The First Scientific Laboratory of India pioneered by Dr. Shanti Swaroop Bhatnagar

It was quite accidental that I came across few rare monochromatic (black and white) pictures of Research laboratories in India of 1950-60’s era. And I found them interesting enough to make me dig more into their history.

The first chemical laboratory of India is the brainchild of Dr. Shanti Swaroop Bhatnagar and was established under his chairmanship. He was a great Indian scientist and is known as ‘The Father of Research Laboratories’. Born in British India, Dr. Bhatnagar was an Indian colloid chemist, academic and scientific administrator. It was he who proposed the Indian government to set up National Chemical Laboratory, construction of which began in 1948 on a land of 475 acres under the supervision of Bombay based architects Master, Sathe and Bhuta. The main building of NCL had laboratory space of area 1,30,000 sft and built at a cost of Rs.35 lakhs.

During his career, Dr.Bhatnagar received multiple honours & recognition and he was awarded the title ‘Sir’ by the British in recognition of his service to science. In his later years i.e immediately after India’s post-independence period, he played significant role along with Dr. Homi Bhabha, Vikram Sarabhai and others in building various infrastructures and policies for science and technology. He became the first Director-General of NCL and is largely remembered for having established various chemical laboratories in India. He was the President of the Indian Chemical Society, National Institute of Sciences of India and the Indian National Science Congress. He was awarded Padma Bhushan by the government of India in 1954. The prestigious award in science in India, Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar Prize for Science and Technology was created in his honour.

Before the birth of NCL: Industrial Intelligence and Research Bureau was the first industrial research organization that came into existence in 1935. However it was quite inactive and so there was an attempt to abolish it and replace with Board of Scientific and Industrial Research, similar to the British BSIR. Under the chairmanship of Arcot Mudaliar and Director Bhatnagar, Board of Scientific and Industrial Research (BSIR) was formed which lasted for two years. Bhatnagar persuaded the government to set up an Industrial Research Utilisation Committee (IRUC) in early 1941 for further investment into industrial research. Arcot Mudaliar was also successful in securing Industrial Research Fund from the Central Assembly at Delhi. This finally led to the constitution of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) as an autonomous body, which came into operation on 28 September 1942.

BSIR and IRUC became the advisory bodies to the governing body of CSIR and in 1943, the governing body gave its nod to establish five national laboratories in India- The National Chemical Laboratory, Pune; The National Physical Laboratory, New Delhi; the Fuel Research station; and the Glass and Ceramic Research Institute. And this was the beginning of scientific laboratories in India.

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