Man who keeps a keen eye on cyclones

Man who keeps a keen eye on cyclones

IIT-B's Prof Kapil Gupta,the first to warn NDMA about Phailin,is known as perennial researcher by colleagues,students


Described by colleagues and students at IIT Bombay as a “perennial researcher” on floods and cyclones,Professor Kapil Gupta,who first alerted the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) on Cyclone Phailin,spends at least an hour daily monitoring weather and cyclone related websites globally.

A professor in the civil engineering department of IIT Bombay,he joined the institute as a faculty member in 1999.

“After alerting NDMA,I was monitoring the situation continuously for the next three days. There is a preliminary website which I check daily. Once I detect an activity,I cross-check with other websites,which are 10 to 15 in number,and then alert the authorities. In case of Phailin,too,I followed the same practice. Post-Uttarakhand,disaster management has improved in India. Cyclones are known to develop slowly and intensify quickly. This time,we had a five-day lead which helped the agencies to put things in place,” said 52-year-old Gupta.


He first saw the warning on October 7 on a website run by Hawaii-based Joint Typhoon Warning Centre (JTWC).

“In the last 15 years that I have known him,he has never failed to check weather related websites. He is known to warn the authorities whenever he finds something relevant. His penchant for monitoring various sites globally has also helped me on a personal level. Before the Uttarakhand disaster,he had asked me to advise my brother not to visit Uttarakhand. He told me that the region was expecting very heavy rainfall and possible landslides. We did as advised,” said Prof Alok Goyal,Gupta’s colleague from the civil engineering department.

Prof Ravi Sinha,another colleague,said the 2005 Mumbai deluge motivated Gupta to focus in-depth on urban flooding. “He experienced up close what urban flooding can do and that has been a big motivator. His area of work is urban flooding and the kind of data and consideration you require for this is very rare. That’s another reason why he has to search a lot. He took up an uncharted area and has been able to make significant contribution,” said Sinha.

Gupta lives in Mumbai with his wife,an Economics professor at National Institute Of Industrial Engineering (NITIE) and his son,a class 11 student of Kendriya Vidyalaya,IIT Bombay. His daughter is pursuing PhD in Japan.

Gupta has lived and travelled across India,thanks to his father’s government job. While he was awarded BTech and MTech from IIT Delhi and IIT Madras respectively,he did his PhD on water and environmental engineering and pollutant modelling in urban drainage system from University of Sheffield,UK. His areas of specialisation include water resources engineering,urban climate systems,flood mitigation,urban drainage and flood management,automation and warning systems,flood protection structures and hydrologic disaster management.

“It doesn’t come as a surprise that he issued the first warning. He is very passionate about studying cyclones and floods and monitors satellite images daily. Even as a guide and teacher,he asks students to focus on research which is application-oriented. He gives a lot of emphasis to field work and study that can be practically implemented,” said Vinay Nikam,a PhD student being guided by Gupta.

Students say his enthusiasm to improve the system and fix things around them is what makes him popular and admired. “He is an instructor who has realised that the days of teaching theories and examinations are past us and we need to innovate within the classroom,if we want real engineers and not just scholars. His classes are not about racing your pens,preparing notes and rushing through the pages,but are about establishing a new way of imparting knowledge,” said Saurav Jain,a fourth year undergraduate student of civil engineering.

Gupta is a member of several national and international agencies which look at urban flood disaster mitigation,including NDMA and UNESCO.

Currently the Indian project investigator for a European Union-funded project on collaborative research on flood resilience in urban areas,which includes Mumbai as a case study,Gupta said after Seoul and Taipei,Mumbai is the third most resilient city in Asia and is better than some of the European cities. “We are investigating flood resilient measures adopted by cities globally,the commonality and their effectiveness. The final report is scheduled to be released in September 2014,” he said.