Tuesday, July 13, 2010

How Bangalore nearly lost IISc.

How Bangalore nearly lost IISc.

Staff Reporter
Maharaja's largesse determined its location


Bangalore: The Indian Institute of Science (IISc.), which has earned Bangalore its “science city” tag, might well have come to be located in Roorkee had it not been for a single providential factor that made the south Indian city an irresistible option.

In his recent lecture, “The Indian Institute of Science: Learning from History”, IISc. Director P. Balaram traced the germination of the idea and the many debates — between British colonials, Indian intelligentsia and royalty — that had to be resolved before the premier science institute found its home in Bangalore.

Climate debate!

Not least among these debates, and surprisingly so, was over the “climate”. British academics and officials appointed to survey the two cities were convinced of “Rurki's” suitability over Bangalore. As “equable” as it was, Bangalore's weather was “enervating and unsuitable for continued active work in laboratories”, a correspondence in 1901 reasoned.

The comparative study of the two cities said that diseases such as “plague and fever” were prevalent in Bangalore, which, besides, was “rather out of the way of government inspection and trade.” Roorkee on the other hand was in British territory and its location “conveniently central for Bengal, North-West Provinces and Punjab”.

How it landed here

It was, Prof. Balaram explained, the availability of land that finally determined the location: it was “available free of cost” (372 acres gifted by Mysore Maharaja Krishnaraja Wadiyar IV), and “the Mysore government offers [Rs.] 5 lakh for initial expenses, besides the site and possibly other support,” the comparative note finally conceded.

Prof. Balaram offered these and other insights from the 100-year-old history of the IISc.

The protagonists in the “cast of characters” in the IISc. story were J.N. Tata (whose dream it was to create a “Research Institute of Science for India”) and Burjorji Padshah (a committed employee of Tata who often had to mediate differences in opinion). When the idea of such a project was first discussed, a sceptical Viceroy Lord Curzon had said: “To start with polytechnics [in India] and so on is like presenting a naked man with a top hat when what he wants is a pair of trousers.”

The lecture was part of the Popular Lecture Series organised by the IISc. Alumni Association Science Forum.

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