By M Somasekhar
It was less than 10 days ago, on 30 March, that I met Dr TSR Prasada Rao, former Director of the Indian Institute of Petroleum (IIP), Dehradun, at the Arangetram’ of his granddaughter, Ananya Achanta, a Bharatanatyam dancer in the Ravindra Bharati auditorium.
His first reaction was of happiness at meeting in person after two years of the Pandemic. Immediately, he launched into a conversation on doing a bouquet of activities. Beside us was Dr CR Prasad, former CMD of GAIL, who had flown down from Delhi to grace the milestone event in their family.
His energy, enthusiasm and the way he mixed with the gathering belied his age of 83. Though he had a support to walk, Dr Rao was bubbling with warmth and ideas. Dr and Mrs Prasada Rao and their children – Uday Turaga and Harita Achanta and their families and friends were present. It was a happy and momentous occasion.
But, as fate willed on 7 April night, Dr Prasada Rao suffered a heart attack and passed away. The remarkable career of a global expert in oil, energy and catalysis, who contributed both to the sector and development of his village, Avidi, in East Godavari district of Andhra Pradesh for over half a century, ended. It will indeed be a loss to Indian technology, industry, his family and a large number of people whose life he managed to influence.
Dr Rao was born on 20 January, 1939. An Engineer, he began his career as Research Associate with the Fertiliser Corporation of India (FCI) in 1967. In 1974, he moved to the Indian Petrochemicals Corporation Limited (IPCL), Vadodara.
He was a natural leader, a team person, charismatic and carried a magnetic pull with his energetic presence. Taking up challenges too came naturally to him. No wonder that one came in the form of heading the IIP, Dehradun, in 1990. The Institute was in bad shape. With his managerial abilities he not just turned it around but led it to global recognition. His friendly and caring attitude won him a large section of the CSIR-IIP fraternity and extended to Dehradun city.
A testimony to this was his 60th birthday celebrations at the IIP in 1999. The then DG of CSIR, Dr RA Mashelkar, top scientists and industry leaders, staff of IIP, noted people from Dehradun attended the milestone year which was marked by a day-long conference on Petroleum and Energy scenario.
It was in the fitness of things that his contributions were recognised several times.
Dr Rao was honoured by Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao during the 1990s and, in 2020, he was selected for the Lifetime Achievement Award of the Indian National Academy of Engineers (INAE). He won several national awards like OP Bhasin, FICCI, Petrotech and was a member of Indian and New York Academies of Science.
Dr Prasada Rao contributed to technologies for transportation fuels, plastics, and materials. He led teams that developed and commercialised more than 10 technologies in collaboration with leading Indian companies including Bharat Petroleum, Indian Oil, GAIL, Indian Petrochemicals, Reliance, and Cadila Pharmaceuticals, said the citation from the INAE.
“A human being par excellence! We, his colleagues from CSIR, adored him,” recalled Hiro Bohojwani on social media.
After retirement, he started the technology consultancy company, Sarasijam Technologies, and served the industry. He inspired his daughter, Harita Achanta, an alumna of the Indian School of Business (ISB), and son-in-law Srinivas Achanta to launch their entrepreneurial venture – SciTech Patent Services over a decade ago. His son Uday Turaga, too, started ADI-Analytics Consultancy in Houston, US, where he is settled.
(M Somasekhar is an Independent Journalist, specialising in science, business and politics. He is an Author & Co-founder, ThinkNow Creative.)