As the nation is mourning demise of former President Bharat Ratna A.P.J Abdul Kalam, the Integrated Test Range (ITR) at Odisha’s Chandipur, his ‘theatre of action’, plunged into profound shock remembering his association and contribution.
Kalam once admitted spending 50 per cent of his time in Chandipur and Wheeler Island from where powerful Indian missiles, Agni, had been flight tested and made operational.
India’s foremost missile scientist had helped set up ITR during his initial years as director of Defence Research Development Laboratory, Hyderabad. He was then heading the Integrated Direct Missile Development Programme.
Although India was able to develop indigenous missile systems in early 1990s, the army wanted the missile systems to be field-tested. The then-desolate island off the Odisha coast came under the radar and it soon grew to a leading defence establishment in the country under Kalam’s active supervision. In fact, he used to call the test centre as his ‘theatre of action’.
Scientists, technicians and general staff led by Director MVKV Prasad gathered on ITR, Chandipur campus, about 250 km from here on Tuesday morning to remember him. While several old staff members, including Dr. Prasad recalled as to how Kalam used to mingle with everyone, scientists were evoking the memory of continuous scientific inputs being fed by Kalam.
“ITR came into exist when Mr. Kalam realised that there must be a big range where all missiles could be tested. That is how he planned and brought up ITR. Today, ITR has stood up to his dreams. In Odisha, we are able to test all sorts of missiles — surface to surface, surface to air and so many variants,” ITR Director said talking to The Hindu .
“In the initial period, Mr. Kalam used to visit test sites and monitor progress of work. He last visited the campus to inaugurate international seminar on range technology,” said Dr. Prasad.
The ITR Director recalled, “I had the privilege of working for 10 years under his leadership. He had such a positive influence on everybody that I am now happy to be at ITR leaving metro city like Hyderabad to live his dream. He was visionary and his vision was to develop India. He used to say we should not become third or fourth country to something in technology sector. We should always be the first country to achieve any milestone.”
Despite being a celebrated scientist and holding high positions, he was always accessible to everybody — from lowest contributing person to highest ranking scientist — and humanly treatment was hallmark of his nature, he said.
“Basically, each institution has its distinct pattern of culture. The culture is how people interact with each other and how they work toward achieving the goal of institute. ITR’s culture, largely influenced by Mr. Kalam, is to meet any challenging mission thrown at it,” said Dr. Prasad.
Kalam was not always engrossed in developing missile technologies or guiding scientists. It was his eco-initiative that converted sprawling ITR campus into lush green site. He had also taken special care to install controlled light systems and restricted people’s movements near the rookery so that missile tests did not disturb the mass nesting of endangered Olive Ridley turtles along the Odisha coast.