A monthly house bulletin of DRDO Vol 24 November 2004 No 11

Tribute to Dr Raja Ramanna

1925 - 2004

“His death has left a void, which will be difficult to fill.
The world is poorer without him” ~
President, Dr APJ Abdul Kalam.

Dr Raja Ramanna, the pioneer of nuclear science and technology in India died at Mumbai on 24 September 2004 at the age of 79. DRDO remembers the great visionary and former SA to RM who has given direction to DRDO in its mission towards self-reliance in Defence R & D.

Born in Mysore on 28 January 1925, Dr Ramanna had his early education in Bangalore. He obtained his BSc (Hons) from Madras Christian College in 1945 and PhD from Kings College, London in 1948, and joined the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research in 1949. In 1953, he was appointed Head ofthe Nuclear Physics Division in the Atomic Energy Establishment, presently Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC), Trombay. In 1972, he became the Director of BARC and a Member, Research and Development in Atomic Energy Commission. He held this post till 1978.

In 1978, he took over as Scientific Adviser to Raksha Mantri, Director General, Defence Research and Development, and Secretary to Government of India, Ministry of Defence. Subsequently he became Secretary of the newly created Deptt. of Defence Research. Under his stewardship, Defence Research & Development Organisation (DRDO) made significant progress in many fields such as Aeronautics, Electronics, Naval Sciences & Technology, and Combat Vehicles. He infused enthusiasm in the Organisation and brought about major changes in policies for better and more efficient working of the DRDO.

Dr Ramanna's significant research achievements have been in the fields of design and commissioning of research reactors, experimental and theoretical investigations of neutron thermalisation and neutron scattering, investigations on fission, including stochastic theory of the fission process, a geometric theory of atomic and nuclear structure, planning accelerator programmes, fast-reactor development and defence oriented research programmes. More specifically, Dr Ramanna contributed to the design, installation and commissioning of research reactors Apsara and Cirus, the variable energy cyclotron (Calcutta) and fast-breeder test reactor (Kalpakkam) and the Dhruua. He was the chief architect for the nuclear explosion (Pokharan-1, 1974) aimed at exploiting the atomic energy for socio-economic uses. He has championed the cause of peaceful use of nuclear energy for improving the lot of the common man and was the driving force in establishing nuclear power as a strong alternative to conventional energy sources.

Dr Ramanna was a member of the Scientific Advisory Committee to the Director-General, International Atomic Energy Agency. As member of the National Committee on Science and Technology, he made available to the nation his deep understanding of the problems in development of science and technology in Indian context. He was also a member of the Scientific Advisory Committee to the Cabinet.

Dr Ramanna was awARDEd Padma Shri in 1968, Padma Bhushan in 1973 and Padma Vibhushan in 1975. Other academic and national honours he received include: Shanti Swaroop Bhatnagar Prize (1963); Meghnad Saha Medal (INSA) (1984); Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru Medal (Madhya Pradesh Government) (1983); Om Prakash Bhasin Award (1985); RD Birla Memorial Award (Indian Physics Association) (1985-86); and Rajyotsava State Award (Karnataka Government). Dr Ramanna was a Fellow, Indian Academy of Sciences (Vice-President, 1977-78) and Indian Society of Engineers. He was President, Indian Physics Association and Honorary Fellow, IISc and IIFR.

He has authored, The Structure of Music in Raga and Western Systems (1993) and an autobiography entitled, Years of Pilgrimage (1991). Dr Ramanna was a romanticist as is reflected in his music, in his researches, and in his writings. He was a great musician and musicologist, an excellent piano player who regularly gave concerts. He was also interested in the comparative study of Indian and western musical styles.

To celebrate the Sixtieth birthday of Dr Ramanna, DESIDOC, published a Special Issue of Defence Science Journal. In the Foreword, Dr VS Arunachalam, the then SA to RM wrote "Dr Ramanna turns sixty this year, keeping himself busy as usual, making serene and beautiful music and travelling around the globe, talking about the spirit of Indian Science.... The first spark for the nation's freedom was struck at this time more than one hundred years ago when an imposed technological product was rejected by our soldiers. Right from then, the struggle has been on----not only for political independence but also for the cultural independence and technological self-reliance. Heroes in this struggle are leaders like Dr Ramanna who make us feel proud of our past and committed to the future. Hence this festschrift".

Ramanna, S A to RM and take DRDO

Dr Raja Ramanna became the Scientific Adviser to Raksha Mantri in July 1978 and held that position until he returned to Bombay in February 1982 to become the full time Director of the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre.

Dr Ramanna's first acquaintance with the DRDO was in around 1957 when he attended the Defence Science Conference convened by Dr DS Kothari, the Scientific Adviser at that time. He had close interaction with Dr BD Nag Chaudhuri, and Shri NS Venkatesan (who was Director, TBRL in the pre -1974 days) when DRDO collaborated with the Department of Atomic Energy for the peaceful nuclear explosion.

There was a great curiosity within the Organisation to see what Dr Ramanna would bring to DRDO. Some believed, quite in error as it turned out to be, that this would be the beginning of nuclear weapons era in DRDO and others thought there was no specific reason or purpose behind this appointment, except that the government wanted it. The Organisation thus did not know what to expect of him.

