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The world comes to Calcutta!

IIT-ians set up three-day date with 2,000-plus delegates

Every December, Calcutta goes global thanks to the migratory birds that fly into the city. This December, Calcutta is going global with IITians from across the world flying into the city.

Over 2,000 delegates from there and here will gather at Science City from December 7 to 9 for the PanIIT 2012 Global Conference, Calcutta, being organised in association with The Telegraph.

This is the first time since its inception, in 2003, that the conference is being held in eastern India, home to the oldest Indian Institute of Technology in Kharagpur.

The three-day event organised by PanIIT, an umbrella organisation that brings under its purview all graduating IITians since 1955, is going to see some of the top names from across various fields discussing and debating issues with an eye on nation-building in a bid to “Excel, Transform and Sustain” — the tagline for the PanIIT 2012 Global Conference, Calcutta.

Where it all began

STATE OF PLAY: (From top) Mamata Banerjee of Bengal, Manohar Parrikar of Goa, Tarun Gogoi of Assam, Arjun Munda
of Jharkhand and Raman Singh of Chhattisgarh will participate in the first-ever CM’s Conclave at a PanIIT conference.
There will be separate enclaves for the chief ministers of the five states to meet delegates.

The IIT system which started in 1950 with the establishment on IIT Kharagpur, soon added IIT Delhi, Bombay, Madras and Kanpur, then known as the famous five, which have churned out more than 200,000 students, approximately 50,000 of whom are in the United States of America, 5,000 in South Asia, especially Singapore and Japan, and the rest spread out all over the world and in India.

The IIT system has in recent years expanded from five institutes to 16 — adding Guwahati, Roorkee, Ropar, Bhubaneswar, Gandhinagar, Hyderabad, Patna, Jodhpur, Mandi, Indore and Varanasi (BHU-IIT) — and churned out a large crop of tech graduates.

“As the IITs grew, so did the alumni groups. There were alumni groups of the individual institutes, then there were city-based alumni groups and all of them continued to function and grow in silo,” said Sandipan Chakravortty, chairman, steering committee, PanIIT 2012 Global Conference.

PanIIT India and PanIIT USA came up in 2002 to act as a bridge between the different forums. While the objective of PanIIT USA was to promote IITians and IITs as a brand worldwide, the aim of PanIIT India was to engage IITians in nation-building.

With the PanIIT forum in place, the next challenge was to create a platform where IITians could meet, interact, share learnings and listen to leaders from various fields. With that idea in mind the PanIIT Global Conference and Exhibition started in 2003 in a small way in San Jose.

The aim of the conference is to inspire more IITians to join the movement, to provide networking and bonding opportunities, and to allow them to relive memories with fellow IITians. The conference is held every alternate year in India and in the US.

“Every year we have raised the bar, whether it was in Chicago in 2009, Noida in 2010 or New York in 2011 and now this time in Calcutta," said Chakravortty.

How Calcutta won it

In the past, the Indian chapters of the global conference have been held in New Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Noida but never in eastern India. This year Calcutta almost lost out to cities like Ahmedabad, Bangalore and Hyderabad because of — you guessed it— the negative image of the city.

“A lot of people talked about the lack of infrastructure and the political conditions but we asked them to come and see for themselves what Bengal had to offer. It took a lot of persuasion and convincing,” said Chakravortty.

The core organising team’s confidence and the logic that it would be unjust to leave out the state that was home to the first IIT tipped the scales in favour of the city, despite the negatives.

What it means for Calcutta

With luminaries from different fields and captains of industries coming into town at a time when Calcutta has all but dropped off the investment radar, the conference is of significant importance to the state in terms of networking and image-building.

“With a new government at the helm that is desperate to promote Bengal as an investment destination, this conference provides a wonderful opportunity to showcase the potentials and possibilities of Calcutta and the rest of the state,” said Aniruddha Lahiri, chairman, sponsorship committee.

The many challenges for Team Calcutta

From infrastructure issues to finding the right people, hosting the event in Calcutta hasn’t been easy. With over 2,000 delegates registering for the conference, the primary challenge was finding a venue.

“Milan Mela was not big enough. Science City was the only place that had an auditorium capable of accommodating 2,000 people. We had to compromise on the hangars but there were no other options,” said Chakravortty.

Most IITians from Bengal have migrated to greener pastures and so there were very few young IITians left in Calcutta to anchor the event. “The age profile of those in the organising committee for this conference will be higher than the average age profile of all the other conferences. We need to reverse that trend,” said Aniruddha Roy, chairman, programme committee.

