Interview with Prof. M. Jagadesh Kumar, Vice Chancellor, JNU

(Published in JNU NEWS, Issue 1, 2016)

JNU NEWS: Welcome to JNU. The first thing we would like to know is how you feel about this transition from being a ‘Scientist’ to being the ‘Vice Chancellor’ of this University, which is an exclusively administrative job?
As a scientist and technologist, during the last several decades my life has revolved around mentoring students, teaching and research. As a Vice Chancellor, I now see myself playing multiple roles as a mentor, an educator, a facilitator, a conflict resolver, a resource mobilizer and also a risk taker. It would be my endeavour to be the most accessible VC to all in the campus– students, staff and faculty.

JNU NEWS: Are you planning to take any academic role in the University as well?
I am passionate about teaching and research. This provides me an opportunity to mentor my students and see them grow into positive contributors to the society. Therefore, even after taking over as the VC of JNU, I am continuing to teach and guide my PhD students at IIT Delhi. Three days in a week, I teach from 8.00-8.50 AM at IIT Delhi and soon after that I am back in JNU. During weekends, I spend time with my PhD students.

JNU NEWS: So, what are the major targets you have in mind for JNU?
We need to explore close collaborations with other higher educational institutes, in India such as IITs and abroad, to carry out more collaborative research. Emphasis needs to be put on research for Indian needs and starting of new master’s programmes in technology in different areas such as IT and renewable energy resources. India needs job creators not job seekers. Why not we start a post-graduate program which focuses on entrepreneurship so that students get trained in how to launch and sustain start-ups?

We also need to focus on (i) generating solar energy to meet JNU energy requirements, (ii) reducing power consumption by using solid-state lighting, (iii) water harvesting (need to collect every drop of rain water that comes into JNU) and (iv) reuse of treated waste water for non-drinking applications.
I would like to have an external audit of all the academic and administrative procedures to improve the Universities functional efficiency.

JNU NEWS: What do you think can be done in the short and long terms to preserve the traditions and ethos of JNU?
To retain its national character, it is important to reach out to the prospective students across the country, particularly the north eastern states. I would like to look at means to make JNU known among the prospective students. We must create and preserve an environment in which the JNU community can freely and fearlessly debate and discuss various issues that affect our country. I am a strong believer of freedom of expression as enshrined in our constitution. However, I also put equal emphasis on the fundamental duties defined by the Indian constitution. We must also ensure that multiple opinions are respected and nurtured. No single opinion should dominate over the others if we want to build a strong and progressive JNU.

JNU NEWS: One of the problems that the students are facing today is the conditions and scarcity of hostels. Many of the hostels are not maintained well and are falling apart. The facilities are not good at all. They have problems from ‘no hot water’ to ‘no water’ at all. Have you looked into such issues so far?
This is very unfortunate. We have a serious shortage of staff quarters and hostel accommodation. We are looking at various ways of raising funds to rectify the situation. Considering the fact that many poor students join JNU, I would like to seek the support from our alumni in meeting the hostel requirements in addition to knocking the doors of various ministries for providing funds. We have also started constructing some new hostels using pre-fabricated structures to partially meet the immediate student accommodation issues. I want to emphasize that we also need to run the hostels more efficiently by introducing various measures which we are examining.

JNU NEWS: What is your academic vision for JNU? What would you like to achieve during your tenure of five years as the Vice Chancellor of JNU?
I will strive to improve the learning environment by promoting excellence among teachers and students. There have been significant changes in the pedagogical approaches. Teaching should be more learner specific than teacher specific. A strong ethical and spiritual connection should be the basis for education. We should also improve the research output and bring global recognition to JNU through enhanced research culture. I will make efforts to provide access to better research facilities to the younger faculty.

I will proactively put my efforts to attract the best talent to fill the faculty positions. We need to shorten our appointment procedures and proactively identify prospective candidates and encourage them to apply.

While JNU is strong in Social Sciences, it is also important to establish close links with industry since JNU has several basic science faculties whose research can lead to innovative products or processes for human welfare. JNU is such a huge campus, why not we have a technology incubation center and help young entrepreneurs to start companies in the areas of expertise that JNU has.

JNU has several courses which can be extremely useful to students across the country. JNU can make a repository of these lectures as online videos. Perhaps JNU can partner with NPTEL (National Programme on Technology Enhanced Learning) and make these video lectures available to students across the country. This is another way of reaching out to the prospective students.

