The first Professor Satish Dhawan Commemoration lecture : Role of engineering in development of economy, society and people

Posted on October 11, 2010 - 15:34
Aiming towards responsible citizens through better education, and understanding the role of engineering

The first Professor Satish Dhawan Commemoration lecture organized by The Institution of Engineers (India) (IE), Karnataka State Centre delivered on 22nd September 2010 at The Institution of Engineers (India), Karnataka State Centre, No. 3, Dr. B R Ambedkar Veedhi, Bangalore 560 001.

Dr.Radhakrishnan, Chairman, ISRO/Secretary, DOS/Chairman, Space Commission, Dr.L V Muralikrishna Reddy, Chairman, The Institution of Engineers (India) Karnataka Sate Centre, Dr.S B Ganjigatti, Honorary Secretary and distinguished participants.


It is indeed a great honour and unique privilege for me to be given the opportunity to deliver the first Professor Satish Dhawan Commemoration lecture remembering Professor Satish Dhawan(whose 90th birth anniversary is on September 25, 2010) a great teacher, distinguished researcher, an unparalled leader and administrator of academic institutions and scientific and technology organizations, and above all a committed engineer in heart and real life. The institutions he built are shining before us. For me it is a special memory as much of my life from 1973 was influenced and shaped by him. Our relationship is several combinations of his being Guru, Mentor, Guide, Boss and many more.

True to the tradition in which he has moulded many of us for several years, I am not going to dwell on his life and his contributions to science, technology, engineering, management, economy and society. There are only a few writings on him. I would refer to two recent articles. One by me: Bibliographical memories of the Indian National Science Academy (INSA, Vol. 28, 2005) which gives the earlier references and draws from a few unique writings by him postretirement. Another is a brilliant piece in the Hindu last year on 25th September 2009 by Dr. Manoranjan Rao.


The crucial role of engineering for modern civilization is implicit in every aspect of our lives. Rapid progress in the development of the country post-independence has taken place through the application of engineering to different sectors: dams and irrigation systems which paved the way for green revolution; roads, civil construction of many types including building of major cities; sanitation systems; manufacturing industries; transport systems from trucks, buses, trains, ships, aircrafts, shipyards and airports, pharmaceutical industries, one can list many more.

However, the unique role of engineering, got submerged in the romance of the word “science” used by Jawaharlal Nehru who meant it in a broader sense of generation, acquisition and application of modern knowledge as well as a rational way of looking at life, which he termed as scientific temper.

So much so, the prestigious Indian science academies ignored the achievers in engineering discipline and even engineering researchers. This led to the formation of Indian National academy of Engineers (INAE).

Prof. S Dhawan did not like such a separation even while he was clear about their different roles. Science and engineering intertwine and feed each other. Building of a new improved observing equipment or instrument is an engineering activity. But it can help many new discoveries. Chandrayaan-1 is a great engineering feat of ISRO engineers and technicians and their partners from industries. It also helps first rate science. Similarly some new scientific discovery can pave way for new engineering activities. Prof S Dhawan ensured that the personnel policy of ISRO (Indian Space Research Organisation) does not create such a separation and dichotomy, as is so in many of our scientific and technology establishments. He went even to the detail of the designation of each individual professional in ISRO as Scientist/Engineer, SC, SD, SE…….G, H etc., Every one carries both the titles, irrespective of the basic degree he/she caries.

But the national science policy makers and public system in general ignored the role of engineering and somehow assumed that scientific research alone would suffice and would automatically lead to further developments in industry, agriculture etc. Results of such a negligence was clear with continued and repeated import of technology, engineering drawings and consultancy services by industry in public and private sector. Then these policy makers started using a word “Technology”. “Technology Policy” since 1983 started emphasizing more on the research aspects of engineering and forgetting the crucial role of “engineering” which is the delivery of products and services to he society and people and thus growing the economy.

Please find attached the entire lecture