One sore point for the organisers was the lack of direct connectivity with the West, a peeve point for years for all those flying into Calcutta.

And then there was the challenge of getting sponsors. “There aren’t many big companies in the east and most of the big companies felt they had nothing to gain from sponsoring an event in Calcutta,” said Chakravortty.

How it all happened

The three-day conference brings together leaders from various fields like (from top) Nancy Powell, N.R. Narayanamurthy and Nandan Nilekani

Preparations for the conference started almost a year in advance. Various committees got to work on their responsibilities and everyone pitched in for everything. Generating interest was done not just over the Internet but through outreach in various cities both in India and abroad.

“What you need are some prime movers, people who could make it all happen even without the help of others. And luckily we found them,” said Chakravortty.

The captains of the various teams like Pronob Guha, chairman, marketing committee, Kallol Dutta, chairman, exhibition committee, P. Roy, chairman, logistics, Pratip Guha, chairman, IT, Dipak Burman, chairman, finance, Sitangshu Basu, chairman, participation, Jyotirmoy Banerjee, chief coordinator along with Chakravortty, Roy and Lahiri, followed an almost 24x7 cycle to make it happen.

“What you need is a love for your alma mater and the passion to drive you. Also the fact that it is happening in Calcutta was a big motivator,” said Lahiri.

Raising the bar

Lectures, plenary, panel discussions, debates — there is action galore on all three days of the conference, with a galaxy of stars like Nancy Powell, N.R. Narayanamurthy, Arjun Malhotra, Nandan Nilekani, Ravi Kant, B. Muthuraman, Srikumar Banerjee...

“The conference will focus on PanIITs nation-building initiatives like PanIIT Alumni Reach for India, Wheels, IIT Mentors, Avanti Fellows, I Create India and Indian Nirman Sangh,” said Guha.

Also in the spotlight will be IITians in literature, media and entertainment.

Woven through all the aspects to be touched upon — environment, energy, health, education and inclusive growth — will be the common thread of nation-building.

“We have tried to include those things in the programme that will help India move forward but in an inclusive manner,” said Roy.

A debate on the topic with a twist — “IITians make poor leaders” — will see past and present IITians teaming up to defend or defeat the motion.

“A lot of people talked about the lack of infrastructure and the political conditions but we asked them to come and see for themselves what Bengal had to offer. It took a lot of persuasion and convincing,” says Sandipan Chakravortty (seated right), chairman, steering committee, PanIIT 2012 Global Conference, seen here with (clockwise from below left) Aniruddha Lahiri, chairman, sponsorship committee, Pronob Guha, chairman, marketing committee, and Aniruddha Roy, chairman, programme committee

One of the highlights of the conference will be the chief ministers’ conclave on December 8, a first-of-its-kind initiative, with Bengal, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Assam and Goa showcasing the potentials of their states.

There will be separate enclaves for the five different states, where the chief ministers can meet delegates.

Mamata Banerjee, the chief minister of Bengal, will deliver the keynote address on the first day. Governor M.K. Narayanan will deliver the inaugural address earlier in the day.

“When we started working on the conference we had certain objectives. We would have to engage IITians in nation-building, we would have to make it bigger than ever, and we would have to involve multiple states, unlike before,” said Chakravortty.

At least on paper, the organising team has managed to tick all the boxes.

The exhibition

The PanIIT Calcutta team has divided the exhibition in two sections — one reserved for the different IITs with a stall each to showcase their contribution to nation-building and their achievements in technological innovations among other things, and the other for large organisations and corporates to showcase their ideas and articles of innovation and futuristic products.

The entertainment

It is not all hard talk at the conference, with the evenings reserved for entertainment, IIT-style. There will be performances by Bickram Ghosh, Usha Uthup and Mamata Shankar. IIT bands will add a dose of nostalgia for the delegates. A golf tournament is on the cards for interested IITians at the Tollygunge Club (on December 6) and a city tour and a river cruise for the spouses (on December 7 and 8). Those keen to take a trip down memory lane can book a seat on a bus to IIT Kharagpur on December 10 for a day trip.

The beginning

“We have champions who are doing nation-building work but sadly none of them are in Bengal. There is no such initiative here, but we plan to start it. What we are going to do on the ground is what counts. The work doesn’t end with the conference, it starts with it,” said Roy.