P. V. Indiresan, a former director of IIT-Madras and Padma Bhushan award winner who was a strong critic of reservation in jobs and education, passed away in Pune on Sunday. He was 85.
A critic of not just reservations but also the Common Entrance Examination saying it would dilute the quality of the IITs, Indiresan pioneered several academic reforms including the credit system at IIT-Madras – which came to be known as a “forgiving and flexible system of allowing students to choose their courses and teachers”, according to P. Sriram, a student of Mr. Indiresan and the current dean of administration at IIT-M. Professor Indiresan initiated industry-IIT cooperation as he believed that students should be trained to solve real world problems with industrial help. This paved the way for IIT- Madras to get more sponsored projects from the government and companies, recall his students.
“Before that, we were primarily an institution for undergraduate courses. He increased the intake of post- graduate students to build a storing research community. Now we have more PG and research students than under graduates,” said Mr. Sriram.
M.S. Ananth, former director, IIT Madras, who joined as assistant professor during Prof Indiresan’s tenure, said Professor Indiresan’s entry was like “a breath of fresh air” for the students and teachers. “Before him, let alone students, even teachers could not go talk to the director. He formed committees of deans and arranged weekly meetings, which were reported to him.” It was his decision to revamp academic course content every five years at IIT, a practice the institution continues to this day.
While his outspokenness provoked debate and discussion within the IIT campus, in his later role as a policy maker and columnist including for The Hindu and Business Line, his controversial views often went against conventional wisdom. Professor Indiresan’s opposition to 27 per cent reservation for Other Backward Classes did come as a surprise to many because of his proximity to the then Human Resource Development Minister, Arjun Singh. Professor Indiresan was among the few people to be invited for Singh’s family events.
Even while they were on opposite sides of the fence on the issue of reservation in admissions, he continued to be nominated on various committees on higher education including those of the University Grants Commission.
Many found his bluntness provocative and contentious but for some that quality was welcome. Sandipan Deb, an IIT alumnus and a senior journalist, in his column in an English daily newspaper recounted his meeting with Professor Indiresan and wrote: “Years ago, I was sitting with legendary IIT professor and former director of IIT Madras, P. V. Indiresan. ‘Let’s face it,’ he told me bluntly, ‘Most teachers in the IITs are inferior to the students.’”
A graduate from the Indian Institute of Science, Mr. Indiresan began his career as a teacher in IIT Roorkee before rising to become the Director of IIT, Madras (1979-84), for many years. Obtaining his doctorate degree from Birmingham University, Professor Indiresan subsequently moved to IIT Delhi and settled in the city after retirement.
His end came in Pune where he was to chair the Election Commission’s technical committee meet on electronic voting machines.
This article has been corrected for an editing error.