IIT Kanpur History

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Institute Logo. The trinetra in the flame was suggested by first BOG chairman Dr. Sampurnanand, and stands for "inner perception". The logo in its present form was finalized by Prof. Vijay Stokes.

IIT Kanpur was established in 1959 and designated "institute of national importance" in the IIT Act of 1961. In the first decade (1962-1972) IIT Kanpur was assisted by the Kanpur Indo-American Programme (KIAP), which catalyzed a computational culture on campus, making it the pioneer for Computer Science in India. The first director, Prof. P. K. Kelkar, widely viewed as a visionary, promoted a culture of freedom and equality on campus, which has served it well academically.


History of the IIT System

The concept of starting a system of world-class technical institutes for India was mooted in the 1940s by visionaries such as Ardeshir Dalal, A. V. Hill and Humayun Kabir. The vision led to the formation of the Sarkar Committee in 1946, which never submitted its final report, but recommended four institutes (North, South, East West) in an interim report. Soon after independence, the Eastern institute, which would be later be christened "Indian Institute of Technology", was initiated at Kharagpur in 1950. [VS11]

In the meanwhile, Humayun Kabir argued for mentorship of these institutions by the technical leadership from other nations, in order to achieve a rapid tempo of growth. This idea found a resonance in Nehru, and also in the real-politik of the cold war era. The Russians supported the formation of IIT Bombay in 1958, and Germans agreed to mentor IIT Madras. The Americans then took up the challenge of participating at IIT Kanpur. A team from the American Society for Engineering Education visited India in 1958 and prepared a four-volume report. [ND73]

The IITs at Madras and Kanpur were launched in 1959.

In 1961, the Indian Institute of Technology Act was passed in parliament, extending an earlier IIT (Kharagpur) Act of 1956. The act gave an unprecedented degree of autonomy to the IITs. The Director had enormous discretion, and works with the Senate to define the academic norms of the institute, independent of external pressure. The institute is governed by the Board of Governors (BoG), with technically eminent people as members. However, following a pattern set in Kharagpur, the board was initially headed by the UP Chief Minister, Dr. Sampurnanand, followed by C. B. Gupta; however, subsequent chairment have bee industrialists or academic leaders. A full list of Board chairmen and their backgrounds is given at the Board of Governors page.

IIT Kanpur: The beginnings

The first director-designate of IIT Kanpur, Prof. Purushottam K. Kelkar, arrived at Kanpur Central railway station on 14 December 1959. There was no one to receive him. IIT Kanpur, which had been registered only a month earlier, had a skeleton staff, and operated out of a rundown cafetaria building borrowed from the Harcourt Butler Technological Institute. [SR91]

Prof. Kelkar and the initial staff raced against the clock to hire a minimal team of faculty to teach five engineering disciplines and the pure sciences. At the same time, student selection, hostel arrangement, faculty quarters and many other issues had to be tackled.

On 9 August 1960, the first group of 100 students - all toppers from the different boards - had their first classes. They were accommodated in borrowed hostels about four km away - at the Central Textile Institute and the Leather Institute. Here they faced ragging from the local students. Everyday a blue truck would arrive to take them to class.[PK13]

Kanpur Indo-American Program

Meanwhile, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), based on the ASEE report, had asked MIT to start the mentoring process. A team from MIT visited Kanpur in February 1961, and were very impressed with the broad-mindedness of Prof. Kelkar. However, in view of the magnitude of effort needed, they went back and suggestged to USAID that a consortium be formed to provide advisory services to the fledgling institute. Upon the advice of the Ministry Advisor GK Chandiramani, this group was christened the Kanpur Indo-American Program (KIAP). [ND73][INKI]

Nine leading U.S. universities joined the consortium:

  • California Institute of Technology
  • Carnegie Institute of Technology
  • Case Institute of Technology
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Ohio State University
  • Princeton University
  • Purdue University
  • University of California at Berkley
  • University of Michigan

In 1962 March, the first KIAP leader, Prof. Norman C. Dahl of MIT, a noted researcher in Solid Mechanics, arrived at Kanpur.

