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IISc, TIFR, TISS, TMC, NCPA – J.N. Tata’s ‘famed five’ are India’s crown jewels

From C.V. Raman to Vikram Sarabhai, these institutions have produced leaders who have repeatedly proved India’s calibre on the global stage.

Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru | @iiscbangalore

We recently rediscovered Jamsetji Nusserwanji Tata as the world’s greatest philanthropist of the last century — a new report showed that he had donated $102 billion. I was reminded of his majestic statue in front of the main building of the Indian Institute of Science. A fundamental question was lost in our celebrations: Why is ‘Tata’ associated with so many top Indian institutions that have a long history of excellence and continue to dominate their respective fields?

Think of the famed five — Indian Institute of Science (IISc, founded in 1909), Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR, founded in 1945), Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS, founded in 1936), Tata Memorial Centre (TMC, commissioned in 1941), and National Centre for Performing Arts (NCPA, inaugurated in 1976).

These institutions were established with the support of the Dorabji Tata Trust established by Jamsetji Tata. They all had an element of tripartite agreements between the Trust, provincial and central rulers, with strong ideals of sustainability and governance built-in. All except the NCPA came into existence in pre-independence India. All of them had the best and the brightest leaders at critical junctures in their long history: Homi Bhabha at TIFR, Satish Dhawan at IISc, S. Parasuraman at TISS and also J.J. Bhabha who was synonymous with NCPA. The TMC was also instrumental in realising the synergy between them and the Department of Atomic Energy to help usher in a new era of radiation treatment for cancer therapy in India.  

Many of modern India’s stars such as C.V. Raman, Vikram Sarabhai, G.N. Ramachandran, Brahm Prakash, and Vivek Borkar were also associated with one or more of these institutions.

The ‘famed five’ stand out because, unlike most other institutions, they outlived their founders. In fact, over the decades, they have grown stronger, found new ways of sustaining excellence, and attracting and retaining great talents despite working within the usual constraints of a developing country.

Also Read: IISc Bangalore’s entry in QS World Rankings isn’t a surprise. It was just a matter of time

Visionary campuses

The Tata campuses exude the vision of its founding figures and continue to inspire young minds almost a century after they were first built. To get a physical sense, take a walk around the TIFR Colaba campus. I cannot think of any academic institution in the world that can rival its fabulous art collection. It is a standing testimony to the uniqueness of Homi Bhabha, for whom science, engineering, and art were all equally important. In fact, he excelled in all three fields in equal measure. The moment you enter the foyer, M. F. Husain’s 45-feet mural, Bharat Bhagya Vidhata, will greet you. From there it is a treasure trove of great Indian painters such as K.H. Ara, V.S. Gaitonde, and even Bhabha’s own paintings. A unique design features across the campus, starting with a distinct blackboard design to a great view of the Arabian Sea (from the vantage point of being the southern extreme of Mumbai).

The faces of the students, staff, and faculty inside these campuses exude a certain intensity and passion needed to achieve academic excellence, which the institutes offer across a range of subjects such as computer science, mathematics, medicine, performing arts and theoretical physics, to highlight a few.

One cannot help but fall in love with the IISc campus and its scenic avenues named after the flowering trees that embrace them. It is impossible to not be lost in the sorrow of Main Building’s weeping willows in the September evening showers or bask in the exuberance of the Flame of the Forest trees along the main avenue. On the parallel road, a carpet of majestic yellow flowers awaits you.

In an institution like IISc, one is way ahead in new lines of research and work in the intersections of emerging disciplines. Research teams housed in different departments are likely to be working on similar problems albeit from different vantage points. To illustrate, research on diseases such as Parkinson’s could involve electrical engineers applying ideas of probability theory from Markov random fields, and work on design of optimal production systems in management could borrow from stochastic linear programming in civil engineering. By recognising such interconnections, the scope for interdisciplinary thinking and the opportunity to learn relevant subjects in an open and permissible environment is not possible in institutions with a rigid academic culture, where the floor one occupies decides their standing.

Also Read: Jamsetji Nusserwanji Tata, a Swadeshi who tried to make India a manufacturing hub

‘Staying ahead of the curve’ 

To create these great institutions, one needs money of the kind J.N. Tata and later J.R.D. Tata committed. But money alone cannot buy greatness. It needs to be employed wisely. For example, IISc, during Dhawan’s days, ventured into new fields of research that were way ahead of their time such as the Centre for Atmospheric Sciences, and promotion of social impact of science through the Cell for Application of Science and Technology to Rural Areas (ASTRA). The TIFR attracted Narendra Karmarkar, who invented the polynomial time algorithm for linear programming for its computer science group despite their number and string theory biases. TISS also started several focal programmes such as the one in disaster management. The NCPA opened its iconic experimental theatre, while the Tata Memorial pioneered bone marrow transplant and nuclear medicine scanning in India.

All these institutions, in one way or the other, encapsulated the phrase — ‘staying ahead of the curve’. This requires extraordinary vision, an open mind on the part of the key players and sharp foresight to bet resources on them.

