Zestful technopreneur Dr Prasada Rao turns 80; Nation wishes him well

M Somasekhar

There is an interesting story about Dr TSR Prasada Rao, former Director of the Indian Institute of Petroleum (IIP), Dehradun and a noted technologist in India’s oil, energy and catalyst Chemicals industry. 

It was said that he would easily make the host look like a guest in his own place within minutes with his friendly, confident and engaging nature. No wonder that wherever he worked, he made a mark in developing technologies and then convincing the industry to adopt them.

Not just Indian, but he forged some joint ventures with global companies too with indigenous technology development. The work of IIP under his leadership during (1990-99) led the way to make a difference in the Indian Oil and Petroleum, Energy and Chemicals sectors.

The first time I met Dr TSR Prasada Rao, was in his office as Director of the IIP in Dehradun in 1994. I was on a visit to cover the research achievements of the Institutes in Dehradun as a Reporter of The Hindu BusinessLine, based in New Delhi. In addition to IIP, Dehradun has a huge presence of the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC), Petroleum Research Institute, a Defence Laboratory etc. 

Just a little over 25 years later,  in 2020, Dr Rao, settled down in Hyderabad, and just completed 80, retains almost the same excitement for indigenous technology development and Indian industry scaling up the value chain. The technology consultancy company Sarasijam, Technologies which he floated after retirement enabled several of those. 

So, the announcement recently that Dr Rao was selected for the Lifetime Achievement Award of the Indian National Academy of Engineers (INAE), 2020 along with Dr KA Padmanabhan, former Director of the IIT, Kanpur was pleasant news.

IIP among top CSIR performers

During the 1990s, the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), was facing pressure to raise atleast 30 percent of its annual budget from external (Industry) sources through technology transfer or consultancy work etc., as recommended by the Abid Hussain Committee.

In the network of about 40 labs under the CSIR, a few like the National Chemical Laboratory (NCL) Pune led by Dr R A Mashelkar, the Indian Institute of Chemical Technology (IICT), Hyderabad under Dr A V Rama Rao and the IIP, Dehradun led by Dr Prasada Rao were among the top performers. In 1995, the three Directors were also in contention to succeed Dr S K Joshi as the Director-General, CSIR. Ultimately, Dr Mashelkar made it.

As alluded, our first meeting turned out to be a strong professional association. I went back to IIP again in 1995, to report the developments, which often got good display in the newspaper. I was invited to visit his home, enjoy the hospitality of the family at their beautiful Director’s bungalow.

Interestingly, the IIP housed a large Tea estate and had picturesque surroundings. His son Uday Turaga, a student, later became a good friend and continues to communicate. He heads ADI-Analytics, a Consultancy in the Energy sector based in the US. Several scientists like Prem Dogra too became regular contacts.

Always brimming with confidence, Prasada Rao had the courage to hold Industry-IIP meets in New Delhi and Mumbai to showcase and discuss potential technology transfer, joint venture and seminars in the oil, energy and chemical sectors.

In addition to bringing higher revenues and more industry projects, under Prasada Rao’s tenure IIP got greater media and public attention. The novel catalytic processes, the international JV to develop an alternative to Nylon 66, the many international and national conferences in Dehradun were highlights of his tenure. He won several national awards like O P Bhasin, FICCI, Petrotech and is a member of Indian and New York Academy of Sciences.

During the height of the infamous Ramar Pillai and cheap petrol from a secret concoction of herbal plant extracts from the Western Ghats episode in 1996, Dr Prasada Rao and IIP played a key role in providing supportive evidence that the claim was not practical, economically viable and wrong, along with the R&D Centre of Indian Oil Corporation, scientists of the Department of Science & Technology etc. I immensely benefitted in reliable information and industry related technology inputs from Dr Rao over a long period.

It was a privilege to be invited for his 60th birthday and retirement, which was done with all the traditional home rituals to organising a full day conference and farewell-with Dr Mashelkar as Chief Guest and many noted speakers on Jan 31, 1999. 

Prasada Rao is an Engineer, who 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), Baroda. On the invitation of the CSIR, he joined as Director, IIP in 1990. 

Over a period of six decades,  Dr Prasada Rao has contributed to technologies for transportation fuels, plastics, and materials. He led teams that developed and commercialized 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.

    Similarly, Dr. Rao led Indian Petrochemicals to acquire catalyst manufacturing capabilities expanding India’s position in the global catalyst sector too.

Post retirement, Dr Rao started Sarasijam Technologies, based out of New Delhi. It promoted technology transfers from global majors to India. Parallely he played a role in the entrepreneurship venture of his daughter Haritha Achanta in setting up Scitech Patents, a patent services firm in Hyderabad along with son in law, Srinivas Achanta, about a decade and half ago. He also set up a family Trust to take up development activities based on technologies in his native village in East Godavari district in Andhra Pradesh. 

Somasekhar Mulugu, former Associate Editor & Chief of Bureau of The Hindu BusinessLine, is a well-known political, business and science writer and analyst based in Hyderabad