New Campus

Meanwhile, the second batch had been admitted in 1961 based on the first Joint Entrance Examination. Eight disciplines were running at Kanpur, with B.Tech, M.Tech., and Ph.D. programs:

  • Engineering: Chemical, Civil, Electrical, Mechanical, Metallurgy
  • Pure Sciences: Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics.

The first selection committee was held in August 1960, A small number of faculty had been loaned or hired, and a number of others had been recruited - largely from among the Indian PhD students at various foreign universities.

In July 1959, the UP government had acquired 1048 acres of land in Kalyanpur, some 12km along the Grand Trunk road from Kanpur center. This area had been occupied by the three villages of Purwa Nankari, Barasirohi and Naramau Bangor. By 1963, a few laboratories, one hostel (Hall-I), and some faculty quarters had been constructed, and the Institute began to move into its new campus. #AKB09 AKB09

At the time of the move, the crops sowed last year were still standing next to the village huts, and a long row of mango trees ran along a canal distributary. [PG02]

The buildings and layout of the campus were designed by noted architect Achyut Kanvinde, in keeping with the "spontaneous exercise of freedom of thought, speech and sometimes action". [PK81] Eventually, most of the buildings were constructed of local brick. As an example the imposing architecture of the library - a three story structure - includes an open atrium in front with water fountains all around, that were part of the central air-conditioning system.

Academic Decisions : Hiring and Curriculum

In its early years, IIT Kanpur had to forge a path emphasizing individual freedom and learning opportunities for both faculty and students. Much procedural bureaucracy - e.g. in the hiring of faculty - was bypassed, partly through the help of co-operative officials like GK Chandiramani. Speaking on the first years of IIT Kanpur in 1981, Kelkar said: "There was complete freedom of expression, as also the right to dissent." [PKK81]

Interference by political forces was minimized; in a famous story related by IITK alumnus Prof. Arvind of MIT, Dahl and Kelkar visited the UP Chief minister and asked him to send a representative to the seleccion committee, but this person soon realized that the selections were completely professional affairs, and there was no interference. [ARN04]

In the process, IIT Kanpur had to overcome the lassitude that had developed in the Indian university system. Kelkar was clearly a man of ideas, and he gave free rein to the small group of bright men he had been able to recruit. The initial academic culture was given an impetus by the KIAP program in the first ten years, whereby more than a hundred talented faculty from the U.S. visited the campus, staying for at least a year. Some of the innovations at IIT Kanpur, compared to other IITs, have been listed by Prof. V. Rajaraman: [ARN04] :

  1. Common core curriculum
  2. Emphasis on a sizable number of Humanities courses
  3. Semester system
  4. Letter grading
  5. Insistence on teaching of core courses by the most experience faculty.

It is a tribute to the vision of IIT Kanpur that most of these features were subsequently adopted by all other IITs.

Another area that much emphasized in the initial years was the library. Purdue University was tasked with upgrading the library. From 1962-68, the university catalogued all books being purchased at Purdue library and sent copies to the IITK Library, and back volumes for a large number of journals were organizsed. [MK90]

The Student's gymkhana was set up in 1962 to promote sports and cultural activities. Also, the Counselling Service was set up in July '63, possibly the first such body at an Indian college. Faculty members served as advisors for groups of a dozen students.

First convocation

Meanwhile the first batch graduated in 1964 (it was a five year program).

The first convocation was held for batch 2 in 1965, and was addressed by President S. Radhakrishnan. 66 UGs and 6 PhDs graduated. The Institute logo was designed around this time, with a _trinetra_ (the third eye of shiva), symbolizing "inner perception" or insight at the heart of technical knowledge. The idea is based on a suggestion by the scholarly U.P. Chief minister Dr. Sampurnanand, who was the first chairman of the Board of Governors. The lettering on the logo and the final touches were provided by Prof. Vijay Stokes. [ES08]

A new department of Aerospace was formed in 1964 and the Nuclear Labs with a Van de Graaf Generateor were created.

The IITK Alumni Association was set up on March 4, 1967 with Prakash Khemani as the first President.

