IIT-KGP – Should I be ashamed?

As one of the alumni of IIT-Kharagpur of 1957 batch, I take pride in the institute and get delighted to read any development over there. It is but usual. I spent four best years of my life there at a time when the institute was the only of its kind in the country. I referred recently about the affordable artificial heart developed by the institute in my writing on innovating India.

But last week, IIT-KGP came in news for a wrong reason. It was on fire. It appeared as if the students in IIT have got indoctrinated in Bengal School of Protest Techniques. The whole population of the students, boys and girls went for a violent protest, damaged properties, and made the director resign. It was unprecedented. I remember once in 80s a strike by mess workers tried to upset the life in the institute, but the students cooperated with the authority to face the strike successfully even when the examinations were on. I took pride in that.

I feel sorry for Rohit, but I can’t agree to the way the students reacted to the sad demise of Rohit, a student. However, it is unfortunate that in last sixty years of its existence IIT-Kharagpur couldn’t build a hospital of world class that could have been the best in eastern region of the country and served its people are the poorest in the country. It could have also helped in the research and development in medical science and engineering for IIT. It only makes one fix the blame on the unimaginative and narrow vision of the directors who ran it till date or on the lack of its autonomy and the interference from the HRD ministry. When Stanford can have a great hospital with it, why can’t IITs emulate it? Why should it be known only for its quality of engineering education and for the reputation of its alumni?

I remember during my years in IIT between 1957 and 1961, once jaundice broke out almost as an epidemic among the students. There was panic. In the name of hospital, there was hardly anything. I left the campus and went to Birlapur to live with my grandfather. I wrote a letter to late Dr. Ram Subhag Singh, the firebrand MP from Bihar about it. And interestingly, I got the reply ensuring some action. He and some of his friends raised the issue in the parliament.

During the tenure of Rakesh, my eldest son in IIT-Karagpur in end of 80s, I had a chance to visit the BC Roy Technology Hospital. Rakesh was admitted, but all his friends wanted me to take him away and I did the same. I couldn’t find a doctor who would have solaced or advised me about Rakesh’s illness. Unfortunately, our system encourages indifference and inaction among those who matter and who could make the life better in the community they belong. Why didn’t the teachers and other staff members press for getting a super specialty hospital project implemented if it was sanctioned once, as per one report?

But the various other issues raised by the media regarding the poor living conditions of the students at IIT-Kharagpur are more agonizing. I just can’t imagine that the students are using a single bed in the rooms in shift for sleeping. I lived in a single room all the four years of my stay there. The food was not to my taste, as I came from a family and place that never had any chance to relish the south Indian food. But I managed. Why can’t the wardens and the students manage its canteen better? How can they expect to become better technocrats and managers if they can’t even run the messy canteens right? I remember in our days, how we did the duty religiously.

I still remember the biggest problem at IIT during our time was the scarcity of water. Toilet used to be dirty. Many times while taking bath, the water used to stop in the middle suddenly. Institute created water storages in each public bath rooms later. Even the jaundice problem had origin in water quality. I don’t know if the problem is sorted out. The institutes must sort out these problems on its own through various agencies without looking to the government for everything. The director must not be only academician; they must be good CEO too. What is so great in increasing the entry numbers in the institutes to accommodate the reservation promises, if the institutes such as IITs can’t provide the basic living amenities to its students?

I wish the government look into the real problems and the mess created over the years is cleared. A judiciary investigation can’t be a solution. It requires a will of the government to provide the best of the faculties to the students of the best institutes of the country. I wonder how the chairman of the governing body who is one of the best executives of the country from the most reputed business house and an alumnus of the institute have not been able to make the facilities up to a world class standard.

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