Panjab University: The early years

Rajesh Kochhar

Reprinted from Kochhar, Rajesh et al (eds) (2013) The Making of Modern Punjab: Education, Science  and Social Change c. 1850-c. 2000, pp. 63-65( Chandigarh: Panjab University). 


The Punjab University Lahore became part of Pakistan at the time of Partition, while most students and teachers migrated to India. It had been naively expected that the Lahore University would conduct the examinations for both parts of the Punjab even after Partition, but that was not to be. To protect the interests of the  large number of school and college students suddenly left without an examining body, East Panjab University, as it was then called, was ‘hustled into an unceremonious birth’ through the promulgation of an ordinance on 20 October 1947, under a provisional Syndicate, without even  a Vice-Chancellor leave aside any infrastructure. (Panjab was advisedly spelt with an initial ‘a’ to distinguish the new University from the old. Both the State and the University dropped the appellation East on 26 January 1956.)

Two of the Vice Chancellors of the Panjab University, Dewan Anand Kumar and Ram Chand Paul, had been in service in the Punjab University Lahore.The first two Vice-Chancellors, both  former members of the Syndicate of the Lahore University, were part-time and short-term. Justice Teja Singh, a puisne judge of the Punjab  High Court, was formally appointed honorary Vice Chancellor  four months after the establishment of the University, that is on 9 February 1948. He however resigned on 31 March 1949 to devote full time to his new office of  Chief Justice of PEPSU ( Patiala  and East Punjab States Union) High Court, which he had accepted  in November 1948. He however continued to be an active member of the University Syndicate. His successor, Mr G.C. Chatterjee of the Indian Education Service, and Director of  Public Instruction, East Punjab,   held office only for four months ( 1 April – 31 July 1949) as he was elevated to the membership of the Union Public Service Commission.

The appointment now went to Dewan Anand Kumar ( 1894-1981)   who remained at the helm of affairs  for eight long and crucial  years (1 August  1949- 30 June 1957).  Educated in Cambridge, Anand Kumar was appointed a reader in zoology in 1920 , and head of the department in 1942  at Lahore. In 1946 he was made the Dean of University Instruction, a post he continued to hold in the new University.

Extremely wealthy in his Lahore days through his inheritance of a 6000 acre landed estate, aristocratic, well-connected, benevolent, imbued with a strong sense of noblesse oblige,  and related to the Nehrus through ties of  marriage (Brij Kumar Nehru was his sister’s son),   Kumar ( affectionately and reverentially known as the Dewan Sahib in his time) is the  true builder of the university as we know it today.

The   turbulence  of the   early Panjab University is brought home by  the fact  that it was funded not only by the state government and the central education ministry but also by the central ministry for rehabilitation. After remaining in a crowded Shimla for a short period, the administrative offices were shifted to Solan cantonment where they were housed in  hill-top barracks  spread over an area of about eight kilometers.

Restoration of teaching was not an easy task. Since there was no institution in Punjab with facility for science practicals, physics, chemistry and chemical engineering  classes were started in Delhi. Since Delhi now had a large number of Punjabi refugees who wanted further education, Panjab University was permitted to intrude into Delhi University’s jurisdiction and start  a Camp College, which  could offer instruction only in the evenings because the  two  school buildings it was located in ran their own classes during day time. The College even set up a hostel in 150 small canvas tents pitched in the grounds. It is in the Camp College that the journalism department was restarted in 1948, which borrowed the services of eminent journalists as faculty.

For the rest, the University had to fall back on its own affiliated colleges. Zoology was shifted to Government College Hoshiarpur, while botany and pharmacy were hosted by Khalsa College Amritsar, which also accommodated Punjabi. The unusualness of the times can be gauged from the fact that for full 11 years the University Punjabi department within the Khalsa College prepared students for the lower-level Gyani and Vidvan examinations only while the M.A. classes  remained under the control of the College, as before. Hindi and Sanskrit were looked after by the Dayanand Anglo-Vedic College Jullundur, while Law was accommodated in an evacuee property there, after a brief sojourn in Shimla.

The political and educational leadership at the time was very sensitive to the needs of the underprivileged. Commerce classes were started in  Dalhousie, but it was soon realized that the because of the high cost of living at  the hill station, only the rich people could afford to send their children there. Accordingly, 1951 end, the Commerce College was also shifted to Jullundur and  housed in an evacuee property. Early  in 1949   the  building of Government College Hoshiarpur was placed at the disposal of the University, under the name University College. The dual control did have some problems but the arrangement generally worked well. Two eminent later Vice-Chancellors of the University, Professors Ram Chand  Paul and Ram Prakash  Bambah  both were at  Hoshiarpur, though Prof. Paul  had begun his career at Lahore itself. As early as 1951, the Central Government led by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru decided to build a new capital for the Indian Punjab. Interestingly Patiala made a generous offer of land to accommodate Panjab University there, but very farsightedly, the Government  opted for a new campus in a new city.The various components of the University began assembling in Chandigarh 1958 onwards.

“Over some difference of opinion with the Chief Minister [Pratap Singh Kairon], Kumar retired from the Vice-chancellorship in 1957.”  The various components of the University began assembling in Chandigarh  1958 onwards. The honour of leading the University from its elegant new home thus befell Dr Amar Chand Joshi, at the time Director of Public Instruction Punjab, whose tenure  extended from  1 July 1957 to 30 June 1965. His successor was Mr Suraj Bhan, who was at the time of appointment the Vice-Chancellor of the newly founded Kurukshetra University.

The well-known chemist Ram Chand Paul (1919-2002) who held office for 10 and a half years,  from 1974 till 1984 end, has been the longest serving Vice-Chancellor in the history of Panjab University. Born in Shakargarh ( now in Pakistan) he had his early education  at Central Model School Lahore, and the Hindu and Khalsa  Colleges in Lahore Amritsar. Since his father and the eldest brother both were doctors, he dutifully enrolled for MBBS. But since his first love was chemistry he abandoned medicine  within a few weeks and joined Honours school in Chemistry at Punjab University. After passing his B. Sc. Honours School from Punjab University Lahore in 1939, he began research for the M. Sc. Degree under the guidance of Professor Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar, with whom he published his first ever research paper.  He obtained his (first) Ph. D. from the University in 1947 with Dr. S. D. Muzaffar as his thesis supervisor. In the meantime in 1944 he published a paper in the prestigious Journal of American Chemical Society, jointly with Muzaffar.  This work in turn enabled him to obtain admission in Cambridge University in 1952 for his second Ph. D, which he earned in 1954 under the supervision of the internationally acclaimed inorganic chemist, Harry Julius Emeleus.

After serving the Punjab University and Panjab University as a Demonstrator, Lecturer and Reader, he went to Karnatak University Dharwar, as Professor only to return the next year to Panjab. Interestingly, the unsettled conditions in the University in the early days can be seen from his long list of publications which has a conspicuous gap for 1948 and 1949. Professor Paul was succeeded by his  colleague from the Hoshiarpur days, Professor Ram Prakash Bambah who held office from 1 January 1985 till June 1991.

( I thank Prof. Ram Chand Paul’s daughter, Dr Madhu Kaul and son, Dr Krishan Kant Paul, for their help and inputs.)


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