Saturday, April 14, 2007

Why does it matter to a state or locality whether an IIT is located there or not?

When one brings up the topic of establishing an IIT in Orissa MHRD officials, ministers and spokesperson, and even many technical education committee members sometimes retort back: "Why does it matter where an IIT is located as students from any where in India, including from Orissa, can study in an IIT."

Until recently, I thought it was just some thing said and not really meant by the MHRD officials or the technical education committee members. However, a recent exchange of emails with one of the most well respected technologists of India, Mr. K, makes it clear that many influential people in decision making roles sincerely believe that it does not matter where an IIT is located as students from any where in India can study in an IIT. This misconception needs to be cleared up, as otherwise, as we argue below, it will further worsen the existing inequities in India.

If one thinks of an IIT as a place where people go to study and get their degrees and evaluate its impact based on this aspect solely then it does not matter that much where it is located, and Mr. K is right. But an IIT is not just that.

An IIT is an infrastructure and it has and can also have huge impact on the local area (say within 100 kms) of where it is located.

1. An institution like IIT is (or will be) an engine of growth in and around the place where it is established. Examples abound: Stanford and Berkeley's impact on the Silicon Valley of California; Harvard and MIT's impact on the Boston corridor and our own IISc's impact on Bangalore are testament to this. (Stanford University and MIT have spawned many top-notch companies such as Google, Yahoo, and Bose electronics, all in the vicinity of the university.)

True, many of our existing IITs do not seem to have that much local impact. But that is changing. The example that is often bandied about as an IIT with no local impact, IIT Kharagpur, is now leading in this. It is helping in the development of a Biotech park near it and has also decided to create a super speciality hospital and start a medical college in Kharagpur.
All our IITs will soon have similar and much more local impact and a few decades down the road they could have the impact of a Stanford on Silicon Valley and MIT and Harvard on the Boston corridor.

Moreover, many companies would like to be in a location with an IIT because that provides opportunities for their employees to pursue a higher degree, and because they can collaborate with the IIT faculty and students on cutting edge research. Thus having an IIT makes an otherwise good location a bigger attractor to companies for establishment of branch or for relocation.

2. At present IITs are India's best graduate schools in engineering. They are the best place, and often are the only place within hundreds of miles, with a comprehensive array of M.Tech and Ph.D programs. In the last decade Orissa has developed 40+ engineering colleges (, mostly private ones. However, only handful of faculty in these colleges have Ph.Ds or M.Techs. In contrast, the faculty in most engineering programs in US have Ph.Ds. Several efforts are being made by AICTE, UGC and other organization to improve the quality of faculty in engineering colleges across India. Such efforts include QIP (Quality improvement programs) in various IITs and selected NITs. However, such efforts are not enough as often faculty at a private engineering college, say in the Bhubaneswar area (with 26 and growing engineering colleges), would have to take leave and then pursue a higher degree as the nearest IIT and NIT are more than 300 kms away from Bhubaneswar.

However if there was an IIT within an hour and half of Bhubaneswar then many of the faculty in the 26 (and growing) odd engineering colleges in and around Bhubaneswar would be able to pursue higher a degree in that IIT without taking complete leave of their job and without relocating.

As a proof that this theory works, we submit the example of the Institute of Physics in Bhubaneswar. It is a national institute admitting students from all over India. However, if one looks at its alumni one will find that a large number of Ph.Ds are from Orissa and many of these Ph.Ds have gone on to be Physics faculty in various colleges in Orissa.

