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60 YEARS OF EXCITING JOURNEY IN LEATHER TECHNOLOGY EDUCATION


S. Sadulla
Formerly
Head, Centre for Human & Organizational Resources Development
& Chairman, International Science & Technology Affairs Group,
Central Leather Research Institute, Adyar, Chennai – 600 020
& Hon. Prof., Dept. of Leather Technology, Anna University
Currently
Vice President ALFA


Preamble

Although leather craft is considered as old as man, modern leather technology can be traced to the last decades of 19th century when H.R. Procter started applying chemistry to tanning at the Leeds University, UK in 1891 and Cathereiner, Vignon, Von Schroeder and Eritner on the mainland Europe.  Science has amazingly brought in exciting changes in the process of leather making and the modern leather technology throws open many exciting and challenging problems and careers to the minds willing to take them.
The Indian leather industry which too remained for centuries in the holds of traditional crafts has been transformed in the last six decades or so into vibrant export oriented industry now occupying an eminent position in the country’s economy because of its potential in economy (foreign exchange earning), employment generation and empowerment (of people).  The significant achievement of the leather sector is due to the progressive, proactive and collective initiatives and efforts of R & D, industry and the government.  The role of Human Resource Development (HRD) on this nation building activity is in a significant measure, which every alumnus can proudly take pride of.

Emergence of Leather Institutes

Though leather craft is time immemorial, the imparting of formal training in leather and leather products is of relatively recent origin.  In India, prior to Independence, there was no significant organized tanning activity but for a few British controlled tanneries. It was World War I that was indirectly responsible for setting up schools of tanning for the training of technicians who were essential for the supervision of bulk production of the British army’s requirements of leather.  The British set up the first tanning school at Madras (present Chennai) in 1914.  Later other schools sprang up at Kanpur (1916), Calcutta (present Kolkata) (1919), Jalandhar (1934) and in many places later post-Independence. The beginning of technical education in leather thus corresponds to the period when leather manufacture on an organized industrial scale commenced. The dawn of Independence saw the launching of the professional degree programme in leather technology.
With the munificent donation of Rs.5 lakhs (this amount in ‘40s) from Dr. Alagappa Chettiar, the great philanthropist of the times, the premier University of Madras established the Alagappa Chettiar College of Technology (fondly called A.C. Tech by its students and alumni) to offer courses in technology.  The College was under the direct management and administrative control of the University.  The College started offering Chemical Engineering programme in the first year.  Leather Technology and Textile Technology were offered from 1945 onwards.  Launching of professional degree programme in leather technology, a non-conventional field of engineering and technology was a bold and far-sighted step taken by the educationists of yester years which has paid rich dividends.  These programmes were of two years duration after a basic science degree leading to B.Sc (Tech) degree.  Thus these programmes were indeed post – B.Sc / Post graduate ones.  The first batch of leather technology graduates passed out in 1947.
The same year 1944 witnessed another significant initiative, this from Delhi, at that time the capital of British India.  At the instance of Dr. S. S. Bhatnagar, the then Director, the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) appointed in 1944 a Leather Research Committee with Shri. B.M. Das as the Chairman and Messrs K. Seshachalam Choudhary, P.T. Quy, G.M. Mansuri and Dr. B.C. Guha as members.  The Committee examined the possibilities of research in leather manufacture and recommended financial assistance for specific research through (i) a block grant of Rs.60,000 per annum to the Department of Leather Technology (of A.C. Tech) of the University of Madras and (ii)  a grant for a five year programme of work at the Bengal Tanning Institute, Calcutta in order to ensure the benefits of new discoveries in Science and technology for the Indian leather industry and to promote the early establishment of Central Leather Research Institute (CLRI). This recommendation was strongly supported by the Industrial Research Planning Committee and accepted by CSIR.  It was decided to locate CLRI at Madras and the Government of Madras gave as a gift the present site covering 84 acres.

Description: Scan0015In 1948, CLRI started functioning in Coral Merchant Street, George Town, Madras.  Shri. B.M. Das was appointed Officer on special Duty on Sept.26, 1951 and the planning, construction and equipping of the institute commenced and CLRI started functioning in its premises in 1952 when the construction of the Tannery Block was completed.  Shri. B.M. Das was appointed as the first Director on Jan 15, 1953 when the new Campus was officially declared open.

