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Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Punjab Engineering College enters 100th year today: ‘India missed having sixth IIT at Chandigarh’

Punjab Engineering College which was the oldest East of Thomson College in undivided India, and had a great reputation, sent a letter to Government of India asking that it be made the fifth IIT of India

By: Express News Service | Chandigarh | Updated: November 9, 2020 10:13:55 am
PEC 2020Punjab Engineering College was known as the oldest East of Thomson College in undivided India. File

The Punjab Engineering College missed on being an IIT twice in the 1960s — first in 1963 and then in 1965, says PEC director Dheeraj Sanghi. As PEC enters its 100th year on Monday, director Sanghi shares some unknown facts of the college’s journey. “I will call it many a slip between the cup and the lip because it was how India missed having sixth IIT at Chandigarh. A large number of people have told me parts of the story and it is possible that some parts are not authentic but it is a fascinating story anyway,” Sanghi said.

It was in late 1950s, Sanghi said, when no one challenged the establishment of IIT-Kharagpur through an act of parliament. It was time to establish the other three IITs as suggested by Sarkar Committee Report, one each in North, South and West. It was decided to set them up at Kanpur, Chennai (then Madras) and Mumbai (then Bombay). Since IITs were to be at a level higher than any other engineering college in the country, foreign help was sought and received.

A small college in Chandigarh had a great visionary as its principal, Prof R N Dogra. Dogra family was close to Nehru family, and Chandigarh was the most favourite city of Pandit Nehru. He brought more state guests to Chandigarh than to Agra. This college which was the oldest college- East of Thomson College in undivided India, and had a great reputation, sent a letter to Government of India asking that it be made the fifth IIT of India.

However, Sanghi added, the then government in Delhi had other pressures. There was to be one IIT and two RECs in northern India. The IIT had gone to Kanpur, and one of the two RECs was to be in Allahabad for obvious reasons. The Central government was keen to convert Delhi College of Engineering into REC Delhi, but people in Delhi protested.

So the second REC of the North was planned for Srinagar. An earlier Chief Minister (the post had been abolished in 1956) had been demanding that a city of the stature of Delhi must get a second engineering college. Sanghi said eventually, the Central government decided to establish an engineering college at Hauz Khas with the help of the UK.

“Soon thereafter, the UK decided to increase its commitment, and the college was renamed as IIT-Delhi. For the Chandigarh college, there was a slip between the cup and the lip. Not only the college in Chandigarh was not converted into an IIT, but its visionary leader was also snatched away and made the founding director of IIT-Delhi,” Sanghi said.

“At IIT-Delhi, the initial architecture/planning/hostel names borrowed a lot from PEC. But while he (Prof R N Dogra) built the new IIT, he remained loyal to his first love. If we could have a fifth IIT, why not a sixth IIT, he reasoned. The government agreed. The date was decided. IIT-Chandigarh were to hold admission process from 1963. But in 1962, the China war happened.

The finances which were already stressed became much worse and the date for conversion was postponed to 1964. Once again, there was a slip between the cup and the lip,” the PEC director explained.

The PEC director said that a new condition was added for the conversion. “That Punjab government must continue to fund this IIT to the same extent as the funds they provided to PEC at that time. This wasn’t too difficult.

Pratap Singh Kairon was then Chief Minister, who had been arguing for the establishment of a world-class college in Punjab long before he became CM. He had helped in getting 146 acres of prime land in the new upcoming city of Chandigarh for relocating PEC. IIT-Chandigarh wasn’t the top priority at the moment.

Gopi Chand Bhargava, who was the first Chief Minister of Punjab after Independence, was made a caretaker Chief Minister for two weeks.

Within this brief period, he called a Cabinet meeting and approved that Punjab government would pay the same amount that they granted to PEC that year for eternity. “While it was too late for July 1964 admissions, the Central government decided that IIT- Chandigarh would come into being in 1965,” he said.

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