Dr. N. Seshagiri
Former Director General
National Informatics Centre
Tributes to the IT Legend
Dr. N Seshagiri (1940-2013)TRUE VISIONARY OF THE INDIAN IT
In the early 1990s, Prof. E. Balaguruswamy, most recently Vice Chancellor of Anna University, used to organise annually, the very popular Indian Computer Congress (ICC) in Hyderabad. One of his strongest supporters was Dr N. Seshagiri, then Director General of the National Informatics Centre (NIC) in Delhi, who made it a point to come down to the Andhra capital every year and deliver a scintillating opening keynote. One year he couldn’t make it – and thanks to NICNET, the nationwide data network he had helped establish – his speech was beamed into the conference by teleconference link. But Seshagiri, being the person he was, even this fairly common solution, became an off beat experience for viewers. When the video link came live, there, was the head of NIC, unrecognizable under a huge headset, ensconced in the control station of a Virtual Reality lab, he had just set up next to his offi ce. The timing was interesting: VR had become a mainstream in the West and Japan, just weeks ago and Dr Seshagiri was characteristically combining his video keynote with a deeper message: India was up there with the pioneers, already exploring the promise and potential of Virtual Reality. For many of us in that darkened conference hall in Hyderabad, it was our fi rst close look at VR – and Dr Seshagiri’s child-like enthusiasm for what this technology could do for India, was infectious and motivating. Narasimaiah Seshagiri passed away on May 26 2013, at the age of 73, leaving behind his wife, son, daughter and two grand children. Arguably, the true father of the Indian IT story, Dr Seshagiri was a scientist who fortuitously ended up as a bureaucrat at a critical time in the nation’s technological time line.
During the 1980s, his presence in the Electronics Commission and the new entity he created –the National Informatics Centre –ensured that national policies for electronics and information technology were framed with foresight and sensitivity, using regulation to encourage rather than retard enterprise, private or public. Born on May 10, 1940, Seshagiri was product of the Indian Institute of Science, where he obtained his doctorate in Electronics Engineering. He came to the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, where he helped start the Systems Science section of the Computer Group in 1968. Few remembered during his later career as a tech administrator, that Seshagiri began as a hard core engineer who actually wrote code for the Satellite Launch vehicle (SLV3) programme.
He joined the Electronics Commission at the Centre, in 1971 as Director Information and Planning and was the founder-Director of the National Informatics Centre in 1975. His most productive and infl uential years were spent at NIC, which he headed as Director-General for a quarter century, till 2000. He used the clout this gave him, to push government into initiatives like the country’s fi rst nationwide satellite- based date network – NICNET – as well the National Computer Policy of 1983 and liberal hardware (1984) and software export and training policies (1986). In Rajiv Gandhi he found a kindred soul, who empathised with Seshagiri’s excitement at what computers could do for India, even before he succeeded Mrs Indira Gandhi as Prime Minister. “I held an ace”, Seshagiri said during an interview he gave last year to Prof. S Sadagopan and me (see Sadagopan’s comments below), “I could sell Rajiv the concept that a combination of computers and transparency was the best way to address the challenge of a corrupt society. He was tremendously supportive in my eff orts to take computers into every government department”.
