Sunday, April 27, 2008

Fauji Namesakes

Today's HT had an interesting bit about the nephew of Shaheed Bhagat Singh being a Major General in the Indian Army. The interesting thing was not the pedigree but his unusual name - Sheonan Singh.

I had heard of Captain Singh and Jarnail (General) Singh but "Sheonan" was certainly a bold leap of imagination! It turns out that he had been named after a Japanese kamikaze pilot who had crashed into HMS Prince of Wales during WW-II.

"Sheonan" does not quite sound like a Japanese name... is it a corruption of "Shounen", meaning a boy or lad? Perhaps. But according to British naval records this ship was destroyed by torpedo bombers on 10 December 1941 and not by suicide attacks which started only in 1944 after significant military defeats for Japan.

In any case, the last time I heard about such a cross-border 'military inspiration' was during Operation Desert Storm, when there had been some reports that Saddam Hussein's son Uday had been named after a Punjabi soldier who fought in WW-I.

Google reveals that Sheonan Singh (then a Major with 10 para's) won his Vir Chakra during Operation Pawan in Sri Lanka. He was the only officer who survived IPKF's infamous Jaffna University Raid on the LTTE, on 12 October 1987.

But the question remains - who was the original "Sheonan"?

Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Only Profitable Indian Urban PSC

On my way back from the Shastri Park Depot(Delhi Metro) the car radio was on and an interview was in progress. The topic? Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation!

After the initial shock of hearing something unusual on FM, I was drawn to the voice of south Indians describing the success of a public utility in painstakingly precise Hindi. BMTC had the largest fleet of city buses in the country; it serviced the longest ring-roads routes and was the only profit making urban sector public corporation in the country.

I checked the BMTC website, and yes, they did have some amazing numbers. But how did they manage this? Can it be replicated in other Indian cities?

Monday, April 21, 2008

Foreign Contribution to Development of IIT's in India

In 1946, a committee was setup to explore setting up technical institutes of higher education for post-war industrial development of India. It was foreseen that the future prosperity of India would depend not so much on capital as on technology. The Council for Scientific & Industrial Research (CSIR) needed manpower for its numerous laboratories and the IITs were envisaged as institutions for grooming local talent.

Based on recommendations of the Sarkar Committee, the first Indian Institute of Technology was born in May 1950 in Kharagpur, West Bengal. Four other campuses were subsequently founded at IIT Bombay (1958), IIT Madras (1959), IIT Kanpur (1959), and IIT Delhi (1961). Decades later, the sixth IIT was established in Guwahati (1994). India's first technical institute, set up in 1847 and known as the Thomson College of Engineering and subsequently the University of Roorkee, was ordained as the seventh IIT in September 2001.

POLICY & LEGISLATION: IIT Act, passed by the Indian Parliament in 1956. The provisions of this Act, its Statutes and Ordinances defines the role of its administrators (council, senate, board of directors and registrars), a well as guidelines for utilization of funds. This legislation has been largely effective in insulating the IITs from the bureaucratic and political interference so commonly seen in other central and state educational institutions. At first only IIT Kharagpur was covered under the IIT Act-1956. Subsequent amendments to this Act in 1961, 1963, etc., saw the inclusion of the other IITs.

FUNDING: The overall administration of the IITs rests with the Technical Education wing of the Department of Higher Education at the Ministry of Human Resources Development. Budget from the central government goes to the IITs in two forms - "Plan Funds" are towards capital expenditure i.e. for the creation of assets, whereas "Non-Plan Funds" go towards revenue expenditure - meeting the operating expenses of the Institutes, maintaining infrastructure, etc.

In the initial years, government contribution was focused on creation of infrastructure facilities using the Plan Funds. Foreign contributions were mostly in the form of technical assistance – consultation services, equipment, faculty deployment and training.

Here is a summary of the formative years of each of the older IIT’s and the role of foreign governments in the institution-building:

IIT KHARAGPUR (1950) – West Bengal State

Since West Bengal had the highest concentration of engineering industries, the Committee suggested that an IIT may be set up in that state. In May 1950, the first in the series was established in Kharagpur at the site of the Hijli Detention Camp, where the British had incarcerated political prisoners; the institution was named the "Indian Institute of Technology'' before its formal inauguration on August 18, 1951.

IIT-Kgp has the largest campus among IITs, spreading over 2100 acres; it is a self contained township of over 15,000 inhabitants. Currently IIT-Kgp has about 450 faculty, 2200 employees and 2700 students on the campus.

IIT-Kgp did not receive any substantial foreign assistance in its formative years.

Education & Its Management:

IIT BOMBAY (1958) -- Mumbai, Maharashtra State

After IIT-Kgp was established, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru sought Soviet assistance in order to set up an institute in Bombay (now called Mumbai).

