Sanjaynagar became ISRO’s chosen seat because of its proximity to two of its erstwhile big brothers: IISc. and BEL

As one the country’s biggest ever scientific quests takes off for Mars today, this is the time to revisit the nerve centre where the ‘plot’ was hatched, crafted, refined and unleashed.

Back in 1989, when a rather obscure department of the Central Government moved into its current 20-acre campus from its temporary location in Cauvery Bhavan on Kempe Gowda Road, not many people noticed; not many people then lived around here anyway.

From a lake bed

About a kilometre down from M.S. Ramaiah Hospital and off New BEL Road is the seat of the headquarters of the Department of Space, Antariksh Bhavan. An old-timer recalls that the land on which Antariksh Bhavan was built was the dried bed of Devasandra lake.

Then it was better known as Devasandra, recalls S. Satya [name changed on request], an engineer who recently retired as the head of one of ISRO’s key departments.

Antariksh Bhavan houses the DoS Secretariat and headquarters of ISRO, where policies are framed on the country’s communication satellites that keep the hundreds of television channels going, support our Internet, telephones and weather forecasts, or the remote-sensing satellites that keep track of natural resources, floods and disasters, among others.

Desolate, once upon a time

In the early 1990s, New BEL Road was a mud road. “It used to be desolate all around and we saw very few houses,” recalls Mr. Satya.

Sanjaynagar, according to him, became the chosen seat of the Department of Space because it was close to two of its old big brothers whom it soon outgrew in stature.

One was the Indian Institute of Science, some 8 km away, whose then-Director Satish Dhawan was also the Chairman of ISRO. On the other side, virtually down the road, was Bharat Electronics Ltd. (BEL), which had a [now defunct] division fabricating electronics for space use.

Today, the three-storey granite-floored edifice sits quiet and cosy in a verdant setting. Since 1989, four of ISRO’s six chairmen helmed the organisation from here: U.R. Rao, K. Kasturirangan, G. Madhavan Nair, and the incumbent, K. Radhakrishnan.

Prices up

And all those branded goods showrooms, eateries and premium electronics shops around New BEL Road owe much “to the presence of the Space HQ,” according to A. Sridhar, a resident of Sanjaynagar and employee with ISRO for over 25 years. “The real estate prices have zoomed and today Sanjaynagar is a premium place in Bangalore,” he adds.

But down the years since the 1990s, ISRO has also lost a certain people-connect. Old-timers like Mr. Satya find it inconceivable that the country’s high-profile department once was shielded by nothing more than barbed wire, not unlike a public park of today.

Antariksh Bhavan is today a three- to four-layered security fortress. The attack on New York’s twin towers; the Mumbai terror attack; and other incidentshave all changed the access forever, says Mr. Satya.

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