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A Tribute to Roorkee Luminaries

The University of Roorkee is the offspring of the Roorkee College founded in 1947 as the first engineering college in the British empire. During the past 150 years the University has been a pioneer in the field of education and research in engineering in our country. Widely acclaimed for its technological excellence, the institution has served as a trend setter in many ways and has literally played a major role in the building of India. With emphasis is on multifaceted development of personality, the aim of the University has always been to produce disciplined young men and women of outstanding ability, exemplary character and leadership qualities and great dedication to the service of mankind.

The greatness of an institution is judged by the contributions and achievements of its faculty and and alumni and the stature of the persons associated. The 150th anniversary of the University is a an appropriate time to pay our grateful homage to the great men who brought name and fame to this Institution.

Sir James Thomason who initiated ,vigorously pursued and brought to fruition the idea of establishing the college was one of the most outstanding among the noble Englishmen who came to India. An administrator with great vision, liberal outlook and charitable disposition, having genuine concern for the welfare of India, he left an imprint of his extraordinary talents on almost all departments of Government.

Sir Proby Cautley, another moving spirit behind the establishment of Roorkee College, was a great civil engineer of his times and is known as the founder of the Ganga Canal. The construction of the canal between Hardwar and Roorkee overcoming colossal obstacles was a marvellous feat of engineering skill and perseverance. He also rendered memorable service to geological and palaeontological sciences by his explorations of rocks and fossils in the Sivalik ranges for which he was honoured by a fellowship of the Royal Society.

H.B. Medlicott, F.R.S who was Professor of Geology and Experimental Science (1854-62) was an outstanding geologist who did pioneering work on the geology of India. Allan Cunningham Asst. Principal (1864-65, 1870-80) authored the highly regarded Volume III of the Roorkee Treatise on Civil Engineering (Applied Mechanics) and his research on `Flow in Open Channels', with extensive and painstaking experiments in the Ganga Canal, earned recognition in Europe. Sir John Eliot, F.R.S., Professor of Mathematics (1869-72) was a distinguished mathematician and a pioneer in meteorology. Author of many research papers including `Climatological Atlas of India' and `Handbook of Cyclonic Storms', he became Head of the Indian Meteorological Department (1889-1903). Gerald Lacey thrice Professor of Civil Engineering (1915-17, 1928-32, 1945) and the last British Principal (1945-46) earned worldwide recognition for his `regime theory' and made rich contributions to the field of Stable Channel Flow. He was awarded the famous Kennedy gold medal in 1930 and the Telford gold medal in 1958.

The University has produced some of the most brilliant and eminent engineers whose magnificent works in the field of irrigation, water supply, buildings and roads, railways and other areas are monumental tributes to their alma mater. A brief narration of the achievements of some of these stalwarts coming out of the portals of the Institution during the period from 1850 to 1950 is given below.

Rai Bahadur Kanhaiya Lal (1852) joined Punjab P.W.D. and subsequently became Executive Engineer, Lahore. He has the distinction of being the biggest single donor to the college having donated Rs 1000 in 1870, Rs 1500 in 1877 and Rs 1000 in 1887 for one gold medal and two silver medals. Raja Deen Dayal who passed Lower Subordinate Examination in 1866 achieved unrivalled reputation as a brilliant photographer and was honoured by the title of Raja by the Nizam of Hyderabad in 1885. Pioneer of Photography in India he is regarded as one of the greatest camera artists of the 19th century.

Sir William Willcocks(1872) one of the most distinguished products of the College, planned and built the Aswan dam on the Nile (Egypt) and the Hindia dam on Euphrates (Iraq).

Sir Ganga Ram(1873) after a brief Service in Punjab P.W.D devoted himself to practical farming. He obtained on lease from Government 50,000 acres of barren, unirrigated land in Montgomery district, and within three years converted that vast desert into smiling fields, irrigated by water lifted by a hydroelectric plant and running through a thousand miles of irrigation channels, all constructed at his own cost. This was the biggest private enterprise of the kind, unknown and unthought of in the country before. Sir Ganga Ram earned millions most of which he gave to charity. In the words of Sir Malcolm Hailey, the then Governor of Punjab, "he won like a hero and and gave like a Saint". He was a great engineer and a great philanthropist.

Raja Jwala Prasad (1900) another highly illustrious alumnus became Chief Engineer, UP Irrigation Department in 1929 and was honoured by the title of Raja by the Government. He prepared the Ganga Canal Grid Scheme in 1924. After retirement in 1932 he established a sugar mill and an agricultural firm in Bijnor, U.P. He was Chairman of the Thomason College Reorganisation Committee (1938-39).

