore from the previous year. The CPRI is also a valued consultant to both domestic and international clients. Its revenue income was Rs.12.50 crore in 2008-09. It has also contributed to the Accelerated Power Development and Reforms Programme and the Rajiv Gandhi Grameen Vidyuthikaran Yojana of the Central government. The quality of the services rendered by the CPRI is of international standard.

The AHI, which functions under the Directorate-General of Employment and Training (DGE&T) of the Union Ministry of Labour and Employment, was set up in 1993 with assistance from the World Bank. According to S.J. Amalan, Director of the AHI, it is the nodal institute for training trainers for various technical institutions in the country. Its Bangalore campus is technically advanced as it uses edu-sat technology to impart uniform training across the country. The AHI maintains a database of instructors and monitors their progress in capacity building. The main idea behind the AHI is to nurture, promote and build world-class resource centres dedicated to training and consulting activities for manufacturing and technology industries. Its mission is to train and develop personnel in providing smart solutions to organisations by combining key technologies and best industrial practices.

The AHI provides state-of-the-art training facilities in computer-aided design (CAD), programmable logic controller (PLC), microcontrollers and microprocessors and is in constant interaction with hi-tech industries for identification of and planning for training resources.

The AHI provides training in high technology for employees, and graduate and technical apprentices and trainers from industry, the Industrial Training Institutes (ITIs) and engineering colleges; provides didactic support and curriculum development for institutes and training centres in India and abroad; offers consultancy services by networking resources for engineering manufacturing industries and the information technology industry; provides foreign consultancy services in the guise of technical assistance; and coordinates and monitors hi-tech training at seven Advanced Training Institutes and 10 ITIs.

While this is fairly routine work for the AHI, what is particularly exciting is that the institute provides the entire software support for the implementation of the Modular Employable Skills (MES), a skill development initiative of the DGE&T. This useful scheme provides industry certification for myriad skills that so far have been practised in an unorganised manner.

The objective of the scheme is to provide vocational training to school leavers, existing workers and ITI trainees in order to improve their employability by optimally utilising the infrastructure available with the government, private institutions and industry, said Amalan.

The existing skills of a person are tested and certified under the MES. The DGE&T offers training in close to 450 skills, which include wall painting, plumbing, craftsmanship, cooking North Indian food and toymaking. The MES programme aims at equipping workers in the unorganised sector so that their skills get recognition and they get certification from industry personnel.

The IIA is devoted to studies in astronomical sciences. While its main campus is in Bangalore, the observatories are located at four field stations Hanle at Ladakh in Jammu and Kashmir, Gauribidanur in Karnataka, and Kavalur and Kodaikanal, both in Tamil Nadu. The Centre for Research and Education in Science and Technology (CREST) is located on the IIAs Hosakote campus in Bangalore Rural district. CREST houses the remote control room for the two-metre Himalayan Chandra Telescope located at Hanle. Scientists use the telescope through a dedicated satellite link. The IIA, which became an autonomous research institution in 1971, comes under the Union Ministry of Science and Technology. It owes its origin to the scientific spirit of the British who first set up an observatory in 1786 in Madras (now Chennai). The observatory was shifted in 1899 to Kodaikanal. The IIA is in the middle of another major phase of expansion.

The IIA has its own optical, infrared and radio facilities and has just completed the installation of a high-altitude gamma ray array at Hanle. ASTROSAT, Indias first fully dedicated astronomy satellite that is scheduled for launch in 2010, is a collaborative project of the IIA and ISRO. The satellites ultraviolet payload, consisting of an ultraviolet imaging telescope (UVIT) and its associated instrumentation with capabilities in both near ultraviolet and visual wavelengths, is designed at the IIA. The institute has taken the responsibility of fabrication, testing and final integration of the payload with the satellite. The IIA has proposed to build a large solar telescope with an aperture of two metres as a national facility.

According to Dr. Siraj Hasan, IIA Director, some of the recent initiatives of the institute include starting two PhD programmes an integrated programme in Physics in collaboration with the Indira Gandhi National Open University [IGNOU], and an integrated M.Tech-PhD (Tech) programme in Astronomical Instrumentation. This was started in 2008 in collaboration with the Department of Applied Optics and Photonics of the University of Calcutta. Students come to the IIA after completing part of the course in Kolkata. This is the first time that a PhD programme is being offered in India in such an area of research.