The push towards computerization in government in the late 1980s, can legitimately be attributed to Seshagiri’s evangelical zeal. The setting up of Software Technology Parks can be fairly traced back to proposals he formulated for government – encouraged by other tech-savvy administrators like N. Vittal. It created the climate which saw India slowly emerge as a springboard for hundreds of international IT players to launch their off shore innovation and service delivery mechanisms... and eventually create the India brand for outsourcing in IT. N.R Narayana Murthy, recently back as Executive Chairman of Infosys, was once quoted by ‘Dataquest’ magazine as saying about Seshagiri: "He is a man with no axe to grind, doesn't take any sides, and takes your argument coolly, if logic is on your side". The author of more than 80 research papers and some dozen books, Dr Seshagiri was a Fellow of the Indian Academy Sciences, Fellow of the National Academy of Sciences, Fellow of IETE, Fellow of the Computer Society of India, Elected Governor of the International Council for Computer Communication and many more professional organizations. He was a recipient of many awards including the Vikram Sarabhai Research Award; Om Prakash Bhasin Award; Udyog Jyoti Award, Dataquest Lifetime Achievement Award etc
Dr Seshagiri had been living in retirement in Bangalore for the last decade or so – but continued to take a lively interest in India’s growth as an IT power, intervening when ever called upon, with sane advice and suggestions. Now, let his many friends and contemporaries articulate their thoughts on the passing away of Dr Seshagiri: Prof. S Sadagopan , Director, International Institute of Information Technology Bangalore writes: Dr. Seshagiri was truly a visionary, a man of conviction who had the boldness to go against popular thinking. But for his "fl ood in, fl ood out" theory, India would have missed the mini / PC / LAN revolution as well! (Let alone the mainframe!) and today's 100 billion dollar industry would not have become a reality. He was the "right man, in the right place at the right time" Not many people might know that the concept of IIIT was originally conceived by Dr N Seshagiri, though in late 80's / early 90's it never took off . I had the fortune of having him in my offi ce for nearly a day, just a few months back when Anand Parthasarathy and I interviewed him for our forthcoming book "Icons of Indian IT". He was at his best and the interview was like "drinking from a fi rehouse". Alas, he will not be around when our book would see the light of the day! IIITB is also fortunate in having him as one of the key members of the UGC Review Committee that gave us the status of Deemed University in 2004. Lalit Sawhney , Former Vice President IFIP: Dr. Seshagiri was a pioneer, a fighter, passionate about his beliefs and had a missionary zeal. He could visualise how IT and communications could help bureaucracy, TributesAnand Parthasarathy
governance, speed up decision making and project delivery...and what is most important, sell these new ideas to his senior colleagues in govt. and the political masters, years before IT became fashionable. He had the bandwidth to realise the enormous range of possibilities that Electronics, IT - hardware, software applications and infrastructure, and Communications could off er to promote good governance. While he may have passed away, his policies, the institutions and infrastructure he created will live forever. Dr Srinivasan Ramani , Former Director National Centre for Software Technology and former Director HP Labs India: Dr. N Seshagiri played a very important role in Government Informatics long before that phrase was invented. He was a versatile professional who was quick to learn new technologies and adopt them. His leadership has built NIC into an organization which serves several sectors of Government activity all over India. He will be remembered for a long time for his many achievements. Dr. M L Goyal , Past President (1994-96) & Fellow, CSI: I am shocked to know about the sad demise of Dr. N Seshagiri, Founder, NIC & Fellow, CSI. A Great Man. He was awarded CSI Fellowship at CSI Annual Convention held at Kolkata in 1986. I had worked in CMC Ltd. from 1977 to 2008. NIC was like a sister organisation to CMC Ltd. for several years as both of them were under Department of Electronics, Govt. of India Dr Seshagiri used to be a Member of CMC Board, where his contribution was signifi cant. A N Ramachandra , Registrar, IIIT-Bangalore: It is really sad day for the country. I had the good fortune of travelling with this visionary from Mussoorie to Dehradun in 1996. Prof. B L Deekshatulu , Fellow IDRBT (RBI- Govt. of India): Dr Seshagiri and I were contemporaries at IISc (of course he was 3 yrs junior to me). We both received, at the same time, the "best PhD thesis award" in 1964. He was from ECE and I was from EE.Later on also, we were in many committee meetings and had many interactions. He was an Intellectual, pleasant person but fi rm with his ideas. We all miss him very much, and India lost a brilliant son. Jayant Krishna , Principal Consultant, Tata Consultancy Services: The passing away of Dr. N Seshagiri is indeed a great loss to the nation. He was truly a visionary who dreamt of the possibilities e-governance can bring on board for the state and made a pioneering contribution by creating, mentoring and nurturing NIC. Prof. H N Mahabala , Former President, CSI: He had the vision to create NICNET when PCs were still very expensive and email was a luxury. He pursued his goals aggressively. He made sure DOE funded R&D projects and moved us to fi fth generation. In a way he liberated electronics from clutches of govt babus and allowed it to bloom. He can be considered a messiah of IT in India. Rattan Datta , Former President CSI: India has lost a visionary and an active promoter of IT in India. When in early 2000s, the IT Policy was developed with him as convener; the report was on NIC site the very next day. It was a revolution. I used to bring up this in my lectures. Salutation from IT fraternity. May his soul rest in peace. D P Sinha : Adjunct Professor IIM Kozhikode: The entire IT Community is shocked to hear the news of passing away of Dr N Seshagiri. When I started my career and worked at RCC, Kolkata in late seventies, some of my friends joined NIC. Dr (Mrs) Jayasree Chowdhury was in the charge of the then, Kolkata Office.
