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A.N. Khosla (1892 - 1984): Irrigation engineer, visionary

AJUDHIYA NATH Khosla was born in Jalandhar, Punjab. After passing his matriculation in 1908 he took his B.A. with honours from D.A.V. College, Lahore, in 1912. He then joined the Thomason College of Civil Engineering in 1913 and passed out in 1916.

Khosla started his career with the Irrigation Branch of the Punjab Public Works Department. With the introduction of the Indian Service of Engineers (ISE) in 1919, he was appointed with retrospective effect.

His first assignment (September 1917- March 1921) was on surveys and investigations for the Bhakra Dam Project. During this period, Khosla spent 18 months on deputation to Mesopotamia as a commissioned officer with the Indian Expeditionary Force. While serving there he gave an early display of his innovative talent by developing the Khosla disc for levelling across rivers. From 1921 to 1926 he was involved in the construction of the Suleimanke Barrage.

In 1931 Khosla was deputed to the U.S. and Europe to study soil reclamation, water logging and the latest techniques in dam design. On his return he was posted to the Panjnad Head Works of Sutlej Valley Canals.

Water resources development

Between June and September, 1936 while in charge of the Hafizabad Division, he wrote his magnum opus, The design of weirs on permeable foundation. This publication revolutionised the design of such structures in India and abroad. It not only lucidly presents the theoretical aspects of seepage flow but also provides a complete, simple and reliable method for design of weirs.Khosla had the opportunity to apply his methods to the design of the Trimmu Barrage, which was constructed within two years (1937-1939), against the normal period of 4-5 years. His exceptional merit was recognised by way of his promotion as Superintending Engineer in 1939 and Chief Engineer in 1943. In both capacities, Khosla was in charge of his cherished Bhakra project.

In 1945 he was appointed the first Chairman of the newly constituted Central Waterways, Irrigation and Navigation Commission. During his eight and a half year tenure he developed it into a leading organisation of its kind in the world, which undertook planning design and, as in Hirakud, construction of major Water Resources Projects. By 1950, the Bhakra control Board had been set up. Khosla was appointed its Vice-Chairman and later Chairman of the Board of Consultants. He remained associated with the project till its commissioning in 1963.

An institution-builder

In 1945 he was appointed the first Indian Vice-Chancellor of his alma mater, the Thomason College of Civil Engineering, which was christened (1948) as the University of Roorkee and inaugurated by the Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. His accomplishment in an entirely new field was no less remarkable than that as a professional engineer. During his stewardship during 1954-1959, he transformed the Institution from a small, though reputed college, to a leading technical university, imparting undergraduate and post-graduate education and (he) was involved in R & D. He was the founder of two specialised engineering departments, which have made the University internationally known as the Water Resources Development Training Centre and the School of Research and Training in Earthquake Engineering. He was awarded the honorary D.Sc. degree by the University.

In 1959, Jawaharlal Nehru, invited him to become a member of the Planning Commission. In 1962, he was appointed the Governor of Orissa, the first professional engineer to be given such a responsibility. During his six years as Governor, he worked solely for the welfare of the state. He did not confine his activity to the official sphere alone, but spent lakhs of his money for education of women and tribals in backwards areas of Orissa.

After his retirement in 1968, he continued to support these institutions from his own resources and public subscriptions. His tenure is still remembered by the people of the state.

Dr. Khosla was awarded the Padma Vibhushan in 1968 by the Government of India. He passed away at the age of 92, remaining dynamic and active almost to the end of his life.

R. Parthasarathy

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