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India@75

1950: India gets first IIT in Kharagpur

Print edition : Aug 25, 2022 T+T-

1950: India gets first IIT in Kharagpur

The main building of IIT Kharagpur, West Bengal.

The main building of IIT Kharagpur, West Bengal. | Photo Credit: Sumit Dayal/Bloomberg

It was part of Nehru’s vision to make India self-sufficient in knowledge acquisition.

The Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur was India’s first IIT. Set up in May 1950, it started functioning from an address in Calcutta but shifted to Hijli in West Bengal’s Medinipur district in September that year. The setting up of a world-class institution for the imparting of technological education was part of the Nehruvian vision of making India self-sufficient in knowledge acquisition.

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Trying to recover from 200 years of colonial rule that did not significantly nurture domestic industry or enterprise, newly independent India needed to industrialise. Technology and technologists naturally had an important role to play in this journey. Also, India had a Prime Minister who was, in Ramachandra Guha’s words, “fascinated by modern science”. Fostering scientific temper and harnessing science to alleviate poverty and increase productivity were important objectives of his government. This was what led to the establishment of the first IIT. Five more were inaugurated between 1954 and 1964. India’s IITs have now become a byword for engineering excellence. Like the new research laboratories that were set up under Nehru’s watch, not as part of existing universities but independently, the IITs were meant to foster the country’s indigenous technical and scientific capabilities. This stress on scientific and technological research was reflected in India’s gross national product (GNP). Just 0.1 per cent of the GNP was spent on scientific research at the time of Independence. Within a decade, this rose to 0.5 per cent and later exceeded 1 per cent.

A view of the Hijli Detention Camp on the IIT Kharagpur campus.
A view of the Hijli Detention Camp on the IIT Kharagpur campus. | Photo Credit: Arunangsu Roy Chowdhury

IIT Kharagpur functioned from the Hijli Detention Camp, which had been set up in 1930 to detain those participating in the freedom struggle. The first session started in August 1951 with 224 students and 42 teachers. The formal inauguration, by Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, happened on August 18, 1951. Nehru laid the foundation stone for the new building in March 1952. In September 1956, Parliament passed the Indian Institute of Technology (Kharagpur) Act, which declared IIT Kharagpur an institute of national importance.

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