J.N. Tata had the knack of spotting opportunities much before his peers and rivals. When India had barely limped out of the brutal suppression of 1857, which continued well into the early 1860s, Tata founded his first major initiative, Empress Mills (1874), in Nagpur and not Mumbai, due to the proximity to the cotton fields, water and fuel. He established the majestic Taj Mahal Hotel near the Gateway of India in Mumbai in 1903 after he was denied entry into a hotel on account of him being an Indian. He also founded the Tata Iron and Steel Company (TISCO), now Tata Steel, in Jamshedpur in 1907. This revolutionary thinking and scientific temperament led him to invest in the creation of the ‘temple of science’, IISc, in Bengaluru, which at that time was a small town tucked far away from his comfort zone. Although, unfortunately, he did not live to see the famed five, his vision, compassion, and drive to excel are imprinted in the blueprint of these great institutions that are the world’s toast and India’s honour even a century after they were founded.

Disclosure: Ratan Tata is among the distinguished founder-investors of ThePrint. Please click here for details on investors.

P.G. Babu is Director, Madras Institute of Development Studies, and is on leave from Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research, Mumbai. He is an alumnus of IISc and Madurai Kamaraj University and is on the Senate of IIT Bombay and Board of Governors of Institute of Economic Growth Delhi.

Views are personal.

(Edited by Srinjoy Dey)

IISc, TIFR, TISS, TMC, NCPA – J.N. Tata’s ‘famed five’ are India’s crown jewels

“Remembering K. F. Rustamji – an officer and a gentleman

I will never forget Khusro Faramurz Rustamji. He was my favourite policeman. You cannot be a Zoroastrian and not have heard of him. He was to the Indian Police Service what Sam Maneckshaw was to the Indian Army. An outstanding officer, a fine gentleman, a hero in challenging circumstances, and a legend. He was also an inspiration to generations of policemen after him. And to people like me fortunate to acquire his companionship, he was a friendly guide.
I knew Rustamji well. And I thought of him when recently the Border Security Force, which he raised in 1965, reverently remembered and honoured him on his birth anniversary. He was India’s first Borderman – the first Director General of the elite force guarding our borders with Pakistan and Bangladesh. It played a significant role in the Indo-Pak War of 1971 and Liberation of Bangladesh. But there was a lot more policing to Rustamji than the BSF. He had a glorious past.
As chief of Madhya Pradesh Police he entered the notorious Chambal Valley and eliminated dreaded dacoits like the feared Gabbar Singh. He was Chief Security Officer to Jawaharlal Nehru and held the first Prime Minister’s ear on all matters related to national security. When he was Special Secretary in the Ministry of Home Affairs, Rustamji headed the committee that led to the formation of the Indian Coast Guard. He set up the National Police Commission.
For all of which, Rustamji got the Padma Vibhushan, and he remains the only Indian policeman to receive this second highest civilian honour. When I got to know Rustamji in the late 1990s, he was already in his 80s, but the government still remembered his distinguished service and sought his views on a slew of subjects of national interest and involved in various commissions to do with security, justice, law and order, and even crime.
We became friends because he was a columnist for my newspaper and wrote with an urgency that demanded immediate reading on pressing national issues. He used to languidly stroll into the office to give his copy. A tall, spare man. Impeccably dressed. A jacket casually thrown over the arm. Two fountain pens in the pocket of his uniform pin-striped shirt. I had done the crime and courts beat and, naturally, I knew who Rustamji was. I was delighted to make his acquaintance.
He had a cup of tea with me every time he came by. And he talked while I listened. Pakistan was his hobby horse. And he wrote so that General Pervez Musharraf, the military President of Pakistan then, followed him closely. Rustamji told me once, “Musharraf is a military man, the nuclear button is safe in his hands, what would India do if some fanatic or clergyman in Pakistan got their hands on it?” I agreed with this and reported it. Hoping Musharraf would read it in Islamabad.
We remained friends till his end in 2003. Rustamji was 86, but energy-plus. He took a fall and developed a crack in the spine. For which he was hospitalized by force. The night before he passed away, I remember India was playing Pakistan at the Centurion in South Africa for the ICC World Cup. Rustamji sat up in his bed at Jaslok Hospital and witnessed our victory. Perhaps wondering idly what Pakistan’s defeat by India on an international stage must mean to Musharraf.”

Soli Sorabjee passes away

SOLI SORABJEE passed away with Covid – Garothman Behesht Hojoji

Nani Palkhivala’s letter to Soli Sorabjee

Seven Decades of Kanga and Palkhivala

11th edition of Kanga and Palkhivala’s The Law and Practice of Income Tax: History of the book, how it faced a court case, and more….

[Watch video featuring Senior Advocate Arvind Datar, who authored the eleventh edition; legendary Senior Advocate Fali Nariman, who was Jamshedji Kanga’s junior; and others who contributed to past editions of the book]

To mark the release of the eleventh edition of Kanga and Palkhivala’s The Law and Practice of Income Tax, published on the 70th anniversary of the first edition, we have pieced together a video depicting how the original book came into being.