JNU NEWS: How do you perceive JNU’s social role in future?
An important characteristic of JNU is its inclusive nature. Students of JNU come from different social, economic and regional backgrounds including a large number of differently abled students. I think JNU, its faculty and students should be known for their scientific and social contributions and it should not be in the news for the wrong reasons. While being aware of the problems our country faces, students of a university should be more focused on the strengths of this country so that we can build a better India.

JNU NEWS: How would you compare the campus environment of JNU and IIT Delhi, the two premier academic institutions?
The intrinsic characteristics of students at IIT Delhi and JNU are the same – inquisitive, passionate about learning and determined to succeed in life. However, unlike many other institutes, JNU is a happening place. Everyday different seminars and workshops take place and frequently ambassadors, University Presidents, delegations from different countries visit our campus making JNU a vibrant place. As compared to IIT Delhi, JNU is a huge campus with a natural forest. This makes living on JNU campus very interesting.

Early life: My father worked as a teacher in a small village school and my mother had never gone to a school. I was witness to how my parents braved the economic hardships to educate me. I used to walk long distances in the city to reach the college since I could not afford other modes of travel. Adversities in my early life only strengthened my resolve to succeed.

Academic life: I studied in Telugu medium government schools until I went to the University in Hyderabad. My lack of English medium education up to 12th standard did not deter me from getting a first rank in the University. I then moved to IIT Madras where I finished my Master’s and PhD degrees in Electrical Engineering.

Professional Experience: After PhD, I worked at University of Waterloo for three years before returning to India. I have been a part of the IIT system for more than three decades both as a student and faculty. Teaching, research and mentoring students are my passion.

Hobbies: I like being fit. I enjoy jogging and doing fitness exercises. One of my hobbies is to walk long distances along with my wife Lakshmi.

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Will work towards making JNU more attractive: V-C


Will work towards making JNU more attractive: V-C

Monday, 06 June 2016 | Rahiba R Parveen

In an exclusive interview with Rahiba R Parveen, Jawaharlal Nehru University Vice-Chancellor M Jagadesh Kumar talks about the controversy that led to a major chaos in the varsity in February. He also underlines the efforts of his team in handling the students and initiating a barrier-free, environment-friendly campus. His plans as an academician for the university and his immediate experience in dealing with the temperament in and outside the university.

Since you joined office, so much has happened in JNU. How do you feel when you look back?

*In a university many things keep happening and that is how it remains vibrant and lively. I will work towards making JNU even more attractive to the prospective students and make sure that JNU continues to fulfill the societal goals for which it has been established. Universities should be progressive and futuristic by expanding their programmes and using technology for outreach to the most disadvantaged sections of the society.

What makes you happy about it and what has saddened you?

*The experience of meeting students, professors and staff and getting to know their aspirations for the university is something I cherish. The fact that there are so many good ideas coming from the JNU community to take it to the next level makes me happy and confident that we can work together to transform JNU into a word class university.

Lack of adequate funds is a major stumbling block. We need additional hostels, faculty housing and research labs. There is lot of expertise within JNU in different areas. We need to synergize this to raise funds. This requires collaboration with industrial partners and starting of new programmes with a significant outreach.

What makes me sad is when I encounter the “frog in the well” attitude. It is not right to say that since something has worked for years, we should not change. We should keep introducing changes in a system to improve its performance. The most undesirable thing to do in a university is to maintain status quo.

What all have you been able to concentrate on in terms of academic and other goals in the varsity?

* Improving the quality and quantity of research in the university is our primary concern. We are working on creating new research facilities which are both inter-disciplinary and product oriented. We have appointed a new Director (Research and Development) who will focus on getting more research projects to the university so that additional research facilities can be created. We are creating more hostel seats to accommodate the new batch of students, who will be joining in the coming session. We are planning a 2 Mega Watt solar project to generate electricity. This will be provided to research labs which require round the clock power supply. We are working on making JNU a green campus. JNU has certain intrinsic strengths. We should take advantage of this to generate funds. For example, our language programmes are excellent. Why not we start online certificate and diploma programmes to educate those who cannot afford to join JNU? There are various programmes in School of International studies, which are unique and not available in any other university. We should leverage this expertise not only to outreach but also to generate internal funds.

Do you think, the way you handled the entire situation since February 09 event, was fair enough? Could it have been better?