IIT Bombay was established in 1958 with the cooperation and participation of the UNESCO, utilizing the contribution of the Govt. of USSR. The Institute received substantial assistance in the form of equipment and expert services from USSR through the UNESCO from 1956 to 1973. The Institute received several experts (59) and technicians (14) from several reputed institutions in the USSR. The UNESCO also offered a number of fellowships (27) for training of Indian faculty members in the USSR. Under the bilateral agreement of 1965, the USSR Govt. provided additional assistance to supplement the Aid Program already received by the Institute through UNESCO.

IIT KANPUR (1959) – Uttar Pradesh State

As a fall-out of the prevailing Cold War, the Americans offered to help to set up yet another IIT. As per the suggestions of the Sarkar Committee, it was established in the North as IIT Kanpur (in Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh) in 1959.

During the period 1962-72, IIT Kanpur received technical assistance from USA under the Kanpur Indo-American Programme (KIAP), from a consortium of nine leading American Institutions:

1. California Institute of Technology

2. Carnegie Institute of Technology

3. Case Institute of Technology

4. Massachusetts Institute of Technology

5. Ohio State University

6. Princeton University

7. Purdue University

8. University of California at Berkley

9. University of Michigan

KIAP had three major components: (1) Consortium staff working in Kanpur under the stewardship of a Programme Leader, (2) Some IIT Kanpur faculty members receiving on-the-job experience in the Consortium institutions, and (3) the procurement of equipments, books and journals not available in India.

As a part of the aforesaid components, Americans helped establish the Aeronautical Department and the IITK airfield (the only IIT to have one); landscaping and architectural design of the campus as well as library management. IITK library was run by an American lady for the first 10 years.

As of June 1971, an amount of US$ 7.5 million was spent on procuring equipment for the various departments and central facilities. The US participants served a total of 200 man-years at Kanpur. Under the KIAP agreement 50 faculty members and technicians of IIT Kanpur were provided with special training at various Consortium institutions.



IIT Madras (1959) – Chennai, Tamil Nadu State

Germany had run up large trade surpluses, and they were persuaded to support an IIT in the South. The Germans had initially decided on Bangalore as the location but when they visited Madras, C. Subramaniam, the Education Minister, took them round the Governor's estate and offered the space across the table. The visiting German team was considerably impressed by it and Madras got the fourth IIT in 1959 itself, after the signing of the first Indo-German Agreement in Bonn.

The first Indo-German Agreement provided for the services of German professors and 5 foremen, training facilities for 20 Indian faculty members and the supply of scientific and technical equipment for the establishment of the Central Workshop and 20 laboratories at IIT Madras.

The visit of Dr. Heinrich Lubke, President of the Federal Republic of Germany, in 1962 marked the beginning of the Indo-German Technical Assistance Program.

1974 witnessed the commencement of the fourth Indo-German Agreement with the objectives of setting up inter-university partnerships in R&D projects, strengthening of the industrial consultancy service and establishment of a post-graduate programme in Television Engineering.

In 1981, the fifth Indo-German agreement was signed with the principal objectives of continuation of inter-university projects, strengthening of the Micro-Processor Laboratory, Low Temperature Laboratory and High Polymer Laboratory and continuation of exchange visits.

History of IIT Madras:

IIT Delhi (1961)

In 1958, Prof MS Thaker negotiated with the UK Government the Federation of British Industries for securing British assistance and collaboration under the Colombo Plan, for establishing IIT Delhi. The institute was formally inaugurated in 1961 and a number of British universities and institution's continue to have a special relationship with IITD.

In the initial years, academic and technical inputs from the UK were coordinated by the Imperial College, London and the British Council.

601,705 was provided under UK-ODA to finance a programme of up to 15 collaborative research projects between British Universities and Departments of the Indian Institute of Technology in Delhi (IITD).

During the year 1990-91 IIT Delhi has received a new computer system with assistance from Overseas Development Administration, U.K. British contribution in developing the climate research capabilities at the IIT were duly acknowledged in the Silver Jubilee edition of IIT Delhi.

IITD continues to have ties with the universities of Birmingham, Leeds, Longhborough, Manchester and Southampton, Nottingham, to name a few.

Imperial College - IITD Link:

Education Dept -

British Council -


In Pursuit of Excellence: Interview of Prof. A. Ghosh, Director, IIT-Kgp

Report of IIT Review Committee, 1986

Current Science Article

MHRD Organisation Structure

India-Seminar: W(h)ither IITs

IITM Financial Resources

The Telegraph - Loo-and-lab facelift fund for IITs

Education Ministry - Finance and Its Management

Pan-IIT History

Planning Commission: First FY Plan

IIT on Wikipedia

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Fevers, Delhi Doctors and WWW

Has the internet robbed doctors of their credibility?

A few days ago our daughter started complaining about painful ulcers in her mouth, which soon aggravated into a high fever and a runny nose.

