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Celebrating service to animals

VERY LIKELY to be celebrated in February, long before its October birthday, is the centenary of the Madras Veterinary College, the first college in the country to prepare students for a veterinary degree. The College was the nucleus of the country's first veterinary university, the Tamil Nadu Veterinary and Animal Sciences University, Madhavaram, established in September 1989.

The college had its roots in the Agricultural College in Saidapet, on the banks of the Adyar near which a solitary pillar with a pyramidal cap is the sole reminder that the Farm School, later Agricultural college, existed here. In 1876, the Saidapet college began offering a two-year course in Veterinary Science leading to a diploma, with practical instruction in the nearby veterinary hospital that still survives. Similar institutions in other parts of the country transformed themselves into diploma-granting colleges with three-year programmes in the years that followed, starting with Lahore and followed by Bombay, Calcutta and Ajmer. To follow suit, the Madras Government in 1902 requested Veterinary Major W.D. Gunn to propose a scheme to establish a veterinary college in the Madras Presidency.

After some debate on his proposal and the location of the college, the Government in March, 1903, approved the establishment of the institution in Vepery in a bungalow rented at Rs.60 a month near the `Dog's Home' run by the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. The SPCA offered to hand over this hospital to the college as a teaching hospital, provided it retained the name of the original donor, and so it became the Raja Venugopal Kishan Bahadur Hospital for Animals. With all this agreed on and Government granting additional land requested by Major Gunn, the institution started functioning in the rented bungalow, Dobbin Hall, from October 1, 1903, with Gunn, the Superintendent of the Civil Veterinary Department, Madras Presidency, as part-time principal. Admissions to what was named the Madras Veterinary School, a description soon changed to College, was limited to 20 students and they were awarded on graduation the GMVC (Graduate of Madras Veterinary College) diploma.

When the Royal Commission on Agriculture in India visited the country in 1930, it recommended that one of the veterinary colleges in India should be upgraded to provide degree-level education. A Government of India Veterinary Commission, after inspecting all the existing institutions, recommended in 1933 that the Madras Veterinary College be affiliated to the University of Madras. And from July 1936, when 50 students were admitted, it became the first veterinary college in the country to send up students for a university degree. V.Kailasam Ayyar, the third Indian to hold the post, was the principal at the time. The first Indian principal was V.Krishnamurti Ayyar, appointed in 1929, and the second was M.R.V.Pannikar, these three Indian principals alternating as heads of the institution with British principals until 1939, after which there have been only Indian principals.

A second recommendation of the commission was that the students had to study the comparative anatomy of the ox instead of the horse that had been compulsory till then. It was a recommendation reflecting Government's move away from training veterinarians to help the Army, which used to travel with horse and mule, to producing veterinarians to help the country's farming efforts in peace. Today, the College has gone far - and much of that progress is reflected in the numerous additions to the campus. But the first addition was as early as 1904 when what is now the handsome main Indo-Saracenic block was built by Masilamani Mudaliar in front of Dobbin Hall. That old bungalow survived as offices till well into the 1960s.


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