For modern Indians, the town-planning masterpieces of Mohenjodaro and Harappa built by their ancestors nearly five millennia ago are a distant memory, far removed from the chaotic urban spaces they inhabit in the twenty-first century. Harking back to the spirit of that hoary accomplishment, a handful of eminent Indians have come together to build an institution dedicated to pedagogy and practice which could help transform and renew the country’s cities and towns. Brick by brick, the intellectual and financial foundations of the Indian Institute of Human Settlements are being laid by some of India’s most prominent and generous business leaders, academicians and technocrats. Following a donation of Rs. 50 crore by Infosys co-founder Nandan Nilekani and his wife Rohini, the institute has been bestowed with gifts of money from investment banker Hemendra Kothari and Uday Kotak, the vice-chairman and managing director of Kotak Mahindra Bank. “We all know India is rapidly urbanising in a very chaotic manner. While one cannot cure all the ills, you can make your own little contribution. That is the basic idea behind this institution,” says Chandrasekhar Bhave, the former chairman of securities market regulator Sebi who was named the chairman of IIHS in May. To be housed on a 55-acre campus in the south Bangalore suburb of Kengeri, IIHS aims to raise around Rs. 400 crore from independent donors. Once it wins recognition as a university, it will offer undergraduate, masters and doctoral programmes using an inter-disciplinary approach that has few global parallels.
Apart from sustainable environment practices, the specialist schools of study will include governance & policy, economic development, human development and settlements & infrastructure.
The 17-member promoter group, which is providing its services pro bono and has committed Rs. 15 crore in funding, includes leading lights of Indian business such as Deepak Parekh (HDFC), Jamshyd Godrej (Godrej & Boyce), Kishore Mariwala (Marico), Nasser Munjee (DCB) as well as professionals such as Rakesh Mohan (former RBI deputy governor) and Vijay Kelkar (former finance secretary).
Kothari says he decided to write a cheque for Rs. 10 crore after conversations with Nilekani and Rahul Mehrotra, professor of urban design at the Harvard Graduate School of Design and one of the promoters of IIHS.
Set up with a charter of being independently funded, IIHS is a not-for-profit company under Section 25 of the Indian Companies Act. Donors will have no influence on the way the university functions. Nearly three years after it was first seeded as an idea, IIHS is still awaiting the passage of a law which will allow it to apply to become a full-fledged university.
Housed in temporary campuses in New Delhi and Bangalore, IIHS offers brief courses in disciplines such as social venture design. In October this year, it will launch an eight-month course for working professionals in the area of urban development.
In keeping with its approach of combining academics with practice, IIHS has built a network of anchor partners ranging from the University College, London, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of Cape Town as well as industry partners such as design major Ideo and engineering services company Arup that has worked on the design for the London and Beijing Olympic games.