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Institutes of Engineers (India) completes hundred years

Engineering skill originated first in those parts of the world where mathematics of measurement and computation reached its

Ranjan Kumar Padmapati

Sentinel Digital DeskBy : Sentinel Digital Desk

  |  15 Sep 2020 2:30 AM GMT

The ideal engineer for India is a man who will take 1000 pounds per year,… who will regard an offer of a commission from sub-contractors as a deadly insult, who can keep accounts like a bank clerk – The Spectator, London


Ranjan Kumar Padmapati

(The writer can be reached at

Engineering skill originated first in those parts of the world where mathematics of measurement and computation reached its zenith. Such countries were Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece and Rome. Early users of engineering skills were the military who built fortress, bridges and war machinery. The first-ever engineers were pre-historic engineers who put fire to use, discovered homes, made tools and weapons.

Early engineering skills are visible in the pyramid of Egypt, built with crude machinery and animal power, also in the port of Phoenician. The Great Wall of China, the Hanging Garden of Babylon, magnificent public buildings of Greece etc., are some other examples. The Romans were great engineers and some of the roads, aqua ducts built by them in remote past are still being used. The remains of their theatres, baths, temples, are found even today in Europe, Africa and Asia which they once occupied. In India too, earliest engineering skills are found in the Indus Valley Civilization of Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro and recent findings of Rakhigrahi of Haryana, dates back to 6,000 BC. Between 300 BC and 1,500 BC urban cities were developed with water supply, sewage network etc. By 1800 BC India developed the skill of producing Iron, in 500 BC Damascus (olden weapon grade steel) steel originated in India and then spread to other parts of the world.

The first batch of engineers arrived in India with East India Company's Crops. The military engineers engaged themselves in construction of roads, bridges and fortresses in seventeenth and nineteenth centuries. Gradually the civil engineering activities had spread. As construction activities increased a separate department, Public Works Department, was set up. Railways also came into being. To cater to the new requirements, engineers were imported from Britain, trained in British fashion of apprenticeship under practising engineers. To staff the PWD, an institution was established at Cooper Hill, a place near London in 1871 by the India Office, London known as "Royal Indian Engineering College (RIEC)". The pass-outs from that college dominated the scene for long and inducted in the Imperial Service of Engineers. Their requirements were similar to the general characteristics of the members of the ICS. It is recorded in The Spectator, London as "The ideal engineer for India is a man who will take 1000 pounds per year,… who will regard an offer of a commission from sub-contractors as a deadly insult, who can keep accounts like a bank clerk." Much stress was on gentlemanliness. The students had enjoyed an Oxbridge (Oxford plus Cambridge)-type of lifestyle – billiard and drinks. The Indian counterparts were also trained in British mould. Meanwhile, indigenous engineers gradually came in with the establishments of engineering colleges at Guindy Engineering College in 1794, Poona Civil Engineering College in 1854, Roorkee Engineering College in 1847 and Sibpur Engineering College in 1856 and their products were recruited in the provincial services. The RIEC was closed down in 1906 in London and recruits were from other engineering colleges of Britain to the ISE.

Till World War 1 the engineers, both from Britain and India, were eager to take one of the three memberships of engineers' societies – the Institute of Mechanical Engineers, Institute of Civil Engineers or Institute of Electrical Engineers, London. Those institutes had government sanctions, its codes of conduct set minimum qualification standards and experiences required to be a member. Though Indian engineers were recruited in the PWD they enjoyed lower status than Briton engineers and employed mostly as sub-ordinates. They worked as draught man and overseers. Indian engineers started modestly in provincial services and dreamt of joining the ISE cadre in years to come on promotion. Some of them though joined as officers formed a cadre but the status, pay and benefits were less than those of imported engineers but did similar jobs. The disparity of scales (1892 to 1908) is evident as below shown in brackets between the ISE and provincial services in the grades of Assistant Engineer Rs 350-550 (250-400), Executive Engineer Rs 700-1000 (475-650) Superintending Engineer Rs 1250-1600 (750—1050.) Even Mokhagundam Visvesvariya took premature retirement thinking that he would not be promoted to the rank of Chief Engineer, and joined State of Mysore as a Chief Engineer. Now every year Engineers' Day is being celebrated throughout India on 15th of September being the birthday of Bharat Ratna M. Visvesvariya.

The Britons had different opinion on personal qualities of Indian engineers as "while Indian PWD engineers might be technically competent, their personal qualities were likely to fall short of the ideal of gentleman generalist, leaving them open to corruption, partiality and incompetence as administrators." At the beginning of World War 1 industrialization gradually took place and steel plant, paper mills and sugar mills were established. By 1930 both the branches of PWD placed under the elected provincial ministers, the IES was staffed by more than 50% Indians and Britons gradually refused to work under Indians since 1920 and recruitments at England ultimately stopped.

Engineers felt a breakaway attitude from the parent institutions in Britain and inclined to form an independent institution in India. This idea received importance in the Report of the Industrial Commission of which Sir Thomas Holland was the chairman. Several meetings were held in December 1918 and January 1919. The organizing committee was formed for the proposed "Indian Society of Engineers" and founding members were TRJ Ward, Major Gh Willis, Mr. J. W Meares, Mr. A C Coubrough and E.M. Hughmari as Honorary Secretary. Thomas Ward took over from Sir Thomas Holland as Chairman. And Major W Brady was made Secretary of the Organizing Committee on 23rd April, 1919. The memorandum of association, by laws and articles were formulated and name was changed to "The Institution of Engineers (India) (IEI)" at a meeting held on July 16, 1919 at Shimla. The institute was incorporated into the Presidency of Madras under Indian Company's Act, 1913 on 13 September, 1920. The corporate members grew as follows—138 in 1920: 920 in 1930: 1190 in 1940 and 4169 in 1950. The institute was formally inaugurated on 23rd February, 1921 in the Hall of Asiatic Society of Bengal by His Excellency Lord Chelmsford, Viceroy of India. The Royal Charter of Incorporation was granted on 9th of September, 1935 during presidency of Rai Bahadur BP Varma by His Majesty the king Emperor George V. With this humble beginning the IEI at present has more than 8.2 lakh members and 120 state and local centres, besides 5 overseas chapters. The IEI entered into an agreement with 33 engineering organizations worldwide. The IEI is also conducting AMIE Section A and Section B examinations since 1928 and it is considered to be equivalent to engineering graduates of the universities. The IEI has 15 different divisions of engineering branches. Year-long centenary celebration will come to an end on 13th September 2020 being its Foundation Day. Long Live IEI!

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