Abdul Kalam had special attachment to Hyderabad

Hyderabad, July 28: Former president A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, who died on Monday, had a special attachment to Hyderabad where he led India’s missile development programme and worked on various projects to use the spin-offs of defence research for healthcare.

As the director of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) for a decade beginning 1983, he conceived and directed the Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme (IGMDP) as its chief executive.

It was under Kalam’s leadership that the Defence Research Development Laboratory (DRDL) successfully launched Prithvi (a surface-to-surface missile), Trishul (a short-range surface-to-air missile), Akash (a medium range surface-to-air missile) and Nag (an anti-tank missile), apart from Agni (a long range missile with a nuclear option).

The successful launch of these missiles helped India join a select international club.

The missile man, as Kalam was popularly known, was instrumental in setting up or strengthening defence laboratories in the city.

He set up the Research Centre Imarat (RCI). Spread over 2,100 acres the advanced research centre attracts talent from all over the country and is the hub of critical missile technology development. It was Kalam who also ensured greenery on the sprawling premises.

Kalam inspired many young scientists. These include Tessy Thomas, who had joined the DRDL in 1988.

Thomas, project director of Agni V, said she was inspired by Kalam. He encouraged her to join inertial navigation group.

Known for his simplicity, the scientific community in DRDL and in other defence research laboratories here used to see him as a role model.

Even after becoming the president, Kalam continued to visit the defence laboratories and interact with the scientists and researchers whenever he was here.

A firm believer in indigenisation, Kalam’s work was not just confined to missile and defence. He took the initiative of taking the benefits of defence technology to the people by developing affordable medical devices.

He joined hands with cardiologist B. Soma Raju of Care Hospitals to develop India’s first indigenous coronary stent. The ‘Kalam-Raju’ stent, as it was called, was more affordable compared to imported ones.

The product was withdrawn in 2001 as it was made of coil and coil stents were phased out worldwide by then.

Kalam and Raju had recently come together again to develop an indigenous tablet PC for healthcare workers at primary health centres in rural areas.

According to Arun. K. Tiwari of Care Foundation, the Kalam-Raju tablet will help healthcare workers in remote areas to access patient information, diagnostic tools and new treatment procedures.

Tiwari, who was co-author of Kalam’s autobiography ‘Wings of Fire’, said the tablet was to be rolled out in three to six months.

Kalam along with physician Kakarla Subba Rao, the former director of Nizam’s Institute of Medical Sciences (NIMS) and others also used defence research to develop calipers with lightweight material for orthopaedic patients.

The use of carbon-polymer materials for production of calipers reduced the weight of the caliper to 1/10th of the original weight. Thousands of children have been fitted with these calipers.

He was on the boards of Care Foundation, L. V. Prasad Eye Institute and many other research institutes in the city before becoming president.

The development of affordable medical devices indigenously and use of latest technology for healthcare was close to Kalam’s heart. After relinquishing the office of the president, he started actively participating in projects for making healthcare affordable.

He was associated with the Emergency Management and Research Institute (EMRI), an organisation providing free ambulance and other medical services to people in Telangana, Andhra Pradesh and some other states. He was on the EMRI board since 2007 and became the chairman emeritus of GVK EMRI since September 2012.

“Dr Kalam had strongly advocated the need and necessity of a life saving service like 108, and had been a great source of inspiration to all. He always encouraged the use of technology in the business of saving lives,” said industrialist G. V. K. Reddy, whose group is supporting the emergency service.

“He had been propagating the need of 108 GVK EMRI services in the rest of the Saarc nations and other developing countries. He would regularly visit the GVK EMRI offices in most of the operating states,” recalled the industrialist.

Kalam made several visits to Hyderabad in the last 15 years to interact with students.