Webserver Date: 21-August-2019

Dr. Raja Ramanna


Dr. Raja Ramanna former Chairman, Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) died at the age of 79 at Mumabi on September 24, 2004. Dr. Ramanna took over as Chairman, AEC after serving as Director, Bhabha Atomic Research Centre for a number of years during which period he headed the team that conducted India’s first Nuclear Experiment at Pokran in 1974. He was a member of the Atomic Energy Commission until April 2004. Dr. Ramanna also served as Minister of state for Defence, Member of Parliament in Rajya Sabha and Scientific Advisor to the Defence Minister. He was decorated with Padma Vibhushan besides Padma Bhushan and Padma Shri in recognition of his achievements. Dr. Ramanna was also a very good musician and pianoist.


A condolence meeting was held at Bhabha Atomic Research Centre on September 27, 2004 to pay homage to Dr. Raja Ramanna. The condolence meeting was attended by Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office Shri Prithvi Raj Chavan, Dr. R. Chidambaram Scientific Advisor to PM, Dr. Anil Kakodkar Chairman Atomic Energy Commission, former Chairmen AEC Dr. H. N. Sethna & Dr. P. K. Iyengar besides others. They offered their tributes and personal condolence messages. Dr Banerjee, Director BARC read out the condolence message on behalf of the Indian Atomic Energy family.



Condolence Message

We, the members of the Atomic Energy family, deeply mourn the sad demise of Dr. Raja Ramanna in the early hours of September 24, 2004, at Bombay Hospital, Mumbai. His outstanding leadership and contributions to the Atomic Energy programme and the Defence Research in the country for over half a century would remain a valuable legacy for the nation for a long time to come. The inspiration he provided to a whole generation of scientists as Professor at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), as Director, Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC), as Chief of the Defence Research & Development Organisation (DRDO) & Scientific Advisor to Raksha Mantri, as Chairman and Member, Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), as Member of Rajya Sabha and as Union Minister of State for Defence had endeared him to one and all. We, in the Department of Atomic Energy, have been the recipients of his continued guidance as he was the Chairman, Science Research Council. Dr.Ramanna was not only a brilliant scientist who contributed immensely to the country’s scientific programmes but also a very humane and compassionate person, besides being an accomplished musician. On behalf of the entire Atomic Energy family, we wish to convey to Dr.Ramanna’s family our heartfelt condolences and pray to God for the peace to the departed soul and for the strength to the bereaved family to bear this irreparable loss.


Dr. Raja Ramanna: Some Reminiscences
Dr. K. S. Parthasarathy
Former Secretary, Atomic Energy Regulatory Board


While paying tribute to Dr. Homi Bhabha, Mr. J. R. D. Tata observed: “I believe that the greatest contribution Homi made to India’s development in to the modern state it is fast becoming, lies in training and bringing out to their full capability a host of young scientists and administrators who, today, lead so many of India’s scientific and technical establishments”.


Among the young scientists handpicked by Dr Bhabha, Dr. Ramanna stands out as a shining example. One of his earliest responsibilities was to organize the training programme at the Atomic Energy Establishment Trombay (AEET). Dr Ramanna proposed that the school may be called the Atomic Energy Establishment Trombay Training School (AEET TS).


Dr. K. K. Damodaran, former Head of Training Division, who assisted Dr. Ramanna in nurturing the training programme, remembered that one of the mandates of the school was to take steps to attract young, bright and talented students from the universities. During training, they acquired the needed skills and knowledge in nuclear science and technology. The curriculum was need-based and dynamic so that the trainees would be well prepared when the technology gets upgraded. After the successful training, they obtained secure but challenging jobs. Their rigorous training prepared them adequately to accept effortlessly the challenges of any future technology.


Dr. Bhabha and Dr. Ramanna knew that since nuclear technology is a strategic technology, free flow of knowledge and materials will not be forthcoming. They were conscious of the long-term need for self-reliance.


According to Dr. P. K. Iyengar, former Chairman, Atomic Energy Commission and long-term associate of Dr. Ramanna, Dr. Ramanna used to say that the selection of trainees is essentially a “statistical operation”. Dr Ramanna believed that in a developing country like India, if we want to get the most talented people, we have to choose every year a few hundred from the vast pool of academically sound young people. If ten out of two hundred turn out to be outstanding, the selection process will be successful. This is actually what happened. The systematic recruitment of outstanding young people year after year is the reason for the success of BARC Training School programme. A significant number of those selected became leaders in science and technology as they enhanced their analytic skills and creativity in the multidisciplinary ambiance provided at Trombay.