The institute recently established a generous post-doctoral fellowship called the Chandra Fellowship. The IIA also has a public outreach programme to create awareness about astronomy and astrophysics through exhibitions, lectures and movie shows. According to Siraj Hasan, the IIA is planning to have 100 hours of contact lectures with the general public this year.

The RRI maintains the image of Bangalore as the hub of research in pure sciences. Founded in 1948 by the physicist and Nobel laureate Sir C.V. Raman, and named after him, the RRI was lucky to have him as its Director until his death in 1970. In December 1934, the Government of Mysore gifted a plot of land in Bangalore to Professor Raman for the creation of a research institute. In the same year, Raman founded the Indian Academy of Sciences. Some years following the creation of the RRI, Raman made a gift of movable and immovable property to the Academy for the use and benefit of the RRI.

The RRI is now an aided autonomous research institute engaged in research in basic sciences and receives funds from the Central Department of Science and Technology. The main areas of research at the institute are astronomy and astrophysics, light and matter physics, soft condensed matter and theoretical physics. The research activities include work in chemistry, liquid crystals, physics in biology, and signal processing, imaging and instrumentation. The astronomy and astrophysics group in the institute is engaged in understanding the events that led to the evolution of the universe and a variety of phenomena associated with cosmic bodies. One of its current projects is outfitting the Giant Metrewave Radio Telescope (GMRT) near Pune. The RRI has participated in several telescope projects, including the building of the Decametre Wave Radio Telescope at Gauribidanur along with the IIA.

According to Professor Ravi Subrahmanyan, the RRI Director, RRI astronomers are also working to create a new long wavelength radio telescope in the Australian outback.

The light and matter physics (LAMP) group is engaged in the study of light-matter interaction, which is a combination of atomic, molecular and optical physics, and intense laser field studies of plasmas. The group explores light-matter interactions through experimental, numerical and theoretical methods. Established in the 1970s, the soft condensed matter group has primarily focussed on research in the field of thermotropic liquid crystals, covering a broad spectrum of activities ranging from the synthesis of new liquid crystalline materials to display electronics.

Discoveries of the columnar phase formed by disc-like molecules, and pressure-induced mesomorphism are two of the early significant contributions made by the group. With the aim of focussing on basic science research, the group has since diversified into other soft matter systems, nano-composites and biological systems. Members of the group often seek collaborations with academics with complementary expertise in experimental skills and relevant theory.

The fourth group at the RRI, the theoretical physics group, works primarily in four areas statistical physics, soft matter physics, including physics in biology, gravitation and the foundations of quantum mechanics. This group has members in two broad areas general relativity and statistical mechanics. Subrahmanyan said: The RRI attracts students who are responsible for their work and know the value of their work.

The IWST is tucked away in the green corridor encompassing the IISc. campus. It is the only institute in the country involved in the research of wood science and is also one of the eight institutes that come under the control of the Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education (ICFRE). The ICFRE is an autonomous council of the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF). India is home to 1,600 timber species. This makes the role of a research institute in wood science important. It also has the added responsibility of addressing research issues of the forestry sector of Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Goa at the regional level. The institute was founded in 1938 as the Forest Research Laboratory by the Maharaja of Mysore.

According to its Director S.C. Joshi, an Indian Forest Service officer, the institutes areas of focus are efficient utilisation of forest products, increasing the productivity of forest plantations, conservation of bioresources through pest and disease management, and providing wood substitutes using modern technologies.

Joshi laments that although the IWST has made significant advancements in wood science, this is rarely conveyed to the general public because of the disinterest of middlemen and contractors in the wholesale and retail sale of timber trade. Explaining a project to enhance the durability of wood, Joshi said, We are involved in the process of enhancing the utilisation and life of wood but the middlemen are not interested in this procedure as it would reduce their profits. There is a great deal of ignorance on the part of saw millers and wood depot owners to such useful advances in wood science technology.

Among the other important work carried out by the institute is the identification of 30 substitute timber species in lieu of commercially important species such as teak, rosewood, deodar and red sanders. The institute provides integrated pest management strategies for conserving forests. It is developing techniques to replace energy-intensive metals and plastics with reconstituted wood products such as wood polymer composites.

The institute formulates tree improvement strategies and has a standardised nursery, and macro and micro propagation techniques to produce quality planting material of high-demand and hard-to-grow species such as sandalwood, teak and Malabar neem. In tune with the efforts to meet the demands of both the organised and unorganised sectors, research on industrially relevant and other local species are carried out.