Though the Leather Technology programme commenced in 1945, the A.C. Tech buildings were not ready yet and the classes for leather subjects were held in the Institute of Leather Technology (ILT) premises at Washermanpet, Madras.  Mr. Seshachalam Choudhary who was the Principal of ILT was also the Honorary Head of Leather Technology, A.C. Tech.  G.S.N.

Murthi B.Sc (Tech.), (1947 – 49) says:  “With the public transport system so sparse those days we used to trek the distance from the College to Saidapet where we catch a train to Fort.  From Fort to Mint we travelled by tram and finally walked the last distance to reach ILT”.
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In 1950, A.C. Tech buildings were commissioned. The Department of Leather Technology moved from Washermanpet to Guindy in June 1951. On the death of Prof. Seshachalam Choudhary at this time, Mr. Siviah Choudhary, Principal of ILT was appointed to act in the vacancy in the position of the Head of Department of Leather Technology.  Dr. A.L. Sundara Rao, Planning Officer, CLRI helped in conducting the classes.
The 1950 – 52 batch was the first batch to have practical training in the freshly commissioned tannery building of CLRI in 1952.  By now, University of Madras decided to site the Department of Leather Technology at CLRI.  Indeed another far-sighted step.  This results in a successful three way partnership of academy-research-industry developing into a good role model for engineering education in a specialized sector like leather.

Ph.D Programme

The Ph.D programmes too commenced early in the Fifties itself.  It is indeed a meritorious feat that the first Ph.D in Leather Technology (Dr. E.C. Mathews) came in 1955 itself.  Till the introduction of M.Sc (Tech) by research programme, B.Sc (Tech) graduates were allowed to register for Ph.D programme straightaway.  So far 28 Ph.D degrees in Leather Technology have been awarded by University of Madras and Anna University.  Dr. M.S. Olivannan’s Ph.D thesis of 1972 was adjudged as the best one to receive the Chancellor’s Gold Medal that year, by the University of Madras.  In recent times, Dr. P. Thanikaivelan’s Ph.D thesis bagged the prestigious best thesis award of Indian National Academy of Engineering.

M.Sc (Tech) by research programmes

M.Sc (Tech) by research programmes too commenced after 1955.  During 1956 – 65, 20 M.Sc (Tech) by research degrees were awarded.

4 year B.Sc (Tech) programme

4 year B.Sc (Tech) programmes were introduced in 1957 after one year pre-professional programme in the college which itself was after Pre-University course.  The 1961-65 was the last B.Sc (Tech) (4 year) batch.

5 year Integrated B.Tech Programme

Then commenced in 1961, 5 year Integrated B.Tech programme which was offered after one year Pre-University course.

M.Tech (Leather Tech.) programme

M.Tech (Leather Tech.) programme (2 years duration) commenced in 1963.

Birth of Anna University

On 4th Sept. 1978, Anna University was established.  A.C. Tech becomes part of Anna Univ.

4 year B.Tech Degree Programme

In 1980, due to academic reforms, 4 year B.Tech Degree programme was introduced replacing the 5 year Integrated programme with the result two batches of leather technologists passed out in the year 1984.




M.Tech (3 semester) programme

Based on Nayudamma Committee report, another major change in P.G. education in professional courses take place.  From 1983, M.Tech (3 semesters) programme in Leather Technology commences.

P.G. Programmes in Footwear Science & Engineering

Due to the initiatives of the Dept., P.G. Programmes - 3 semester M.Tech Programme and 2 semester P.G. Diploma programme in Footwear Science & Engineering were introduced by the University in 1987.  After 5 batches, P.G. Diploma programme was discontinued.  The entry level for these programmes is Graduate Degree in Leather Technology or Mechanical Engineering.  These courses get good response.