Dr. Ramanna’s characteristic humility forbade him from waxing eloquent on this notably successful human resource development programme. In his autography “Years of Pilgrimage”, Dr. Ramanna spared eight sentences to describe some of its features. Dr. Ramanna’s characteristic humility forbade him from waxing eloquent on this notably successful human resource development programme. In his autography “Years of Pilgrimage”, Dr.Ramanna spared eight sentences to describe some of its features.


Dr. Bhabha and Dr. Ramanna realized that the universities had become rather ineffectual in imparting useful science education. They did not want to deplete the universities of the few good teachers by recruiting them directly. They started the training school in August 1957 by recruiting 143 trainees, forty nine in the engineering stream and 104 in the science stream.


Dr. P. S. Nagarajan, who belonged to the first batch vividly remembers their first encounter with Dr. Ramanna. The Administrative Officer asked the trainees to assemble near the dining hall within two days of their arrival. Dr. Ramannna was scheduled to address them.


Nobody noticed when a young officer came, stood near the small table nearly reclining against it and started talking. Nothing was audible as there was too much noise. One of the trainees approached the officer and told him that they were waiting for Dr. Ramanna. “I am Dr. Ramanna”, the young speaker revealed. Nobody could believe that the person who looked like a college boy was indeed Dr. Ramanna.


Dr. Ramanna chaired the training school co-ordination committee from the very beginning. Dr. K. K. Damodaran was its Member Secretary. Drs A. S. Rao and Jagdish Shankar and other eminent scientists were members of the Committee. The Member Secretary enjoyed the powers of the Head of a Division to carry out the daily administration of the school.


Shri. S. K. Mehta, former Director, Reactor group, BARC remembers that for the first training course, DAE explored various options. They decided that for mechanical engineers, there should be greater emphasis on power plant engineering.


The Institute of Science, Bangalore, was then offering an MS course (of two year duration) in power plant engineering, the Institute agreed to offer a specially organized course (though heavily loaded) for about six months in power plant engineering along with basic nuclear engineering courses. DAE sent two batches of mechanical engineers to Bangalore, one to attend the special course and the other for the regular MS course.


In Mumbai, the DAE faculty further trained the batch which attended the short course with emphasis on Nuclear Science and Technology.


Initially, DAE assigned the chemical and electrical engineers to various units/ sections /groups of the department, later they underwent training in Nuclear Science and Technology as for the mechanical engineering batch.


Senior Scientists and Engineers interacted with the trainees throughout the course both technically and socially. Dr. Bhabha, Dr. Sethna and Dr. Ramanna took very keen interest. They developed strong bonds and this turned out to be a great incentive for the trainees to perform their duties well as they joined various units of DAE.


Dr. Nagarajan remembers that the science stream remained at the headquarters. It consisted of graduates and postgraduates. The postgraduates felt that they knew every topic. They used to pompously ask questions to the lecturers. Are you an M.Sc or B.Sc? One of the lecturers used to ask before answering. (He was an eminent professor from the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, he felt that the postgraduates are asking questions for the sake of asking!).


He explained the points well if the questioner was a B.Sc. Trainees used to approach Dr. Ramanna whenever they faced any difficulty in the training school. He gladly offered guidance and advice. He used to tell them that knowing the subject is different from understanding it. The apparently existed B.Sc-M.Sc conflict was really artificial. When the final result came, the first six ranks in the physics stream went to B.Scs!


By the time the second batch of trainees joined in August 1958, a well organized programme was in place. Thereafter all trainees received training in Mumbai itself.


I belonged to the seventh batch. Many who came from villages and small towns would like to forget the first few days in Bandra where the hostel was located. Most trainees were homesick. Travelling by suburban train to reach Express Building in Churchgate and after a few months, Harichandrai House in Marine lines was an unsettling experience.


Most of us were used to one or two examinations over the year, not weekly examinations, take home assignments, periodic viva voce, tutorials and lectures at such a rapid rate life was too busy. During the first week, we had one of the most memorable and comforting experiences. Dr. Raja Ramanna visited us. He wore his hallmark khaki pant and white shirt. He was a very simple person. We could approach him any time. Very often, he came to the hostel. As the Director, Physics Group, the training school was his turf. He took special interest in the welfare of students.