He quickly settled himself in the Capital and from the beginning, his mission appeared to be not to tear down the ongoing schemes, nor preach on how to think and work. Instead, he infused excitement in the scientists in what was being done and a sense of pride in their work. He did not end his official visits discussing, persuading or being persuaded in the all inevitable conference halls. Often he ended the day in the laboratories discussing with scientists and workers; younger and more junior they were, faster there he went. His direct approach, without the formidable formalities that one is condemned to live within the hierarchical environment, brought all of us closer."! call this 'Ramanna Effect' in DRDO, and this, more than anything else, has been responsible for the new look of the Organisation", wrote Dr VS Arunachalam.

He made it a point to visit all the laboratories and field stations of the DRDO more than once and this gave him opportunity to explore different manifestations of nature in places like Kumaon, Lahul, Pygmalion Point, Andaman-Nicobar islands, and feel rejuvenated. In this process, he had the time and opportunity to appreciate the good work being done by the small laboratories and field stations at Manali, Almora, Jodhpur and other places. The scientists of these institutions were encouraged by the visits and interaction with the Scientific Adviser, and showed it with an upward trend in quality and quantity of their output. The rigid and harsh corners of individual laboratories vanished; instead, there emerged an organisation- Svhat is good for the project is good for DRDO'. He tried to introduce the spirit of scientific adventure even at the Headquarters where one lives with papers all day long.

His passionate desire to preserve the Nation's historical heritage is evident in the renovation and maintenance of the historic building in Delhi, the Metcalfe House. In 1958 when one of roof blocks collapsed, the Metcalfe House was earmarked for being pulled down. At the time of demolishing the building, Dr Ramanna who was the Scientific Adviser vetoed the proposal, brought in expert technical advice, and restored the building. During his tenure, Dr Ramanna utilised the complex to hold meetings and conferences and provided an opportunity for prominent politicians as well as for international celebrities of science and technology to discover its grandeur.

ImmeDIATely after assuming the Office of the SA to RM, Dr Ramanna, issued a letter to all the laboratories and field stations of DRDO about the restructuring of DRDO Headquarters and distribution of work among the CCR&Ds to reduce the bureaucratic overheads and ensure faster response to the needs of the laboratories. On technical activities, the link between the Heads of the Laboratories and the Director General R&D was made direct.

He masterminded more changes in the set-up. The frustrating serrated pyramid system was finally replaced by a more sensible flexible complementing policy for career advancement of the scientists. The leadership of the laboratories was made more dynamic with senior scientists lending their hands in running the laboratories. The combined efforts of three Scientific Advisers spread over a period of nearly ten years bore fruit. Dr BD Nag Chaudhuri initiated, Professor MGK Menon actively pursued and Dr Raja Ramanna firmly put in place the new personnel policy for which the scientists of DRDO owe them a debt of gratitude.

Department or Defence Research & Development

Even though the Scientific Adviser enjoyed the status of the Secretary to the Government of India, DRDO was put under the Department of Defence Production from the days of Dr Nag Chaudhuri. Dr Raja Ramanna took the step of creating the Department of Defence Research & Development so that the important papers requiring approval/concurrence from the Cabinet, the Prime Minister, Raksha Mantri or Raksha Utpadan Mantri or other Ministers could be sent straight to the destination. The enormous prestige Dr Ramanna enjoyed with the political establishment of the Country as the prime architect of the peaceful nuclear explosion stilled any action to stall the creation of a separate department for research and development. The main areas of responsibility for the department were rendering advice to the Defence Minister and the three Services on all scientific aspects of military operations, equipment and logistics, formulation of research and development plans, administration of DRDS Rules, framing of personnel policies and providing the backup for the Defence Research & Development Council.

Way back in 1973, three laboratories set-up under DRDO, namely INMAS, DIPAS and DIPR were transferred out of the Organisation to Director General Armed Forces Medical Services since they needed very close interaction with the Armed Forces. For promotional benifits, the transfer of INMAS, DIPAS and DIPR back to DRDO was accepted by Dr Ramanna in 1980.

Impact on the Organisation

Dr Raja Ramanna brought home to DRDO three important aspects of leadership. First, use analysis or analytical power of the intellect as a tool for timely and decisive action. Second, it is important to keep channels of communication open with the decision makers at user end and with those in the political establishment. Third, team building across the Organisation is necessary and nodal laboratories in major systems development must reach across to other laboratories in the organisation. When it was known that he would be shortly moving out of DRDO because of his being appointed as Chairman of Atomic Energy Commission, Dr Raja Ramanna persuaded the Government not to look outside the Organisation for his successor. He considered that there was more than one senior scientist within the DRDO who could head the Organisation. Dr VS Arunachalam, the then Director DMRL became the first DRDO scientist to assume the office of the Scientific Adviser to Raksha Mantri.

Such immense and path-breaking were the contributions of Dr Ramanna that even though he is no more, he lives on in changes he inspired and brought about and the scientific community will remember him for ever.


Down the memory lane...

It is a befitting tribute to reproduce a message by the legendary for the First Issue of DRDO Newsletter, 25 years back

Printed & publish


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