A headstart in computation

Spearheaded by the Electrical Engineering department and strongly supported by Kelkar, the vision for Kanpur included a computer even in the earliest stages. Before 1963, there were only two computers in India, and none was very useful since coding had to be done in assembly.

Negotiations were started with IBM to purchase the IBM 1620, under funds that were made available under KIAP. However, it was the cold war era, and India was not a favoured destination. Nonetheless, with the support of the KIAP team, the negotiations proceeded amicably. Meanwhile the building to house the computer was designed and construction started for the computer center.

In 1963 July, at the request of IITK, Professor Harry Huskey of UC Berkeley, a veteran of the ENIAC computer project and one of the leading US computer scientists, arrived at Kanpur. Prof. Irving Rabinowitz of Rutgers had arrived a few months earlier, and F.S. Acton would also arrive at the same time as Husky.[ND73]

In late July, an american military DC-7 aircraft flew into the airport at Chakeri in Kanpur, carrying the IBM 1620 accompanied by a KIAP staff. It was transported to campus by a bullock cart, which has become one of the legends of technology growth in India. [RB09]

The building was still under construction, but work was finished quickly, and with the air-conditioners humming, the computer was installed within a month. It was the first computer in India to be running FORTRAN, and could be programmed by instructions punched on a deck of cards. Immediately a series of ten-day courses on programming were initiated. At the instance of Huskey, the courses were opened to scientists and others from outside IITK.

In 1966, an IBM 7044 was acquired, and an IBM1401 in 1968. The courses continued after the departure of the U.S. faculty in 1965, with 60 participants each, thrice a year, until 1975. The book written by Prof. Rajaraman for this course (1967) became a bestseller. [VR12]

Eventually computation percolated to all disciplines at Kanpur, from nuclear physics to geology to computer-aided design, and was also used for administrative purposes such as the rapid compilation of student grades. Indeed for some time, together with a slightly larger computer acquired by TIFR Mumbai, these two were the backbone of all computational simulation research in India. [RA10]

In 1971 a post-graduate (M.Tech and Ph.D.) program in Computer Science was started, and a full-fledged department would be established in 1984.

Middle years

In April 1970, Prof. Kelkar completed his term and left to become the director of IIT Bombay. Erstwhile deputy director Prof. M.S. Muthana, was appointed director. In the words of Prof. C.N.R. Rao, Prof. Muthana "was a fine person and straightforward to a fault." He soon ran into difficulties with the new chairman of the Board, Dr. S. Hussein Zaheer, and a workers' group as well. The crisis deepened when Dr. Zaheer moved to the campus for some months, and diluted the authority of the director. [CR10],[ES08]

The period 1971-72 was tumultuous for both the nation and the institute. The Indo-Pak war started leading to cancellation of industrial tours and also the Inter-IIT sports meet.

In the past decade, in view of the grievances of the many villagers whose land had been acquired for IIT, many individuals from these families, as well as other locals, had been hired on temporary jobs at IIT. When some of these temporary jobs were terminated in 1969, a strong worker's movement formed with some faculty and student support. The movement also resonated with the local communist tradition, which went back to mill strikes in the colonial era. In the event, it was emergency, and Prof. A.P. Shukla of Physics, and Prof. BL Dhoopar of ME (worked with the RSS) were arrested. [AKB09] At one point, the Institute even terminated Shukla's appointment for standing up for worker rights, but he was reinstated after an appeal to the president. The Faculty forum was formed in this period to promote "freedom of thought" conducive to higher academics.

One of the main demands of the workers agitation was the regularization of these temporary posts, and several Karamchari strikes were held to push for this. In 1974 there was a mess strike and the students themselves cooked for some time. Under the administration of Prof. Sampath, most workers were indeed regularized, leading to a situation in the 1980s where there were 1700 staff for 250 faculty and two thousand students, an imbalance that persisted for two decades.

In 1972 also, the first Student's Senate came into being with the expressed objective of 'making the policy formulation more democratic and representational, and involving students' opinion and their participation to a much larger extent, in all matters of student interest.'

In 1972, the 'Bangla Desh Festival' was also held as a gesture of support towards the new nation.

In the early 1980s, Mohan Tambe, working with Profs. K R Sarma and RMK Sinha, developed the GIST card for typing in Indian languages.