Sir Lakshmi Pati Misra(1911) possessed many virtues apart from sound engineering skills. A keen sportsman and a brilliant conversationalist he served the Indian Railways with great distinction for 34 years and rose to the highest rank of Chief Commissioner. His association with his alma mater was intimate and full of affection.

Dr. A.N. Khosla (1916) was a dynamic visionary and engineer of towering stature. He developed the Khosla Disc for precision levelling across rivers and wide valleys and authored the famous Treatise on `Design of Weirs on Permeable Foundations'. Father of the Bhakra Nangal Project and the driving force behind several other river valley projects in the country, he served as Chairman, Central Waterways, Irrigation and Navigation Commission, and later as Vice Chancellor of the University from 1954 to 1959. Dr. Khosla changed the look of the University and gave it a reputation to live up to and a role to play in resurgent India. He was the first engineer to hold the exalted office of Governor of Orissa (1962-68). He donated most of his consultancy income to institute the Khosla Research Awards.

During the so-called prestigious decade of 1920's the Institution produced many eminent engineers which included Kunwar Sain (1922), who contributed to the planning of projects concerning Rajasthan Canal and Mekong Valley Development in Thailand; A.C. Mitra (1923), who contributed to the development of irrigation and power systems of Yamuna and Ganga; P.L. Verma (1924), who planned and constructed Chandigarh; L.P. Bhargava (1925), who designed and erected improved gates for weirs; Karnail Singh (1927), who constructed the Assam Rail Link in 1947, built Chittranjan locomotive works and became Chairman, Railway Board; Yadav Mohan (1928), who was responsible for the planning and design of Rihand dam and for the construction of the most difficult part of the Rajasthan Canal; H.P. Sinha (1928), who prepared the project for the Trans-Asian Highway from Bangkok to Istanbul; and D.C. Baijal (1929), who rose to be Chairman, Railway Board and Chairman Bharat Heavy Electricals. This decade also provided two future Vice-Chancellors of the University - G. Pande (1925) and M.R. Chopra (1929).

Dr. G. Pande lent lustre to three high offices he held in succession - Chairman, Railway Board; Chairman, Hindustan Steel; and Vice-Chancellor, University of Roorkee (1961-66). During his regime the prestige of Indian Railways reached its peak; it was also during his tenure that the three public sector steel plants at Bhilal, Rourkela and Durgapur were set up and commissioned. Dr. M.R. Chopra, after successfully completing the gigantic Bhakra Dam Project as its General Manager, became Chairman, Central Water and Power Commission, and later Vice-Chancellor of the University (1966-71). Dr.G.Pande and Dr. M.R.Chopra, with their administrative acumen, made the University one of the foremost centres of engineering education - healthy within and reputed outside.

The most illustrious of the decade of 1930's, Dr. Jai Krishna (1935) joined the teaching staff of the college in 1939 and was Vice-Chancellor of the University from 1971 to 1977. He earned worldwide recognition as an eminent engineer-scientist, as Founder and Director of the School of Research and Training in Earthquake Engineering and as recipient of several prestigious awards and honours.

Prominent among those who passed out in 1940's are Dr. O.P. Jain (1944), a structural design engineer par excellence who, after a long and distinguished service at the University, served as Director,I.I.T., Delhi (1978-83); Dr. Dinesh Mohan (1943) Who became Director, C.B.R.I Roorkee, at a relatively young age and rendered highly meritorious service to the lnstitute; Dr. Bharat Singh (1945), a renowned expert on irrigation and Dams who was Vice-Chancellor of the University (1982-86); and Dr. Jagdish Narain (1948), a distinguished soil scientist who was Vice-Chancellor of the University from 1977 to 1982.

No narration relating to this University can be complete without mentioning the name of Lt General Sir Harold Williams who was associated with it for over 50 years. Professor of Civil Engineering (1936-38) and member of senate (1949-55) He took deep interest in the progress of the Institution. Gen. Williams was Engineer-in-Chief, Indian Army (1948-55) and Director, C.B.R.I., Roorkee (1955-62). He adopted India as his home and loved Roorkee in particular. "Roorkee was his Shantiniketan, his Sevagram and finally his Samadhi

After the establishment of the University the number of students graduating increased progressively due to enhanced intake in existing branches and addition of new branches. Thus a veritable stream of highly talented young people has since come out of this august institution. They have occupied, and continue to occupy , key positions in Industry, Government and Education, both in India and abroad, thereby bringing fresh laurels to the alma mater.


C.P. Gupta




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