M.S (by research) programmes

M.S (by research) programme in Leather Technology Commenced in 1997.  The programme is equivalent to M.Tech degree but the curriculum consists of about 50% of the course content of M.Tech programme with the entire duration of studies devoted to research in leather science & technology with research methodology and thesis evaluation by two external examiners and (public) viva voice examination built into the system.  The minimum duration of the M.S. programme i.e. 3 semesters in the introductory years get extended to 4 semesters since 2002.  Mr. J. Kanagaraj is the first recipient of M.S (by research) degree in 1999.

B.Tech (Part Time) Degree programme

Year 2000 witnessed the launching of 7 semesters B.Tech (Part Time) Degree programme in Leather Technology.  This met the demand of the aspiring technicians in the industry with Diploma qualifications in Leather Technology.  The courses are run in the evenings. (6.15 pm to 9.30 pm).

Reorganisation of P.G. education

The M.Tech programme in its earlier years almost corresponded to the M.S. programmes available at IITs with much importance attached to Project Work / thesis.  The students had to take only a few theory courses and had solid two years for Project work studies.  Over the years, with the periodic revision of P.G. Curriculum, the M.Tech programmes were loaded with a lot of course work (theory) with much reduced time available for project work.  The last two semesters available for project work were found inadequate for any fruitful research activity.  Hence after due deliberations, the M.Tech programmes across the country revert back to 4 semesters.  Since 2002, the 4 Semester M.Tech programmes in Leather Technology and Footwear Science & Engineering are offered.

Curriculum Changes

Description: chord2In tune with emerging trends in science and technology, periodic revision in curriculum and syllabi of the various programmes has been undertaken.  The Board of studies, A.C. Tech / Anna Univ. is entrusted with the responsibility.





 Leather Education Gains Visibility

A perceptible change in quality and quantum of admission in B.Tech and M.Tech programmes of Anna University is noticeable.  From a mere 10 in ‘70s, the B.Tech admission now stands at 45 with best of the talents (top 10% of the aspirants for engineering education) opting for Leather Technology.
The Department of Leather Technology is recognized by All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) as a Centre for Quality Improvement Programme for offering M.Tech and Ph.D programmes to teachers of other technical institutions.

Gaining Strength

The Department of Leather Technology has grown in stature gaining strength, thanks to the guidance and individual care showered by the successive Directors of the Institute of viz., of. B.M. Das, Dr. Y. Nayudamma, Dr. M. Santappa, Dr. N. Ramanathan, Dr. G. Thyagarajan, Dr. K.V. Raghavan and Dr. T. Ramasami and Heads of the (Education & Training) Department, viz., Dr. E.C. Mathew, Shri. P.S. Venkatachalam, Shri. T.S. Krishnan, Dr. R. Selvarangan, Dr. J.B. Rao, Dr. C. Koteswara Rao, Dr. M.S. Olivannan, Dr. K. Satish Babu, Dr. V Sundara Rao and Dr. S. Sadulla and endless number of Hon. Faculty of the Department of Leather Technology drawn from different R & D divisions of the Institute. The “Centre for Human and Organizational

Resources Division” (CHORD) is the Core Department running the Department of Leather Technology (of the University).  In addition, CHORD trains personnel through its various short term, long term, industry – specific and special training programmes. Not only Indian leather industry benefits but industry overseas also gains by utilizing the expertise made available.  Nearly 35% of the global supply of leather experts is being added though CLRI every year.

Initiatives of CHORD

Worth mentioning are the HRD initiatives for promoting and sustaining technology culture in the work force of the leather sector for the country’s gain from the comparative advantages of India like
i) The empowerment of cooperatives though training, tutoring and mentoring of rural artisans.
Description: Presentation1
ii) “reaching the unreached” – a pedagogy innovation – developing training modules and imparting education using distance education methodology in the form of multimedia teaching system though print, audio and video to the illiterate / semi literate work force in leather processing, not “easily reached” by the conventional training methods.

Leather Technology Education Destination of the World

CHORD emerges as the dependable partner for developing countries in their intellectual pursuits and training.  Leather & Leather Product Technology, Institute, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia prefers to send their staff for training at CLRI.  Links with Sudan University of Science & Technology, British School of Leather Technology, University of Northampton, UK, University of Juba, Khartoum, Sudan, Common Market for East & South Africa (COMESA) / Leather & Leather Products Institute (an Inter – Regional Training Centre in Africa) and Universitat Polytecnica de Catalunya, Spain have been strengthened.
CLRI has already emerged as a global leader in leather research.  It has the potential to emerge as a global leader in leather education and training too.

