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The techtonic shift: IIT Ropar is coming of age

After battling a slew of teething problems that included an unknown town, lack of space, scarcity of faculty, infrastructure and funds, the IIT is finally coming its own, making waves with its research and also helping the governments of neighbouring states sort out their niggling problems.

The students come from all parts of the country especially Maharashtra, Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, and Telangana, but the maximum headcount is from UP, Rajasthan, Delhi, Punjab and Haryana.

Ten-year-old Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) in Ropar is coming of age but not without having to overcome its share of problems. It was not an easy journey for the institute, often looked at as a poor cousin of old IITs, to start from the scratch from a moffusil town like Ropar. “People thought it was in the middle of rural Punjab and would think twice before coming here either as students or teachers,” says director Dr Sarit Kumar Das. After making do with a transit campus, earlier a polytechnic for women, for a decade, the IIT is finally moving into a state-of-the-art building, nestled in the foothills of the Shivalik.

After battling a slew of teething problems that included an unknown town, lack of space, scarcity of faculty, infrastructure and funds, the IIT is finally coming its own, making waves with its research and also helping the governments of neighbouring states sort out their niggling problems. “Our main problem was building the infrastructure. We have done that. Our building is ready. While most of the departments have shifted, the Director’s office and the remaining departments would soon be shifting to the new campus,” said Prof Das.

Despite the challenges of being a new entrant, competing with established old generation IITs, and locational drawbacks, this IIT has finally carved a name for itself. And Ropar now is a brand. “We certainly have come of age. I am traveling to the US next week to sign a Agreement of Collaboration with MIT for water resources and food. Since in Punjab, declining water table is a major issue, we are working on the issue with the help of MIT. We are being acknowledged for our potential. This is the reason the MIT is collaborating with us. Otherwise why would they? For a 10-year-old institute, it is an achievement,” says Prof Das.

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FACULTY
IIT Ropar is a national potpourri of faculty members with most of them from South Indian states, West Bengal and others. Their number, 65 till three years ago, has shot up to 160. To begin with, the institute had a problem attracting and retaining the faculty. Teachers did not want to come to a place that offered no employment avenues to their spouses and little by way of education facilities to their children. “But now we are getting the best talent from across the world and they stay. We have created an environment for research here. Every faculty member gets Rs 1 crore for setting up his research lab. Getting bright faculty members for an institute set up in a small city like Ropar is not an easy task. But we have set the bar high. I tell IIT Delhi, the mentoring institute of IIT Ropar to not to choose a faculty member they would not like for themselves. We are not compromising on quality,” says Prof Das.

He added that to catch faculty members from universities abroad, the interviews were held abroad “We held interviews in countries abroad. I have held interviews in Toronto, London, Chicago, Melbourne, Sydneyand Singapore. We have several members from those universities. IN three years, we have added a strength of about 100.

This is no small achievement. Only three people left. That too only owing to personal reasons.” Today the IIT boasts a youthful faculty. Prof Das call this a big plus point. “While the average age of faculty is 45 in other IITs, it is 36-37 in our institute. This brings about a lot of enthusiasm in the institute. There is a better connect between the teachers and the students.

Dr Chandi Sasmal, Assistant Professor, Department of Chemical Engineering, who did his PhD from Monash University in Melbourne, says the IIT was a pleasant surprise. “When i was in the process of joining the institute, I was expecting basic facilities, but when I came here, I realised the Director goes out of his way to help the faculty. We are setting up our own research labs. This is a wonderful initiative by the Director. Also, unlike in the first generation IITs, there is a no senior-junior divide among the faculty. Here, we are all equal. There is a great chance to rise. I am satisfied.”

About the campus being located in Ropar, Dr Sasmal said, “I am happy. The institute is located in peaceful surroundings, close to nature. One needs a peaceful mind in research. Also, Chandigarh is just 40 km away. If we want city life, then we go to Chandigarh.”

A MAGNET FOR STUDENTS
Currently having 1600 students, a number that would go to 2,000 in coming summer, the institute is providing 168 courses in 11 departments, including Mechanical Engineering, Metallurgical Engineering, Chemical Engineering, Civil Engineering, Biomedical Engineering, Electrical Engineering, Computer Science, Departments of Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics, Humanities and Social Sciences.