In our formative years, few had occasion to interact with Dr. Bhabha closely. Dr. Ramanna was different. He was our mentor.


At the informal meetings, he listened to us carefully and spoke quietly. He spiced his talk with funny anecdotes. Each one of us felt that he was talking to us individually. His reassuring demeanor gave us confidence.


“Dr. Ramanna was truly great, he was totally devoted to science”, ”he gave me free hand”, Dr. Damodaran who was intimately associated with the training school from 1957 to 1981 gratefully acknowledges. He remembers that Dr. Ramanna used to visit the training school and the students hostel once in two weeks. Dr. Ramanna’s abiding interest in the training programme was a source of inspiration to all.


It is interesting to speculate why Dr. Ramanna ensured that the trainees received well-organized training before they formally joined the AEET as staff. He showed a greater degree of understanding and compassion to the trainees’ problems than others. His autobiography is very revealing in this context.


He arrived at Kings College, London in September 1945 after travelling for a fortnight by Orion, a ship which carried over 5000 troops on repatriation from various war centres in South Asia. He was among the 300 or so other passengers. They had to suffer unspeakable deprivations. They had only two door-less WCs for the 300 of them and had to queue up at odd times of the day or night to relieve themselves! To top it all, the troops were unfriendly and abusive.


After reaching London, his first interview was with one Dr. F. C. Champion (“a handsome young man in his youth, but looked most severe with his thick glasses and curt manners which seemed very disturbing”, Dr. Ramanna later recalled). Dr. Ramanna felt very unhappy because Champion told him that he could register only for an M.Sc., though he had been admitted for a Ph.D. degree. I recall that this was a common problem to many who went to UK for their Ph.D.


Dr. Ramanna used the fine art of flattery to good humour Champion. He claimed that it was easy for him as he was brought up in the Mysore court! Dr. Champion sent him to one Dr. Chapman on a possible problem of establishing correlation between the cosmic ray phenomenon and ionospheric activity. Chapman, an expert in ionospheric studies, told him that he did not see any correlation. Dr. Ramanna’s persuasive skills did not work.


Shortly, he met the new head of the department of physics, Dr. Alan Nunn May who had worked in Canada on the British atomic energy project. To his great relief, May told Ramanna that registering for a Ph.D degree would not be difficult.


Dr. May initiated Dr. Ramanna in to the field of experimental nuclear physics. Ramanna’s delight was short-lived. With in a few days, Police arrested Dr. May for leaking atomic secrets to the Russians. Dr. Ramanna went back to Dr. Champion. By then he had developed enough confidence. He worked in the basement and subbasement rooms next to the King’s College hospital mortuary, all the time suffering from the smell of formaldehyde. “Occasionally on the days when we felt frustrated we toyed with the idea of disposing of our professor and supervisor through this route” he confessed!


No wonder that Dr. Ramanna was compassionate and empathized with the trainees and always lent his ear to their problems.


Dr. Ramanna initiated and nurtured a human resource development programme at such a large scale. Till 2003, the training school provided 7244 trainee officers to various Units of the Department of Atomic Energy. It was unique in India. Dr. Ramanna and his colleagues took innovative steps which paid rich dividends. They used the services of the large numbers of trained scientists and engineers already available in Trombay to teach a small number of bright students recruited for the training school. Often the faculty exceeded the number of students! This interaction benefited the students and the teachers. The latter could concentrate on the few who had already proved their worth.


The training programme helped to harmonize the standards of students from different universities. Trainees in various streams had to study some subjects which might not initially be to their liking. For instance, those in the engineering stream had to study health physics. The trainees in the science stream had to study reactor theory. The truly multidisciplinary programme prepared the trainees to face the challenges in their career.


Dr. Ramanna used to personally participate at various stages of the training programme. He kept a spreadsheet containing the complete details including the performance of the trainees before him in the final allotment interview. In a few cases, if he felt that the performance in some subject was not up to expectation he would ask the trainee the reason for the shortfall.


Dr. Ramanna constantly reminded the trainees about their future roles in the Department. When occasion demanded the smiling teacher transformed into a steely, taciturn and stubborn disciplinarian.


As a person who spurned the charm of greener pastures and responded to the call of Dr. Bhabha to come to India, he was concerned about brain drain. He felt that the training school churned out scientists for the future and also helped greatly to stall “the emigration syndrome”. Dr. Ramanna’s contribution to the training school programme is as significant as his role in placing India in the nuclear map of the world.