Some reminiscences on AEET Training School

Dr. Homi Bhabha right from the beginning of establishing nuclear program realized the need of developing trained manpower in the country to shoulder the responsibility of carrying out development of the nuclear science and technology. The Atomic Energy Establishment, Trombay –AEET-(now called Bhabha Atomic Research Centre-BARC) was inaugurated on January 20, 1957, by the Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and in the same year a training school was established in order to meet the manpower requirements for the atomic energy programme.The AEET Training School (now calledBARC Training School) was set-up to train and recruit the engineering and science graduates in the DAE institutions. The idea was to get the best talents in the country and impart pre-induction training in a broad range of subjects to all new entrants into the DAE.The training programme was demanding with continuous evaluation by conducting regular weekly tests, take-home assignments, and tutorials to bringing out the full capability of the trainees. These foundation courses helped the students from different institutions with varied levels of academic background to a common level of comprehension of the subjects. They were also required to study Russian language to facilitate better interaction with the USSR counterparts if there is technical collaboration with USSR. The lectures were given by very senior scientists/engineers who could share their wisdom from their practical knowledge. I remember for my batch, we had the privilege of being taught by such luminaries like Prof. MGK Menon, Dr. Raja Ramanna, Mr. U. Venkateswarlu (Warlu as he is known), to name a few.

The admission to the training school was based on the assessment in an interview conducted in house. In the early years any person who has passed in first division with 65% or higher marks in science graduation (BSc) or at least second division with 55% in MSc science or graduate in engineering were eligible to apply for the course. The candidates were also provided with 2nd class to and fro train fare from their home town to Bombay where the interview was conducted. This financial assistance helped all qualifying students a chance to appear for the interview irrespective of their financial conditions. Because of this hundreds of candidates were called for interview in each discipline. Therefore to complete interview in a reasonable number of days multiple interview boards were set up for each disciplines. Each discipline used to have about 40 students. In 1961 the students were given a stipend of Rs. 250/-per month, which was quite adequate for a comfortable living. Even if we have got more money there was no time to spend it after completing all the assignments and tutorials!!.

Dr. K. K. Damodaran was in charge of overseeing the functioning of the training school, and he continued from the 1st batch to the 25th batch. To begin with, the training classes were conducted from a hired space in a building in Churchgate(Express Building). (Currently the training school is located in its permanent building, training school complex, situated in south side of BARC at Trombay). The students were provided with hostel facility by paying a nominal fee. In the beginning the hostel was in the Military barrack at Bandra, Band Stand. We were given a reasonably furnished twin sharing accommodation. (Now it is located in Anushakti Nagar). Though it was a make shift arrangement there were all facilities like canteen, recreation hall, medical facility for minor ailment etc.

At the end of the academic year the students are assessed based on the overall performance throughout the year. Dr. Bhabha was particular that the bright students coming out of the training school should be placed at a level not less than the posting of civil servants after IAS/IFS etc. Thus those who secured 60% or more in all subjects (including Russian!!) were placed in the grade of 400-40-800-50-950 and those who could not make the above target was placed in a slower grade. If one gets less than 50% marks in any one subject he/she is failed in the course. . The trainees after completing the training were absorbed initially in the Atomic Energy Establishment, Trombay, and Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), Bombay. Later one could opt for absorption in Indian Space Research Organisation also. At the end of the course the trainees are consulted for their choice of division to work and most of them were accommodated as per their choice. First a few rank holders from physics were absorbed in TIFR. From the 1961 batch about 10 trainees were selected to join TIFR which included P.C. Agarwal, S.C.Tonwar,V.S. Venkatavaradan, and self(George Joseph). I was privileged to share the hostel room with Mr Venketavaradan who after a brilliant research carrier at TIFR joined Nehru Planetarium as its director. He is a multifaceted personality-scientist, philosopher, poet, all bundled together in one person. I was fortunate to work in the same division with P.C. Agarwal, now a well known x-ray astronomer. I am happy that I have occasion to work with him even now in some of the national committees.

Some of the alumni of the training school who led major scientific organisation and nurtured science and technology in the country include Dr. Anil Kakodkar (7th batch), Dr. S. Banerjee (11th batch),Dr.R. K. Sinha (16th batch), all became Chairman AEC and secretary DAE. Prof S.S.Jha (1st batch)who became Director of TIFR , Dr V.S. Arunachalam, (2nd batch) served as the scientific adviser to the Indian defence minister and Secretary, Defence, Research and Development Organisation, Dr. V S Ramamurthy (7th batch) served as Secretary to Government of India, Department of Science and Technology (DST), Mr. Madhavan Nair (11th batch) was Chairman ISRO, secretary DOS. (The list not exhaustive).

Let me conclude by quoting JRD Tata

I believe that the greatest contribution Homi made to India’s development in to the modern state it is fast becoming, lies in training and bringing out to their full capability a host of young scientists and administrators who, today, lead so many of India’s scientific and technical establishments.