Science City Kolkata Comes Alive With PanIIT Global Conference 2012

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Kolkata, India – Optimism, a desire to do good and high spirits together kickstarted the PanIIT Global Conference 2012 in Kolkata on Friday December 7. A host of big names – be it from the political field or from the industry – got together to share their views and hobnob with a bunch of nostalgic IITians who gathered from all parts of the globe. The theme this year? Excel, transform and sustain.

From light banter between present and past students to hopeful speeches on how they plan to better conditions of their motherland India, witty diatribes and even showcasing of states, Day 1 had it all and more. The day was divided into two halves comprising one-hour sessions. Each half was initiated by music by IITian Rahul Mitra and his troupe.

“PanIIT is a unique platform whose objective is nation building. There are more than two hundred thousand IITians now and about 40-50 thousand of them are in the US. PanIIT gives them the platform to network, listen and get engaged in nation building,” said Sandipan Chakravortty, chairman, 2012 Global Conference Steering Committee, who had been working on the event for a year.

But he also had questions for the IITians, urging them to ask themselves where all they have excelled, what all they have transformed and what has been sustained.

“We need to teach people in a way that results in inclusive growth and we can do this through the use of technology, bridging the mismatch of resources,” said IITian HR Vaish in his speech.

 The focus for the two years before the next Pan IIT conference for them would be internal communication, external communication and create a technology centre.

Internal communication would help in building bonds between the IITians. For this purpose, a newsletter and an alumni portal will be created. Spentamedia, a content provider company, will help create an online presence that represents Pan IIT values and nation-building tasks. Additional help has come from Arvind Singhal.

“Many of us are doing great work but it doesn’t get highlighted so that people can duplicate it. We will use TV, internet and radio to spread this. External communication will also become a source of revenue,” said Vaish who also stressed on accelerating development of technology to better utilize national resources and help the masses.

 

Witty dialogues marked West Bengal governor MK Narayanan’s Inaugural Address which had US Ambassador to India Nancy Powell, ITC head YC Deveshwar, Lord Kumar Bhattacharya, industrialists Purnendu Chatterjee and others in rapt attention. An IIT alumnus, Narayanan spoke with fond recollection of the brand value the name “IIT” generated in foreign lands whenever as National Security Advisor he met with or visited dignitaries.

The governor chose to focus on the positives of the India growth story, security threats and diplomatic relations instead of the negative reports that have been hitting the headlines about policy paralysis and stagnant growth rate. “The negative publicity on decline of growth rate has induced pessimism that can hamper India’s future growth,” he stressed. Narayanan ended with a question: “Will the alumni want to set up scholarships on the pattern of the Rhodes scholarships?”

The conference got Union Civil Aviation Minister, Government of India, Ajit Singh nostalgic. An IIT Kharagpur alumnus, Singh called IITs an “important constituent of Brand India.” “India needs leaders in science, technology and even politics,” he implored.

Much talk happened in the second session – the focus of which was “Transformational strategies for India.” YC Deveshwar, Lord Kumar Bhattachaya and Nancy Powell were the three key speakers. Nandan Nilekani was conspicuous by his absence even though his name was there as a scheduled speaker.   

Session chair Dr Purnendu Chatterjee stressed on the “obligation of the elite to help in transformational and inclusive growth” in the face of a whole gamut of challenges. Lord Bhattacharya spoke of how IIT Bhubaneswar, a new player in the IIT field, has tied up with the mining industry and providing material support to reduce carbon footprint.’

Ambassador Powell spoke of the growth that she found around Kolkata on her return to India and spoke of how American companies are providing employment and focussed on science and technology and education as the high points of the bilateral relationship between India and the US.  

 

“I see Rajarhat, Salt Lake City, new buildings… Cognizant, IBM, Genpact have a strong presence here, employing tens and thousands of people. Caterpillar is bringing high value US technology to the mining sector, operating in Kolkata and West Bengal,” said Powell.

 

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee played Santa to techies. She invited offers to set up small scale industry and stressed that a land bank has already been created. In a bid to showcase the state, she brought along a jute goody bag with specimens of rice, Darjeeling tea and what is the hottest symbol on international runways – owls as example of Bengal’s handicraft.

She called for IITians to invest in the state, highlighting the technology-based projects that her government has undertaken. To showcase that she was serious, she brought along her Finance Minister and former FICCI boss Amit Mitra.

 

The day ended with some past and present IITians pulling each others legs at a debate on “IITians make poor leaders.” The IIT JEE was established as the high point in an IITians life, with speakers for the motion stressing that clearing the exam might make one intelligent, but certainly does not make one a leader.

Top innovators and IIT alumni must certainly have had a laugh over that.  

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