Placement

The placement record of the Department is exhilarating.  None of the leather technology graduates are unemployed.  Many of them occupy pivotal positions in the industry and Government organizations.  Many have developed into entrepreneurs and technocrats and reached the pinnacle of their careers as Directors, Chief Executives, Heads of Depts / Divisions etc.  This rosy picture is quite in contrast to the situation in the 1960’s.  (Late) Prof. Y. Nayudamma, the doyen of leather technology education in India observed in his article “Education in the field of Leather Technology – scope for the future” in ALTECH (1962 – 63), a journal of A.C. Tech:  We find that the majority (of the personnel so far trained by institute at that point of time) are placed in public sector departments, very few of which are run on an industrial basis.  Hence all the technical training imparted to such personnel has failed to reach the industry”.  At another place, in the same article, his observation was “unfortunately, the leather industry has never taken kindly to degree holders, probably because the tanner has never felt the need for one so far.  But to day with the immediate prospect of the development of the finished leather industry, the tanner is entering into a more competitive market.  Hence there will be a growing demand within the trade for trained technologists”.  And his vision that “the technologists can look forward to a bright future” has been turned true. 

Trends in Placement

Description: scan0138The recent trend noticed in placement position in the country viz., the manufacturing industry losing most of its best talents to IT sector is very well there in the leather sector.  In recent years, around 30% of final year students get placement in IT sector in the beginning of seventh semester itself.  What does this trend indicate?  Can we feel proud that our (Leather Technology) programme is always endowed with best of talents, with other professions trying to grab them?  Or is the industry, as such, failing to attract and retain the talents for whatever reasons may be?  How to motivate the youngsters to continue in their field of study?  The alumni and the industry can play a great role in this by mentoring and motivation.

Long way we have come

Mahatma Gandhiji, Father of our Nation, once observed in his regular columns in a magazine in 1934 itself:  “It is estimated that about Rupees nine crore worth raw hides is annually exported from India and much of it is returned to her in the shape of manufactures articles.  This means not only a material, but also an intellectual drain.  We miss the training we should receive in tanning and preparing the innumerable articles of leather we need for daily use”.  The Free India addressed this problem nicely.  R & D infrastructure was created.  Training centers were established.  Leather sector got modernized.  Gandhiji’s dream gets realized.  A feat which every alumni can feel proud of.

ALFA

Description: gujarat1The need for an alumni association was felt for a very long time.  Only in ‘80s, the foundation for A.C. Tech Leather and Footwear Alumni Association (ALFA) was laid with just four alumni joining hands and floating the Association with Dr. K.S. Jayaraman as the Founder President, Dr. M.S. Olivannan as the Founder Secretary and Dr. S. Sadulla as the Founder Treasurer.  Now ALFA is 833 strong and it has grown in stature too.  It has become a professional body to be reckoned with.  It is a matter of gratification that ALFA has taken the responsibility of organizing creditably the Diamond Jubilee Celebrations of the Department of Leather Technology in a befitting manner.  Description: DSC00549

ALFA has prepared a Charter and “A Way forward” which is released by Dr. T. Ramasami, Distinguished alumnus of the Department and (presently) Secretary, Department of Science & Technology, Govt of India who has guided the destiny of ALFA for more than a decade.
On the eve of valedictory function of the DJ Celebrations, let ALFA resolve to work further tirelessly in the cause of Leather Technology Education at the Department of Leather Technology, A.C. Tech / CLRI.

LOOKING FORWARD

Expansion of the Indian leather industry in days ahead raises issues relating to sustainable development encompassing the structure of the industry, ecology and environment, technological dynamics, market forces and so on.  The alumni of the Department of Leather Technology, A.C. Tech / CLRI can look forward to play a pivotal role in the significant development and “nouveau” transformation of the leather sector.

EXCITING JOURNEY INDEED

The journey during these sixty years had been exciting, interesting and stimulating.  The journey ahead promises to be more exciting, interesting and stimulating.