Many, many moons ago, I used to visit a cousin pursuing his B.Tech. programme at IIT Madras. The campus was beautiful; of an early Sunday morning you saw deer darting past drowsy students who had lolled around the amphitheatre the night before watching a movie after consuming a special dinner in the hostel "mess". IIT Bombay's Powai campus was also a great place to be, and its December festival, Mood Indigo, became the laboratory for future industry leaders to test their organising skills. In those days the IIT student population was overwhelmingly male, intelligent, and possessed of a savoir-faire that I saw only decades later among Todai (Tokyo University) kids in Japan - the cockiness that comes with a bright and assured future once you had gained entry to the magic kingdom. That entry was gained, of course, only after you jumped through rings of fire and passed tough entrance tests. An IIT degree was a passport - literally. India's best engineering brains were draining into the United States in droves. A 2008 study revealed staggering numbers: over 200,000 students had graduated from IITs since the early 1950s (classes at IIT Kharagpur, housed in a former prison camp, began in August 1951); IIT alumni in senior positions had budgetary responsibility totalling over $885 billion; four out of ten IIT graduates were in top leadership positions in business, education and government.
Things began to change in the 1990s as Indians became better off. Middle class families in the cities began to send their children to universities abroad for undergraduate study in greater numbers. Thousands of students from smaller towns began pounding on the doors of the IITs and regional engineering colleges. Nine new IITs were created in 2008. The dramatic expansion in IIT slots, plus the democratisation of technical education with reservations for scheduled castes, tribes and other backward classes, has triggered an explosion in seat-seekers. Alongside, there is a great need for more and better faculty, a clamour for more research and innovation, and competition from private as well as "regional" engineering colleges in places like Surathkal, Manipal, Trichy and Pilani. The problem, however, is that many of the newly-minted engineers are not employable, and infrastructure projects are sorely in need of better-qualified and competent engineers. Associate Editor Goutam Das waded into the surging current in the cover story while Special Correspondent Sarika Malhotra travelled to Kota in Rajasthan with Senior Photographer Aditya Kapoor to chronicle the extraordinary cram schools that would put any Japanese juku to shame.
We also take a very good look at the May 5 Karnataka assembly elections, which are likely to throw out the incumbent Bharatiya Janata Party, although a senior Congress politician says his party will be lucky to eke out a majority given its proclivity for horse-trading. But the elections will also likely mean "finis" to the tale of the Reddy brothers and their monstrously blatant grip over iron-ore mining in Bellary district - to the extent that, many allege, even the border between Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh was shifted. The Supreme Court's partial lifting on April 18 of the ban it had slapped in 2011 will also help restore many jobs and breathe new life into wheezing steelmakers. Senior Associate Editor Sebastian P.T. travelled to Bellary just before the court order, while Associate Editor K.R. Balasubramanyam went to coffee country in Chikmagalur and Kodagu and Das wrote about the economy of Bangalore, which contributes 60 per cent of the state's gross domestic product. Read what they dug up.
Another fascinating story unfolds - this time in Afghanistan where a new mining law will throw up great opportunities. Lynne O'Donnell reports on this great new game, which pits India against China for the mountainous, war-ravaged country's estimated $1 trillion treasure trove of minerals. And finally, don't miss Pritam P. Hans's story on the sudden surge in interest in Bitcoins, the virtual currency that could well rival the Dutch tulips of the 17th century in manic speculation.