Kharagpur's legend

Published : Apr 27, 2002 00:00 IST

Indian Institute of Technology - Kharagpur, the first of the IITs, has come a long way from its modest beginnings.

INDIAN Institute of Technology- Kharagpur, the oldest among the IITs, was formally inaugurated on August 18, 1951 by Maulana Abul Kalam Azad. Over the next 50 years it not only set the standards for other similar institutions, but became a key contributor to the technological self-reliance of the country through numerous research projects sponsored by the scientific departments of the government and by other organisations.

The idea of IITs was first conceived in 1946 by a committee set up by Sir Jogendra Singh, member of the Viceroy's Executive Council, Department of Education, Health and Agriculture. The 22-member committee, headed by N.R. Sarkar, recommended the establishment of four institutions for higher technical education in the eastern, western, northern and southern regions of the country. The objective behind the establishment of these institutes for undergraduate and post-graduate studies and research was to meet the demands of national development in the post-Independence period.

Initially the institute started functioning from 5 Esplanade East, in the heart of Kolkata. It later shifted to Hijli in Midnapore district in September 1950. The idyllic, sylvan setting of Hijli, 120 km from Kolkata, was chosen to give students a peaceful atmosphere. The historical significance of Hijli must also have been taken into account while choosing the site. The Hijli Detention Camp building - in which the IIT's first classrooms, laboratories, and administrative office were housed - was established in 1930 in order to incarcerate freedom-fighters. It was here that two unarmed detainees - Santosh Kumar Mitra and Tarakeswar Sengupta - were shot dead by the British police on September 16, 1931. Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose himself came to Hijli to collect their bodies. All national leaders, including Rabindranath Tagore, condemned the shooting. The camp was closed in 1937, reopened in 1940 to detain freedom-fighters, and closed finally in 1942.

Since its modest start, IIT-Kharagpur has been engaged in a continuous process of development in terms of both infrastructure and research and development. In 1952, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru laid the foundation stone for the main building, which was completed and inaugurated in 1956. In the first convocation address the same year, he said: "Here as I stand in this place and my mind inevitably goes back to that infamous institution, for which this place became famous, not now but 20 or 30 years ago - the Hijli Detention Camp. Here in the place of that Hijli Detention Camp stands this fine monument of India, representing India's urges, India's future in the making. This picture seems to be symbolic of changes that are coming to India."

Today the old jail complex is no longer a symbol of British colonialism; instead it houses the Nehru Museum and the offices of some government departments. The Indian Research Organisation, the Vinod Gupta School of Management, and the chemical engineering complex have come up in its vicinity. In place of the marshes that surrounded the jail complex, now there are gardens and forest management projects.

When the first session started in August 1951, there were just 42 teachers and 224 undergraduate students in three departments. These students completed their four-year professional training in 1955. The first batch of post-graduates finished their course in 1954, after a one-year programme. IIT-Kharagpur has come a long way from those days to reach its present position of pre-eminence. It now has 450 teachers and 22 undergraduate and 64 post-graduate programmes, offered by 26 academic departments and schools. On September 15, 1956, Parliament passed the Indian Institute of Technology (Kharagpur) Act making it an institute of national importance. It was also given the status of an autonomous university.

The President of India is the Visitor of all the IITs and is at the apex of the IIT administration. There is a Council to coordinate the activities of all the IITs. Each IIT has a board of governors to guide it in general policy-making. The head of each board is the Chairman, who is nominated by the President. The Director is the chief supervisor of the academic and administrative activities of the Institute. He is advised on all academic matters by the Senate, comprising senior members of the Institute and nominees from various sections.

The first Director of IIT-Kharagpur was the eminent scientist Jnan Chandra Ghosh. The first board of governors was formed with Dr. Bidhan Chandra Roy as chairman and N.R. Sarkar, Sir Jehangir J. Gandhi, Dr. Tara Chand, K.R.K. Menon, T. Sivasankar, S.S. Bhatnagar and Humayun Kabir as members. Eminent scholars from Europe, such as Prof. R.A. Kraus and Prof. H. Tischner, joined the institute in its formative years. Tischner was also the first head of the Electronics and Communication Engineering department.

In the beginning, IIT-Kharagpur laid emphasis was on producing trained manpower of the highest quality for the benefit of major industries that came up in the post-Independence era. In the 1970s, however, MTech and PhD programmes on specialised areas of study were given emphasis. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, the Institute focussed more on research and application of research for societal needs. Apart from training its own students, IIT-Kharagpur took part in a programme of continuing education. Teachers from other technical institutions came to IIT-Kharagpur for higher studies under the Quality Improvement Programme launched in 1972. By 1994, this programme was consolidated under the Continuing Education Centre, which had a new dean at its helm.

Despite being about 120 km west of Kolkata, IIT-Kharagpur is well connected by train services and roads to all major cities in the country. It is only about 5 km from the Kharagpur railway station, which has the longest railway platform in Asia. The Institute is a fully residential, self-sufficient unit. It has its own water and electric supply substations and all services such as the maintenance of campus amenities, buildings and roads are provided by the Institute itself. It has its own security service for the sprawling 600-hectare campus. A modern telephone facility with ISDN and smart card service, and a hospital with 60 beds are maintained by the Institute. For the recreation of students, there are two indoor and outdoor stadia, an outdoor swimming pool, s football ground, a cricket field and tennis courts. The Institute also has its own market where provisions are available. Four nationalised banks and six privately owned restaurants are located on the campus. For the education of the children of the faculty, there are four schools - the Hijli High School, a Kendriya Vidyalaya, the DAV Modern School and the St. Agnes School (which has up to Class Five).

For the students there are 16 halls of residence, including one for married research scholars and one for defence personnel who study at the Institute. New residential halls are being constructed in view of an expected increase in student intake, and a multi-storeyed apartment complex is being built for the faculty. The total population at the Institute is around 20,000. There are also three guesthouses and a visitors' hostel.

The campus has many auditoriums and an open-air theatre that can seat over 3,000 people. A new building is also being constructed to house some departments that have expanded. The new building will have lecture halls with seating capacities of 800 each. Apart from its main campus, IIT-Kharagpur has two extension campuses - in Kolkata and in Bhubaneswar - which provide the venue for continuing education programmes, seminars, exhibitions and distance learning courses.

Unlike many other institutions in the country, IIT-Kharagpur was never shackled by any kind of regionalism. The Spring Fest organised by the students is arguably the most famous and popular college festival in the entire eastern region. Its participants come from as far away as Shillong and Hyderabad. All those associated with the Institute live on the campus. They come from different parts of the country and belong to different religions, communities, classes and language groups, but are bound by one common goal - pursuit of excellence in technical education.

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