Dr. Y examined her mouth, hands and feet and pronounced that these were the signs of a Cocsackievirus infection, which she probably got from her pre-school - a consequence of putting unclean hands into the mouth. He suggested some medicines -
  1. Zorivax - Aciclovir IP 400mg (5ml*four-hourly*5days)
  2. Nutrolin-B: (5ml*twice daily)
  3. Alerid - Cetirizine Hydrochloride(3ml*twice daily)
  4. Ibugesic (3.5ml, in case of high fever)

At a review two days later we informed him that the fever had abated but the ulcers had worsened. She could not open mouth now; the pain prevented her from sleeping and from eating or drinking anything except water.

The doc now said the problem is Aphthous Ulcers. He removed Alerid from the list and added two syrups:
  1. Enhancin - BD Amoxillin+Clavulanate Pottasium USP (5ml* twice daily * 5 days)
  2. Metrogyl -Metronidazole Benzoate Oral Susp. IP (2.5ml *twice* 5 days)
After spending a few sleepless nights tending to a distraught child, and while spending loads of money on consultation fees and medicines, you just wonder - was the medical consultation really worthwhile?

Skepticism gets compounded by the information available on the internet. Online pages like KidsHealth tell you that this infection is hardly preventable; there is no vaccine; drugs can only give marginal relief and that, in any case, the infection will blow over in a few days.

Why , then, did the doctor prescribe an anti-histamine (Cetirizine hydrochloride) ? Why give two separate moderate-spectrum antibiotics - Amoxicillin and Metronidazole Benzoate on top of an anti-viral (Aciclovir)?

We can only conclude that pediatrician was playing safe with his antibiotic shotgun - the medical equivalent of "spray and pray". It may not help sick children but it certainly helps keeps the pharmaceutical companies in the pink of health...

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Excerpts - April 2008

A collection of interesting tidbits from magazine and newspaper articles:

Rather Panchali by Radhika Jha (Tehelka Book Review - The Palace of Illusions - Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni)
As a child in Dhrupad's grim palace, Draupadi is haunted by the prophecy that accompanies her into the world - that she will change the course of history.
"Three dangerous moments will come to you. The first will be just before your wedding: at the time, hold your question. The second will be when your husbands will be at the height of their power: at the that time, hold back your laughter. The third will be shamed as you'd never imagined possible: at the time, hold back your curse." But of course, Draupadi forgets, and Mahabharata unfolds...

If Notes Were Goats by Krish Ashok (Tehelka, 5 April 2008 - flaying the 'politically correct insipidity' of Carnatic Concert Reviews in The Hindu, and introducing Subbudu)
Subbudu was a legendary Carnatic music critic whose reviews were droplets of concentrated sulphuric acid masquerading as Tamizh words. His wit wasn't just biting, it was a hungry T-rex... ( A snippet) "If notes were goats, this artist's rendition of Karaharapriya would be the equivalent of a lost herd, roaming aimlessly in unfamiliar pastures, bleating plaintively for help from shepherds in the audience who had already given them up for dead."

Agriculture: Asia's Kitchen - Prof. Shogenji Shinichi in The Japan Journal; March 2008 (On economic growth of China & India and the food shortages ahead)
Japan's culinary habits changed drastically over the last half century..Real per capita GDP in 2005 was 7.7 times that of 1955...A drastic rise in purchasing power brought about a lavish lifestyle in which people consume nine times more wheat, seven times more milk and dairy products, four times more eggs, and five times more fat.

Japanese food exports valued at 330 b yen represent merely one-twentieth of the seven trillion yen worth of imports;
80% of present food exports go to Asia while two-thirds of food imports are from advanced nations, with over 30% produced in USA.

Ultra-fast lasers: Zapping with the light fantastic (Economist - Mar 27th 2008)
A conventional pulsed laser may take a millisecond (a thousandth of a second) to pump up, but if its pulse is squeezed into only a nanosecond (a billionth of a second), its power is increased a million times.

A new record for intensity was recently reported by a team using a titanium-sapphire laser known as HERCULES, which occupies several rooms at the University of Michigan. It produced a beam with 300 terawatts of power (several hundred times the capacity of America's entire electricity grid). But it was concentrated onto a speck a little more than one thousandth of a millimetre across?and it lasted for just 30 femtoseconds (30 million billionths of a second). HERCULES takes about ten seconds to charge up for each pulse, compared with an hour or so for some similar lasers.

Japan's Mittelstand: Under pressure; Mar 6th 2008, Economist

Japan's small and medium enterprises (SME's aka 'Mittelstand' in Germany) in the manufacturing sector are those having capital below \300m ($3m) or fewer than 300 employees. These SMEs represent 99.7% of companies in Japan. Many of them are found in clusters, and specialise in fields such as electronics manufacturing, precision engineering and fine chemicals.
Low productivity (30% less than USA) and pressure from anchor companies is leading to big trouble...