The institute holds regular meetings with representatives of State forest departments, non-governmental organisations, farmers, fishermen and industry, and conducts short-term training programmes in processes relating to wood science. The work we do at the IWST is useful, especially considering the depletion of forests. The knowledge of changes in wood science will help in better use of timber, Joshi said.

The IPIRTI, another institution under the MoEF, is an autonomous research organisation and is mandated to carry out research and development, training and education, testing and standardisation and extension in the field of plywood and panel product manufacturing. The only such institution in the field, the institute has been closely associated with the development of the plywood and panel industry and has been instrumental in its growth.

The institute is headed by Dr C.N. Pandey, a scientist who worked for almost three decades with the Forest Research Institute (FRI) in Dehra Dun. Ever since it was established as a cooperative research laboratory in 1962, the institute has remained an industry-driven one, keeping track of the changes in the plywood industry and working closely with it. The institutes Research Advisory Committee is headed by a leading industrialist.

The IPIRTI pursues two strategies to bridge the gap between the demand and supply of industrial wood. It is involved in the development of appropriate processing technologies for efficient use of plantation-grown tree species for manufacturing quality wood products and is evolving technologies for using non-wood renewable fibres to manufacture alternatives to wood, such as environment- and people-friendly products from bamboo. In recent years, bamboo has assumed importance as a source of renewable fibre for manufacturing industrial products, some of which are excellent alternatives to wood. The institute has developed successful technologies for manufacturing several mat-based industrial products from bamboo, such as bamboo mat board, bamboo mat veneer composite, bamboo mat moulded items and bamboo mat corrugated sheet for roofing. According to Pandey, the products made from bamboo are successful substitutes to traditional products.

The IPIRTI was instrumental in establishing the common facility centre (CFC) on the outskirts of Bangalore where primary processing of bamboo and mat-weaving have been established. About 300 families belonging to tribal communities traditionally involved in making bamboo-based utility products work at the CFC. The institute provides guidance and technical support and the grants received from the National Mission on Bamboo Applications (NMBS) to the CFC.

With a view to developing environmental guidelines for glues/adhesives, the IPIRTI has established a facility to measure the emission level of formaldehyde as per international specifications. It is using biomaterials obtained from natural renewable sources instead of petroleum-based chemicals for the manufacture of boiling-water-resistant grade plywood.

The institute offers a one-year postgraduate diploma course in Mechanical Wood Industries Technology. More than 460 alumni of the course have found placements in various wood and wood-based industries. The IPIRTI is recognised by the FRI for pursuing research leading to the award of PhD. The institute also plays a significant role in formulating/amending the Indian standards for wood and wood products through active participation in various committees of the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS). The IPIRTI has a vibrant extension and enterprise development programme and liaisons between the government and the industry.

The NLSIU has been consistently ranked as the number one law school in the country by a variety of ranking bodies. The school is situated on the outskirts of the city on a 23-acre campus abutting the leafy and large campus of the University of Bangalore. Established in 1988, the NLSIU demonstrated its stellar position in the first year of its existence when the first batch of students admitted to the school won the prestigious Bar Council of India National Moot Court Competition.

The flagship course at the school is the five-year undergraduate B.A., LL. B. (Hons.) degree programme for which 80 students are ordinarily admitted every year. The students are admitted after a highly competitive national entrance exam and compulsorily have to stay on campus as this is a fully residential course demanding full-time attention from the students, Professor (Dr) R. Venkata Rao, Vice-Chancellor of the NLSIU, said.

The NLSIU offers a two-year masters programme LL.M., and MPhil and PhD programmes in law. There have been several instances where students have been admitted to other law schools but waited a year and then re-applied to the NLSIU because they could not make it in their first attempt, Rao said.

The NLSIU has eight centres specialising in various aspects of law. These are the Centre for Women and the Law, the National Institute for Alternate Disputes Resolution, the Centre for Child and the Law, the Centre for Environmental Education, Research and Advocacy, the Centre for Intellectual Property Research and Advocacy, the National Institute of Human Rights, the Institute of Law and Ethics in Medicine and the Centre for the Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy. The school has retired Chief Justices of India on its faculty. The faculty with its diverse and varied expertise and scholarship is the backbone of the law school. The school publishes four journals pertaining to aspects of law.

According to Rao, the credit for the establishment of the NLSIU must go to N.R. Madhava Menon, the first Vice-Chancellor of the school. We have become a great institution and the alumni of this institute are spread all over the world. The school, which has 100 per cent campus recruitment year after year, will soon be starting a course in Cyber Forensics. Normally people take pride in referring to the NLSIU as Harvard of the East, but our mission should be to make people refer to Harvard as Bangalore Law School of the West, Rao said.

