K.P.P.Nambiar: He proved we could 'Make in India' -- 40 years ago

01st July 2015
K.P.P.Nambiar: He proved we could 'Make in India' -- 40 years ago
Photos: top row centre: KPP Nambiar with Kerala CM C Achutha Menon and HN Sethna handing over 5000 TVs to ECIL;below: Handing over India's first desk calculator (NELCO) to PM Indira Gandhi1968 . Bottom row, KPP post retirement Speaking at TechnoPark, Thiruvananthapuram; PM Indira Gandhi inaugurates KELTRON ER&DC Nov 1980; PM Rajiv Gandhi visits ER&DC 1989

IndiaTecOnline   remembers  an icon of  Indian  Information Technology

Bangalore  July 1 2015:  KPP Nambiar, India's Infotech pioneer and the man who created the model -- in Kerala-- of state driven electronics manufacture -- passed away yesterday in Bangalore, at the age of 86.

Like so many  highly qualified Indians abroad in the 1960s, KPP Nambiar gave up what might have been a lucrative career in the UK in the nascent technology of semiconductors to return to India a Scientific Pool Officer of the CSIR -- a cadre created by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru to motivate Indian talent abroad  to work for the country.  He taught  Electronics at IIT Delhi, then moved to Bharat Electronics Ltd after a brief stint at   Philips to head their piezo electrics division. Moving to  Tata Electric Companies in 1967, Nambiar set up and for 6 years headed their Electronics R&D Centre, even while he managed the group's  consumer electronics,  National Radio & Electronics Co. Ltd . As General Manager NELCO he introduced transistor radios for the first time in India in 1968.
An invitation from  the farsighted  K. Achutha Menon,  Chief Minister of  Kerala,  the state of his birth, to help set up  electronics manufacturing  was the turning point in Nambiar's life.  In 1973, he  helped set up  the Kerala State Electronics Development Corporation Limited (KELTRON)  and took office as its first employee in the post of   Chairman and Managing Director.  Over the next ten years,  the corporation  transformed the industrial scene in Kerala,   with a string of subsidiary units that brought employment to thousands, even as it paid a key  transformative and societal role  by  harnessing  women's cooperatives for the assembly of mass market products like television sets.  When the TV boom came in the early 1980s, KELTRON became a key supplier, first to ECIL and then with its own brand -- a model that was replicated in other states, with the birth of MELTRON in Maharashtra,l UPTRON in Uttar Pradesh, WEBEL in West Bengal.  Bringing manufacturing muscle to Indian states in high tech areas like electronics  was arguably Nambiar's greatest achievements. 
A strong proponent of R&D to back up indigenous manufacturing, Nambiar also oversaw the setting up  of Electronics Research and Development Centre (ER & DC) in Thiruvananthapuram,   in 1980 once again the model for similar research centres  upcountry.   Taken over by the Government of India  in 1988, the ER&DCs are today part of the Centre for Development of Advanced Computing (CDAC) chain of institutions.
Briefly moving to head  the public sector Indian Telephone Industries  ( 1985-87) -- the largest telecom manufacturer  in the country-- Nambiar   was called  to the Central Government  and In 1986,  was appointed the Secretary, Department of Electronics of Government of India (now the Ministry of IT) by Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. He retired from Government service in 1989.  But in this short stint, here and at the Electronics Commission,  he  was instrumental in helping to set up  CDAC in Pune.
Upon retirement from government service, Nambiar returned to his native Kerala to  serve as  an honorary adviser to  the state government, even as he assumed the chairmanship of KELTRON again  for  two years.   His final stint  in the service of Kerala saw  Nambiar transform the technology scenario of Kerala yet again --with the establishment  in 1991, of Technopark,   which remains the country's  integrated hardware-software park  and a model of its kind in the  West Asia region.
Post retirement Nambiar,  helped set up an electronics manufacturing unit -- Namtech-- in Bangalore, even as  he  launched an ambitious project to  bring electric power to the Kannur region of Kerala where he was born. These   latter day initiatives were mired in minor controversies that  seem in hindsight to be mere blips in a  30 year career of service  during which Nambiar proved that electronics manufacturing in India could be viable, even profitable.
Now two decades later,  a sober assessment will  record that the enterprises he inspired  like KELTRON and its clones, have  not grown as they should have to their full potential -- a commentary on   governmental apathy  and management rather than the robust vision of the man who first dreamt it and made it happen.
Today as we chant the mantra of Make in India, it is worth recalling the efforts and contributions of a visionary  who had much the same idea -- only 40 years ago. - Anand Parthasarathy