For a few years in the 1990s saw a budget shortage under Prof. R.C. Malhotra, and many expenses had to be curtailed. In 1994, a decision was taken to double the undergraduate strength at the IITs. This led to an influx of new funds for constructing hostels etc., and a new impetus to hire more faculty.

By the 1990s, a number of alumnus had risen to positions of prominence in various businesses, and started making a difference on campus. The Samtel Center for Display Technologies came up in 2000 based on a large donation from Satish Kaura, the founder of Samtel Corporation. The Kadim Diwan building housing the CSE department was donated by N. R. Narayana Murthy.

In 2001, the Institute started a new department in the Biological Sciences, with an initial grant of Rs. 11 crores from the MP funds for Arun Shourie.

The faculty strength, which had been around 270 to 300 for many decades, reached 400 in 2015.

List of Directors

		Name		Years
		P K Kelkar	1959-1970
		M S Muthana 	1970-1974
		Jagdish Lal	1974-1976
		A Bhattacharya	1976-1980
		S Sampath	1981-1986
		A K Mallik	1986-1991
		R C Malhotra	1992-1997
		K A Padmanabhan	1997-2001
		S G Dhande	2001-2012
		Indranil Manna	2012 (current)


[AKB09] A. K. Biswas, IIT Kanpur formative years 
some recollections, of Prof. A.K. Biswas pdf
(nostalgic writeup by Prof. Biswas who joined the metallurgy department after his Phd at MIT in 1963.)
[ARN04] Rishiyur Nikhil, Prof. Arvind reminesces on Dahl and Kelkar, [1]
(also has reminescences by many others, including V. Rajaraman)
[CR10] CNR Rao, Climbing the Limitless Ladder 
A life in Chemistry
World Scientific 2010
[ES08] E.C. Subba Rao, An Eye for Excellence
Fifty innovative years of IIT Kanpur, Harper Collins (2008)
(The first book length treatment of Kanpur history. Has a chapter on KIAP, a long list of faculty achievements.)
[INKI] Kanpur Indo-American Programme (KIAP)
[MK90] Madhukar B Konnur, Transnational Library Relations
The Indo-American Experience
Concept Publishing Co, 1990, p.26-27
[ND73] Norman Dahl etal, Kanpur Indo-American Program (KIAP) Final report (1962-1972)
excerpts pdf
(Provides full list of all the KIAP visitors and details of the early curriculum and other interactions)
[PG02] Pradip Ghosh; A Long Day's Night, Srishti Publishers, 2002 / Rupa Books, 2009.
(Though a work of fiction, beautifully describes the green campus in its middle years)
[PK13] Prakash Khemani, 9th August 1960
The Day IITK Started
IITK Alumnus magazine VOICES Jan 2013, [www.iitkalumni.org/EMagazine/3.pdf pdf]
[PKK81] P.K. Kelkar Convocation address, IIT Kanpur 1981
[RA10] Robert S. Anderson; Nucleus and Nation
Scientists, International Networks, and Power in India
University of Chicago Press, 2010
(p.339-340 describes the computing scenario in India in the late '60s)
[RB09] Ross Bassett 
Aligning India in the Cold War Era
Aligning India in the Cold War Era - Indian Technical Elites, the Indian Institute of Technology at Kanpur, and Computing in India and the United States
Technology and Culture, Volume 50, Number 4, October 2009, pp. 783-810
[SR91] S. Ranganathan, Uncanny confidence - An obituary of P. K. Kelkar;
Current Science: v.60 (03) 10 February 1991. pdf
(Prof. Subramanian Ranganathan joined Chemistry in 1966, after his PhD from Ohio State.)
[VR12] Rajaraman, V.; History of Computing in India, 1955-2010
IEEE Computer Society, 2012, 24 pages [http:.//www.cbi.umn.edu/hostedpublications/pdf/ pdf]
[VS11] Dharam Vir etal; Sixty years in the service of the nation
An illustrated history of IIT Kharagpur, Orient Blackswan, 2011.
(chapter 1, A New Beginning: The Birth of the IIT System)
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