Sri Gopi Kanta Ghosh, now retired as the Joint Chief Executive Officer, Khadi and Village Industries Commission, Ministry of Micro, Small and Medium Industries, Government of India, has been awarded the Distinguished Alumni Award by the institute for his work in this field.
Born in 1948, he took his B. Sc (Engineering) in Chemical Engineering from the erstwhile Regional Engineering College, Rourkela in the year 1969. He has published 40 articles and presented 41 papers on Anthropology and Behavioural Science at Indian Science Congress. He has travelled widely all over India and abroad Ireland, England, France, Italy, Switzerland, Belgium, Monaco and Bhutan. He was awarded the Shailalata Memorial Award for Best Chemical Engineering Alumni of NIT Rourkela. Team MM caught up with him for an enlightening interaction.
MM: How has the institute changed from the time you graduated from this institute?
GG: It is completely different. Every time I come here, I cannot locate my old hostel. Everything, from back post to main gate, has undergone major changes. We started from Hall 3, then we were shifted to Hall 1, switched to Hall 5 which was newly constructed and ended in Hall 2. When we entered Hall 3, half of the bathrooms were not there. There were only five branches and now, there are more than 20. The main building was under construction and theory classes were taken in the workshop. At that time, the machines were coming for installation. We used to have movie screening in the ground floor of the main building. There was no stadium and no ladies hostel. A quarter was converted for four or five girl students.
MM: You were the Joint Chief Executive Officer of Khadi and Village Industries Commission. Please tell us more about your professional journey.
GG: My journey started much before that. I joined in KVIC in 1982. Before KVIC, I had joined Hindustan Lever Limited and worked there for eight years. It has a very unique management system. We were in the production Department and visited the sales to customize the product. We were trained in such a manner that we can use those management techniques even today. After Hindustan Lever Limited, I joined Sir Silk, which is a completely different story. For two years, I was at Konark Detergents and Soaps Limited and then joined KVIC as the Director. Initially, I was posted in North-Eastern States and became interested in anthropology. After that I presented 40 papers on the subject. That completely broke my notions about human beings. The only thing that differed from one human being to another is the DNA, genetic makeup and blood group. I was fortunate to have a chairman who was a graduate in engineering from BHU and PhD from IIT Delhi. He believed that the small artisans are deprived of technology. We had a concept and it was supported by Murli Mahohar Joshi. We decided that we will have a CSR-like organization at Wardha. I tried to bring the research to NIT Rourkela. My beloved teacher, Prof. G K Roy was also there as the Director. Aasra is his brainchild. That is how everything started. Then the concept of Mahatma Gandhi Institute for Rural Industrialization came up with IIT Delhi. I was the Project Co-ordinator for UNDP. That opened up many avenues to bring about the change. The concept of clustering was introduced and I was deputed to Turin to get training in this programme. I came across many people, their concepts and studied the Italian system on clustering. I drafted the initial scheme and now the Government of India has started a programme called “Sphoorti” with five lakhs clusters. I thought about giving a part of technology development to NIT Rourkela but it did not work out. I retired, and people no longer took interest. Currently, I am working in several clusters in Sunderbans, Murshidabad and several other places. We are preparing a calendar on beekeeping. Uni-flora honey fetches double the price in Europe. So, we are trying to go global to help these small farmers.
MM: How do you think can rural development in India be put on a fast track?
GG: In rural areas, smaller people are surviving. Which means there is market and certain quality goods are being produced. But that is not being advertised. Only unhealthy products are being advertised. This has to be done in clustering. Like, for example, moodhi. We are getting moodhi with inflated stuff and added urea. But, there is quality moodhi being made in individual homes for their consumption. Surplus is also there. If this surplus is made into a cluster, packed and marketed properly, people will buy them. They are always searching for quality goods. Same case with ethnic food like badi. There is demand, but people are not getting it. There we have to strike it, add value to it, and share it with producers. Right now, due to law with a loopholes, the cooperatives are being a failure. Milk cooperatives are being audited by chartered accountants but in others, an unqualified man is rising in ranks due to experience. Kurien also introduced the concept of producer being the shareholder. If the producer stops producing, the shareholding is forfeited. We are trying to implement something similar in Sunderbans. Suppose someone stops producing due to illness, his income will also be forfeited. So, we are planning to give them life insurance. We have not yet started it but let’s see how far this goes.
Biju Patnaik took an initiative to improve rural development through inter-state cooperation. But it did not work out. The government of India did not take the incentive of bridging the gap. There could have been many other initiatives that could have been taken by government of India to improve rural industrialization.
MM: What kind of social development initiatives have you undertaken?
GG: I have not done any specific social development work. But yes, in process of developing the rural areas, I have working for the betterment of tribal people. All the khadi spinners and weavers are socially secure with life insurance and want their children to get proper education. It comes automatically. If you are breaking and linking up everything accordingly, it fits in. There were two occasions on which I had undertaken social welfare activities: the 1999 Odisha super cyclone and 2001 Bhuj earthquake. I was there for cyclone relief for one and a half months. I was deputed because I knew the language. And parallel to State Government relief material, I had a stock. I had a typical unique experience which broke down my pride about Odisha.
I was proud that, unlike BIMARU states, Odisha had very less discrimination based on caste. But, I was utterly wrong on that account. It was tormenting; a Dalit village, Birudipandha in Astaranga was not given any relief, just because the officers were of so-called upper caste.
I stepped in and gave them the required help.
MM: How do you think that the alumni relations in NIT Rourkela can be improved?
It has to improve holistically
One is through campus recruitment. Another, is through the incubation of entrepreneurs. These entrepreneurs cannot rise, because they cannot afford to take a huge amount of loan. In the global concept today, they have to have bulk production. There I think, if we can successfully implement the incubation, and have ten entrepreneurs working under a single brand name, only then we can succeed.
Then, there are non-commercial activities: they are not money generating, but essential. Like quality control and design input system: they cannot directly generate the revenue, but are essential to increase profits.
That, initial time must be given by the institute, because they have the required facilities and the laboratories. Here, even school drop-outs can be employed. We can train them up for jobs like cell phone maintenance, then law and order situation will also improve. NIT Nagpur has successfully undertaken such a project and it was inaugurated by me. We started the pan-NIT, and even have a page in Facebook.
We post all the achievements of the NITs there. NIT Rourkela has its own achievement: during 1964 riots, the students saved around 200 Muslim families at great personal risk. It was after two days, did help arrive for them from the police..
MM: What message would you like to convey to the present students of NIT Rourkela?
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GG: NIT Rourkela, with its infrastructure and everything is going great. But, I want Aasra to keep up with its good work. I want them to keep wiping the tears of the sad souls.
When you go out, you might work in a multinational company with the highest echelons of power. But, if you manage to wipe the tears of one poor soul, it will bring the greatest of happiness.