By any metric of man measurement, new technologies industry leader Faqir Chand Kohli (FCK) who passed away on November 26 was an extraordinary individual who made a huge, insufficiently appreciated, contribution to the national development effort. An alumnus of Punjab University and MIT, Boston where he studied engineering, unlike many of his generation in the 1950s, FCK returned to India to serve the national interest. He was handpicked by the late JRD Tata and given charge of Tata Electric Co which supplies power to Bombay (later Mumbai). Within a decade of presiding over Tata Power, FCK transformed it into the country’s most reliable power supply company. In 1968 JRD Tata selected him to head Tata Consultancy Services (TCS).
During the period 1980-99 when Tata Group was experiencing hard times, TCS (currently ranked among the world’s Top 10 IT services companies) contributed 80 percent of its profit and saved it from disintegration.
Your editor formed a long and enduring friendship with FCK during my decade in business journalism as founding editor of Business India and Businessworld and later as publisher-editor of EducationWorld. Unusually, FCK was quick to discern the intimate connection between education, industry productivity and economic growth. He promptly accepted our invitation to join the Board of Advisors of EW and although he had retired as CEO of TCS in the new millennium, he facilitated the launch of the annual TCS-EducationWorld Teachers Award in 2005 to felicitate the country’s best, unsung primary and secondary school teachers. At that time he also focused his attention on popularising the CBFL (computer-based functional literacy) programme developed by TCS under his watch. This unique programme now in cold storage, enables an illiterate adult to be able to read and comprehend newspaper headlines after 40 hours of instruction.
Yet in the end, FCK was stalled from revolutionising Indian education by the perpetually ungrateful establishment. The TCS-EducationWorld Teachers Awards (annual expenditure Rs.6-8 lakh) were capriciously discontinued by N. Chandrasekharan when he was appointed CEO of TCS in 2009. And neither the BJP/NDA nor Congress-led UPA governments at the Centre permitted duty-free imports of junked computers from Western countries for distribution in village India towards implementing the CBFL programme. Thus these enterprises of great pith and moment which would have been an enduring memorial to this great corporate and education visionary, have faded into oblivion.