The ISEC is a premium postgraduate research institute in the social sciences. Bangalore is well known for research institutes in the pure sciences but with the establishment of the ISEC in 1972, the gap in social science research was filled up. Established by the great visionary and renowned institution builder, Professor V.K.R.V. Rao, after he set up the Delhi School of Economics and the Institute of Economic Growth, the ISEC has become one of the best institutes for advanced social science research in the country.

The major thrust behind the institute is an integrated harnessing of social science skills for identifying and understanding the social and economic changes taking place in our country, linking it with its programmes of economic growth and social development and evolving policies and proposals for stimulating change in the right direction and increasing the well-being and welfare of vast masses of our people, who stand today below the poverty line, Rao said at the inauguration of the institute in 1974.

The ISEC is the largest research institution functioning under the aegis of the Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR) involved in inter-disciplinary and multi-disciplinary research and training in the social sciences achieved through both macro- and micro-level studies. One of the major missions of the institute is to improve the quality of policymaking at the local, State, national and international levels, with several faculty members acting as chairpersons and members of various policymaking commissions and committees. The current Director of the ISEC is R.S. Deshpande.

The research activities at the institute are organised under eight centres, which cover the diverse array of social sciences. There are 40 distinguished scholars on the faculty at these centres. The audience of the ISEC includes students, teachers, doctoral and postdoctoral scholars, government officials, legislators, NGOs, other research institutions and staff of national and international organisations.

While the expertise of the ISECs faculty extends to economic and social issues at the State, national and international level, the development issues of Karnataka are of particular concern to the institute. It publishes a biannual multidisciplinary journal called Journal of Social and Economic Development.

The institute formulates its research agenda on a five-year basis and some of its current thrust areas are theoretical and applied research on micro- and macro-economic issues in the Indian economy; Indian agricultural policy; and human development process and indicators. The institute completes about 30 research projects in a year, many of them sponsored by the Central, State and local governments and national and international agencies and some of them its own. Its faculty has published about 350 books and over 4,500 technical articles. Efforts are made to support doctoral students financially.

In the vicinity of the ISEC and the NLSIU is another interesting and pioneering body, the NAAC. It was established in 1994 as an autonomous institution under the University Grants Commission (UGC) with its national headquarters in Bangalore. The idea behind its establishment was to accredit the quality of education imparted by institutes of higher education.

According to Prof. H.A. Ranganath, Director, if an institute of higher education expresses an interest to be assessed by the NAAC, an impartial team from the council would visit the institute, prepare a self-study report (SSR), and give a final decision in the form of a grade. A voluntary process, it has gained immense popularity because of the cachet of the NAAC and the fact that the whole process of external assessment and self-evaluation becomes a reality check for the institution. Until July 2009, 4,082 institutions of higher education, including 148 universities, have received NAAC accreditation.

The assessors are drawn from the ranks of senior academics who are of undoubted integrity. National consultative committees in various areas provide the necessary inputs to establish and strengthen the process. Vice-Chancellors of universities, professors, deans, heads of departments in various universities, directors and professors of IITs and IIMs provide expertise and leadership for the academic activities of the NAAC.

The council has also taken up several post-accreditation activities to promote and sustain quality among institutions of higher education, particularly the accredited institutions. This is done by encouraging the establishment of Internal Quality Assurance Cells (IQAC). The prime task of the IQACs is to develop a system for consistent and catalytic improvement in the performance of institutions. The NAAC has also brought out more than 150 publications that cover diverse aspects of higher education. Its assessment reports on various colleges, which are available on the Web, will help prospective students.

The council has taken up several initiatives such as establishing quality assurance coordination committees and sponsoring quality assurance cells in different States. It promotes the concept of lead college and cluster of colleges for quality initiatives and provides research grants for the faculty of accredited institutions to execute projects on different themes/case studies. The impact of a body such as the NAAC on the higher education scenario in the country has been immense with the result being that there is a better understanding now of the concept of quality assurance among institutions of higher education.

The council has also signed MoUs with several government, national as well as international agencies, including the prestigious Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), the Commonwealth of Learning and the International Network of Quality Assurance Agencies in Higher Education (INQAAHE) of which the NAAC is the founder member. In April 2007, the council organised an accreditation award ceremony, at which more than 200 delegates from various universities and colleges received accreditation certificates.

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