At that time I heard Dr Seshagiri's name and also his works and various projects to the development of IT. I had the privilege of listening to his many lectures and could meet him possibly for the fi rst time when he received the Fellowship Award of CSI in 1986 in Kolkata. Many initiatives, primarily at the government level, have become operational under the dynamic leadership of Dr Seshagiri at NIC. The list is many and varied. We, the computer fraternity and CSI, in particular acknowledge his immense contributions for the development of IT in India. Ashok Agarwal , Professor IIMC ( 1969 – 198); Founder SQL Star International: I had the honour of working with Dr. Seshagiri while setting up CAM Center at IIM Calcutta and do fondly remember his guidance and support at that time . Rarely does one come across a government offi cer, that too so senior, who was easily accessible with his entire focus only to fi nd solutions to issues thrown at him. I personally believe that we all owe him immensely for the introduction of ICT in Indian Government – and to improve the quality of life of the common person. Brig S V S Chowdhry (Retd) Fellow CSI, Fellow IE (India) Distinguished Fellow IET: I am deeply shocked to learn about the sad demise of Dr N Seshagiri, former DG National Informatics Centre. He was a great visionary and played a leading role in the introduction of computerization in the country, especially in the Government Sector. I interacted with him on several occasions and was greatly impressed by his dedication to the cause of IT. His passing away is a severe loss to the IT Community in the country. Kesav Nori , EVP and Exec Director, TCS: I am sad to learn of Prof. Seshagiri’s passing away. I knew several of his students, all of whom did very well. As Ramani says, he started the role of IT in Government through NIC. A true visionary. I knew him at TIFR from the early 1970s. He was brilliant and had formulated a vision for OR on OR. A Ventakeshan , Director NIC, Bangalore: Seshagiri was a great visionary and ahead of his times. He overcame lot of objections from his colleagues for liberalising the software policy. He gave a lot of push to introduce computerisation in the state departments, which led to ushering in e-governance. Subimal Kundu , Fellow, CSI: It is a sad day for entire IT community in India. He was a great visionary and helped in IT Revolution in India. I had the opportunity to listen to his lecture way back in 1982 when he addressed a seminar organised for the IT professionals of Heavy Engineering Industries in New Delhi. I heard his inspiring speech during the CSI-86 Convention in Kolkata where he was awarded fellowship by CSI. Dr R Srinivasan , Part President and Fellow
CSI: Dr Seshagiri's demise gives a big shock to all of us. He was a great visionary who brought in lot of laurels to India through the introduction of innovative technologies in electronics, computers and network. Whenever we see nic.in in the email addresses, Dr. Seshagiri's face comes in front of us. In the late sixties the only computer available in Bangalore for use by all was NAL's SIRUS computer and I happened to be the person in charge of it. Dr. Seshagiri was one of them using that system for his Ph D work. He used to mention this in all seminars wherever I participated with lot appreciation about that system and my support. n About the Author Anand Parthasarathy is a well known IT journalist and Editor of the IT news portal, IndiaTechOnline.com. He served as IT Consulting Editor of The Hindu group of newspapers for 15 years after a full career in the DRDO, which he ended as System Manager (Surface to Air Missiles) in the Indian Missile Programme. He is a life member of CSI email: anand@indiatechonline. com www.csi-india.org
- Dr Seshagiri was the architect of information processing in Government. He was not only instrumental in liberalizing the procurement processes in the eighties, but also applied it in full and created systems through National Informatics Center (NIC) for the Government of India. He had tremendous "appetite for risk" and launched a full-fl edged X.25 based network using satellite. He had foresight to launch an Advanced technology Program in Computer Networking, which later became Ernet (Education and Research Network). Undoubtedly, a pioneer in many ways, his passing away is a huge loss to the ICT community. India lost an illustrious son. – Prof S V Raghavan, President, CSI
- We both worked very closely at TIFR and in the Department of Electronics. He was a bright, innovative, very frank and straight forward, yet very simple person. He contributed a lot to the development of The Department of Electronics and the National Informatics Center. – Professor PVS Rao