The students come from all parts of the country especially Maharashtra, Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, and Telangana, but the maximum headcount is from UP, Rajasthan, Delhi, Punjab and Haryana. “Our Engineering students are good. Mind you, they have all come here after clearing the IIT-JEE. Their rank could be lower but they all are all very bright students,” says Dr Sasmal.

For the students, being a part of a developing institute in Ropar is no less a challenge. “My overall experience has been great. Faculty is great. I like studying here. But we face several problems. For instance, my classroom is near the Mechanical Lab in the transit campus. There is a lot of disturbance. It will be over once we move from here,” said Mayank Raj, a student of Electrical Engineering. Mrityunjay, another student said they were facing problems as they had to shuttle between two campuses 7 km apart. “Though there is a bus to ferry us but sometimes we have to attend one class in the transit campus and the other at the new campus. That takes a lot of time and energy.”

Varsha, a PhD student said he was enjoying studying here, “An IIT is a big tag in itself. I am proud of it.” Aman Arora, a Mechanical Engineering student, said the only dampener was that the faculty was comparatively young and not experienced enough, “But they are always available, and very enthusiastic. My supervisor makes the research a wonderful experience.” Dr Das said the institute aims at helping the students develop a well-rounded personality, with participation in sports, understanding their social responsibility and aspiring for good health besides being an ace student.

GIVING BACK TO SOCIETY
A group of IIT students from the campus has initiated a program Pehchaan Ek Safar,by an NGO set up by IIT under which they teach underprivileged children and their parents outside the main campus. An initiative of Atul Singh, a student of MSc-Physics, the students hold classes from 5 to 6 everyday and teach the children and their parents. Started in 2017, the school, named Pathshala, has seen the number of children growing to 55. The group has also started a school outreach program under which the students visit schools and tell children about the importance of education. “A lot of our students are showing interest to teach children. Now each one of us has to take only one class every week,” said Atul Singh.

Dr Das said such initiatives not only help the children of underprivileged “but also help our students grow as humans, realise our social responsibility.” “We make the students go out, meet people in villages, pick up a problem they are facing and find a solution. This is a part of their curriculum. These are some of the way in which we are trying to contribute to the society,” he says, adding that school students were also invited to the institute to inculcate ambition in them.

PARTNERS IN EDUCATION
The IIT has adopted Baba Banda Singh Bahadur Engineering College, Fatehgarh Sahib and Guru Nanak Dev Engineering College in Ludhiana to help them shore up their standard of engineering education. “We are also in touch with Rayat Bahra and Chandigarh University to find out how we can enhance their standard of education. If the products of these institutes are not good, how do we expect to get good students. You cannot pull a bullock cart with a jet engine. That is why we have adopted these two engineering colleges. We bring their students here in summers to learn from us,” says Prof Das.

GLOBAL FUNDS
According to Dr Das, “In research whatever we get is not enough. In 10 years, we have built up enough. I am not comparing the institute with ISRO as far as funds ar concerned but we are not starving. We have spent Rs 1,000 crore on the structure, and will keep spending more on it. Of our total funds, we spend 25 percent on R and D. But we want to get more.” The IIT is aiming for crowd-funding as well. “Unfortunately in India, the philanthropy is not education-centric. It is faith-centric. Our celebrities would donate crores for temples but not for an educational institution,” says the director.

With the 10-year old IIT’s alumni struggling themselves, there is no fiscal contribution from this group. The IIT is now looking for support from the Punjabi diaspora settled world over. “We have formed Global Associates of IIT having about 50 people on board. We have tied up with Sarbat Da Bhala Trust of SP Singh Oberoi of blood money case fame. They will be paying for the education of physically challenged, best teacher and best thesis awards,” said
Dr Das.

STATE-OF-THE-ART BUILDING
Constructed on 500 acres the sprawling IIT campus is nestled in the picturesque Shivalik foothills. As the region is the erstwhile seat of Indus valley civilisation, the main entrance of the institute is being designed with scriptures from the civilisation on the pillars with the model of an atom having four molecules and bonds, atop the pillars. The building has been given five star rating under green GRIHA rating. The building is divided in blocks named after prominent scientists.

RANKING
IIT Ropar ranks 22 among engineering institutes as per India ranking 2018, conducted by the National Institutional Ranking Framework (NIRF), Ministry of Human Resources Development, Government of India.

PLACEMENTS
Overall placement in 2017-18 is 90 per cent with an average salary of 12 lakh.

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