The video features Senior Advocate Arvind Datar, who authored the eleventh edition; legendary Senior Advocate Fali Nariman, who was Jamshedji Kanga’s junior; and others who contributed to past editions of the book.

Datar recounts how Sampath Iyengar, who had written another book on Income Tax, filed a suit in the Madras High Court alleging that Kanga and Palkhivala had copied passages from his book. After a bitterly fought trial, the petition was dismissed with the judge ruling that there was no plagiarism, Datar reveals.

Nariman recounts how his Senior Jamshedji Kanga returned to practice after serving as an additional judge of the Bombay High Court, and later served as Advocate General for the State. He also touches upon Kanga’s style of advocacy and how his chambers functioned.

Jehangir Palkhivala talks about the pains his father Behram and uncle Nani Palkhivala went through to publish the book.

Dileep Choksi delves into what went into compiling the eighth edition of the book, which was the last edition that Kanga and Palkhivala had penned themselves.

Advocate Homi Ranina, Nani’s nephew, speaks about the criticism that the seventh edition of the book received.

The video concludes with Datar’s juniors recalling how they helped put together the eleventh edition of the book.

Justice Rohinton Fali Nariman : Priest at Heart Jurist by Profession

By Vineet Malik | London, England | February 06, 2021

Justice Rohinton Fali Nariman was appointed as a Judge of the Supreme Court of India on July 07, 2014.

Nariman’s retirement is due in August this year.

He is no ordinary Judge.

Justice Markandey Katju (Ret’d), on his blog revealed that, Nariman was trained as a learned Parsi priest at a tender age of 12.

He was taught at the Harvard Law School by the stalwarts; Professors Laurence Tribe and Roberto Unger. He practiced Maritime Law in New York at Haight Gardner Poor and Havens for a year.

In November, 2016 Nariman while launching his book : The Inner Fire, left his audience spellbound when he spoke at length on drawing a parallel between various faiths and the importance of karma in life.

Lawyers swear by Nariman’s integrity and impeccable knowledge of international laws and bona-fide litigants are often seen walking out crying from his court.

Wrongdoer’s shiver for getting their pleadings converted to perjury as Nariman’s memory is compared with an elephant and resolve to dispense justice is always at fore.

Justice Madan Lokur, former Judge of the Supreme Court of India says, Having known Rohinton from our days in the Law Faculty of Delhi University, I can confidently say, that he is a greater and more versatile genius.

Nariman is often described as a “Rockstar Judge” after he struck down ‘draconian’ Section 66A of the Information Technology Act from the Constitution through his 123 page judgment.

The landmark judgement ruled vide Shreya Singhal Vs Union of India stated, “No one can tamper with the Constitution, Governments may come and Governments may go but Section 66A goes on forever.”

The ruling reflects intolerance of people who misused the law to gag the Constitutional provisions of right to freedom of speech and expression in India.

His another judgment on dissent in the matter of Kantaru Rajeevaru Vs Indian Young Lawyers Association resurrected the Constitutional values where-in it stated, “Women worshippers were thwarted despite a judgment ruled by the Supreme Court upholding their fundamental right to equality and worship at the Sabarimala temple.”

“It was up to the Government, it’s ministers and it’s officials to firm up and implement the judgment. The dissent, be it the Prime Minister or a Chief Minister, who failed to follow the judgment violated the rule of law.”


Nariman scrapped the 19th century law criminalising homosexuality vide Navtej Singh Johar & Ors. Vs Union of Indiawhich stated, “The whole object of fundamental rights is to give court power to strike down laws which a majoritarian governments, swung by votes, will not repeal. We don’t wait for majoritarian governments to repeal laws.”

One of the most recent controversial order passed by Nariman pertains to issuance of notice against a lower court Judge alleging contempt of the top court and contravention of statutory articles of the Constitution vide Manubhai Hargovandas Patel Vs Learned A.P Khanorkar, Metropolitan Magistrate, 68th Court, Mumbai, Maharashtra.

Dinshaw K. Tamboly, Chairman, The World Zoroastrian Organisation Trust says,

Justice Rohinton Fali Nariman has grown in stature every time he has delivered a judgement, fortifying the necessity of what Caroline Kennedy has mentioned – “the bedrock of democracy is the true rule of law which means having an independent judiciary who can make decisions independent of the political winds that are blowing.

Justice Rohinton Fali Nariman has established that wisdom is not a product of schooling but lifelong attempt to acquire it.

Indian judiciary is very fortunate that it has in Justice Rohinton Fali Nariman a judge who believes and practices that justice must be done, even though the heavens may have to fall, that real peace does not mean the absence of conflict, but the presence of justice.

India survives as a democracy because Judges such as Justice Rohinton Fali Nariman and the likes of him have been dispensing real justice to one and all. His stint as a Judge of the highest Court of our land will be remembered for a very long time to come.”

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