3. After getting convinced by arguments 1 and 2 one may then say that there are many places in India that would ask for an IIT citing the exact reasons as stated in 1 and 2. Why then should Orissa get preference. This is a good question but with an easy answer. IITs are funded by the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) of India. A rough calculation detailed at showed that MHRD was scheduled to spend Rs 4.07 on fully funded HRD institutions (like IITs, IIMs, etc.) per person in Orissa, while it will spend Rs 183.08 in Delhi, Rs 34.54 in West Bengal, Rs 33.4 in Karnataka, Rs 27 in Tamil Nadu, Rs 28.38 in Maharastra, Rs 17.73 in UP, Rs 16.05 in Andhra, Rs 33.27 in Punjab, Rs 8.13 in Haryana, Rs 7.90 in Kerala, Rs 9.02 in MP, Rs 4.87 in Gujurat, Rs 2.59 in Rajasthan, and Rs 1.87 in Bihar. In other words Bihar, Rajasthan and Orissa were at the bottom of per-capita spending by MHRD in its fully funded higher education institutions. Now that IITs have been allotted to Bihar and Rajasthan, it is imperative that the next IIT should have been allotted to Orissa. Since Orissa was skipped over, to correct this injustice an IIT should be immediately allotted to Orissa.

4. Some people question that there are so many issues in Orissa, and why should the people pick establishing an IIT as a high priority item at this point of time.

Due to the way the central government of India collects its taxes and distributes it to states, states always have to ask this and that from the central government. When an injustice happens the states have a much bigger moral authority to demand and as a result if the demand is kept up then there is a high chance that the state will succeed in getting its demand granted.

In case of IIT, TOI reported that Union minister of state for HRD MAA Fatmi on 28-8-06 said, "The proposal for one IIT for Bihar and two for Orissa and one Western Indian state besides one IIIT to Bihar will be included in 11th Five Year Plan." With respect to Orissa he probably referred to one of the 3 new IITs proposed to be in the 11th plan and a branch campus of IIT KGP in BBSR. However, later news reports say that the 3 new IITs will be in Bihar, Rajasthan and AP. Thus a huge injustice has been done to Orissa and Orissa has a high moral ground to pursue the correction of this injustice.

5. Some people say that one of the main goal of making an IIT is to create world class institutions in India and the locations should be based on that.

We agree and will argue that a location within an hour or hour and half of Bhubaneswar (note: 1.5 hours one way is a typical commute from home to office in Mumbai) is a perfect location for an IIT.

(a) Bhubaneswar is well connected to cities and towns all over India.

Considering only non-stop or one-stop without plane changes, Bhubaneswar has 5 daily flights to Delhi, 3 to Calcutta, 3 to Hyderabad, 2 to Mumbai, 2 to Chennai, 2.3 to Bangalore, 1 to Vizag, and partial connections to Ranchi and Raipur. Details at

Bhubaneswar has multiple daily direct trains to Delhi, Kolkata, Chennai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, a daily train to Mumbai, and trains to all corners of India (Guwahati, Kerala, Goa, Gujarat, Jaipur, Punjab, Rishikesh, Kanpur, Lucknow, Benras, Patna, Raipur, Bhopal, etc.) A map of Bhubaneswar's railway connectivity is at
and a table is at

(b) The Bhubaneswar area has sustained high quality research and educational institutions such as Institute of Physics, Institute of Life Sciences and Xaviers Institute of Mangament, and has many universities such as Utkal University, Orissa university of Agriculture and Technology, Utkal University of Culture, Ravenshaw University. Moreover, recently several several high profile higher education institutions have found the area to be suitable. This includes the proposed NISER (National Institute of Science Education and Research), the proposed Vedanta University (near Puri) and the proposed university by the Art of Living trust of Shri Shri Ravishankar. Thus there is no reason why an area within 1 to 1.5 hours of Bhubaneswar is not suitable for an IIT.

My personal preference for a greenfield IIT is in the Ganjam district of South Orissa (which is one of the most backward area of India) at a place within 1-1.5 hours of Bhubaneswar on NH-5 and 30-40 minutes of Berhampur on NH-5, the major town in South Orissa. This location will be the best of both worlds, close enough to Bhubaneswar to avail of all the opportunities there and yet in south Orissa and close to South Orissa's major city so as to impact the backward South Orissa region.

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