- I always admired his commitment and his sincerity to create National Information Base, which he created with great deal of eff orts. – Hemant Sonawala
- He recognized the need for IT in govt. and built NIC to provide for it comprehensively. -- Prof. Rajeev Sangal
- He will be remembered as founder of NIC and great contribution to the growth of computers in India. – Chandra Vir Singh
- It is great loss to IT fraternity. – P R Rangaswami
- As the architect of NIC, he had played a crucial role in introducing computerization in various govt. departments, a precursor to today's e-governance. His contributions in framing Electronics/IT Policy for India, starting of NICNET – an early email communication facility and extending support to Information professionals cannot be forgotten. I had the opportunity of interacting with him in many occasions and I admire his aggressiveness in all his activities. – HR Mohan
- Very very sad news indeed. Recognizing the humongous need for IT in Government, he built NIC bit by bit, and nurtured it with his characteristic passion and commitment. Nation will be indebted to his great institution building. – Deepak Phatak
- Dr Seshagiri, is another name for straightening the computer license raj. In DoE he brought the right persons and gave them the freedom. He is outspoken and obviously liked by some and disliked by others. Beauty is that those disliked ones are more admirers of him. He is practical. – V A Sastry
- Dr Seshagiri virtually nurtured us during the formative days of Electronics Commission in the 70's. Dr Seshagiri led the Electronics revolution in India from front. He was extremely creative and prolifi c as well. Most of the early Electronics, Computer, Software & IT policies were penned & steered by him. NIC, STPIs, were his far-reaching creations. The IT community can never forget him. He was a great scholar and a yogi too. We will miss Dr Seshagiri. – Vijay Bhatkar
- Dr Sheshagiri was the fi rst person to visualize the use of IT in Govt sector. He is the one who initiated this huge eff ort in the Central as well as state government thru DOE and NIC. We in CSI all the time talked about the use of IT in Govt but Dr Seshagiri spent all his life to help in this regard to use IT in Govt. We may establish a center in his name in CSI to achieve this huge task. – Dr. V B Kaujalgi
- His contribution to IT industry in its initial stages is unforgettable. – S Srinivasan
- His sad demise is a big loss for the IT industry and the IT community as well as the nation as a whole. – Sib Daspal
- Dr. N Seshagiri was a Doyen of IT industry. He immensely contributed to the usage if IT in Governance. A forthright, highly intellectual and uncrrouptable individual. He was always ever ready to help IT industry. – Satish Khosla
- He was a visionary and great person. In his passing away we have lost an IT icon. – Dr. D D Sarma
- He was the fi rst person who supported our project on Speaker Identifi cation at CEERI - funded by DoE. A visionary and supporter of all new inventions and technology in Electronics and IT and their implementation for practical applications. – Prof. (Dr.) S S Agrawal
- At the DoE, he supervised grant giving for R and D which gradually grew and supported a lot of useful activity. Over a few years, he fi rst conceptualized the NIC, then sold the concept, then implemented it. A major innovation, which went far beyond the metros and the Bombay- Delhi axis to Shilling and other isolated spots - making available IT talent to smooth the path of reluctant ministers and bureaucrats. It has certainly proved its value, not least in preventing a lot of siphoning of funds through software contracting with private parties. I am sure Seshagiri goes to his reward in heaven for a life devoted to making IT relevant in his country's life. – Prof. J G Krishnayya
- Dr Seshagiri was a key persona that many of us looked upto for all-round IT impact in the "governance" space. – Sanjay
- Dr. Seshagiri was good for the country. A rare combination of an agile mind in policy making, swift footed in implementation, a builder of professionalism, always leading from the front. – Prof. Vithal
- Four decades of interaction has come to an end. There were occasions in multiple number when we met in diff erent parts of the country. It was always a meeting of sharing happy memories of the past. I still carry with me some wonderful meetings we had together on various platforms. – K K Bhutani
- He was kind enough to trace the DOE contributions right from the Homi Bhabha's report in my book Homi Bhabha and the computer revolution.