* The JNU administration works as a team which includes senior professors of the university. Solutions to the situations that arise in the university are thoroughly discussed and decisions are taken. We, of course, should always learn from experiences and improve our approaches to solving problems. As far as February 09 event is concerned, the high level enquiry committee, which followed due university procedures, had given certain recommendations. When these punishments were announced, students went on an indefinite hunger strike which was unlawful and harmful to health. We appealed to the students to break the hunger strike and come for discussions. However, they chose to go to the court. The court has asked the students to break the hunger strike and appeal to the Vice Chancellor, who is the appellate authority and has mandated that they should not go on strike or dharna on this issue. We are now in the process of forming a committee to look into their appeals and take a final decision. I have absolutely no regrets on how we have handled the issue. This could not have been handled any better since my decisions are always based on the collective advice of my colleagues.

What are the reforms that you are looking to bring in the university?

* JNU conducts an all India entrance examination to select the students. We want to bring some reforms in this exams. For example introducing an on-line exam and conducting the exam in December instead of May. We are aggressively working on faculty recruitments. We have almost 30 per cent vacancies. We are also working on making JNU a green campus. We are planning to introduce e-rikshaws and install a 2 Mega Watt solar power system to cater to the power needs of critical research laboratories.

Do you have any plans on  widening the research platform any further?

* We have plans to upgrade some centres into schools and introducing inter-disciplinary master’s programmes such as MTech in VLSI design and Microelectronics. We have recently created a position Director (Research & Development) who will act as an interface between the faculty, administration and the funding agencies and facilitate getting more project funding to the university. This gives an opportunity to hire research scholars and establish new facilities. We are also strengthening the Placement Cell.

Would we ever see increment of seats for courses like PhD in JNU?

* JNU is primarily a research-oriented university. Out of 8,432 students, who are currently enrolled, 5,219 are research scholars doing their MPhil or PhD. Every year, we are adding new programmes to the list of existing programmes. This is bound to increase the number of students. For example, the total number of students enrolled four years ago was 7,677 but now it is 8,432. We also would like to reach out to the foreign students and increase their number from the current 338. Our International collaboration unit is working on this and we are signing a number of MoUs with foreign universities.

What are your ideas of dissent in an academic institution? 

* I welcome dissent which is expressed in a peaceful manner and is within the boundaries of law. Dissent should only be used as a grievance redressal mechanism to result in a progressive change in a university and should not degenerate into disruption of normal academic life of the university.

What was your instant reaction to the February 09 event?

* I never react in a knee jerk fashion. As a professor of electrical engineering, my mind is conditioned to control transients and bring stability to the system. A university is a system consisting of human beings. I use a similar approach whenever I face a crisis and remain calm during the crisis.

How much interaction have you been able to do with the students? Were there any barriers? If yes? How do you plan to break them?

* There are no barriers. Throughout the day students, staff and faculty keep meeting me. On the first Monday of every month, I meet the students from 2 to 5 pm without any appointment to listen to their suggestions and problems.

Was it depressing as an academician to see students getting arrested?

* No university administrator wants their law abiding students to be arrested. At the same time, we must remember that no one is above law and no one, who has committed a serious crime, can expect not to be arrested just because they are within the protected walls of a university.

How did you manage through days when JNU situation went out of the hands of the administration? 

* When there is a crisis, it is important to remain cool and calm. We were in complete control of the situation by continuing to be in dialogue with the student and teaching community. A large number of students, teachers and staff worked hard to bring normalcy to the university. Our teaching and research activities continued without interruption. To give you an example, during the agitation when there was a dharna going on outside my office, I went around all the eight floors of JNU central library. It was jam packed with students immersed in their studies. Students continued to work late night in their labs. Is that not an indication that JNU community is not interested in disrupting the academic life on the campus?

There is a clear-cut chasm between JNU administration and the students. How are you going to bridge the gap?

* On many issues, the university is on the side of the students. We regularly receive their feedback and discuss in our Academic Council and Executive Council meetings and implement their suggestions as long as they are within the ordinances and rules of the university. Any such decisions based on students’ suggestions should be rational and based on wide ranging consultations. Dialogue and discussion are the only mechanisms which are fundamental to JNU ethos. We will continue to do it.

Now the students who were given punishments have approached the High Court? What are your thoughts about it? 

* All of us have to abide by the court’s verdict. We are glad that the students are no longer on hunger strike which we have been requesting them all along. The court has also instructed the students not go again on dharnas or hunger strike on this issue. The court has asked the university to look into their appeals which we will be doing shortly and take final call.

The student’s have spoken anti-administration and accused you of not coming out in their support. What would you like to tell them?

* If students break university rules, we cannot support them. The law will take its own course. However, it is the fundamental right of any student to criticise the university if it is not able to meet the objectives for which it is set up. This criticism acts as a feedback to the administration to improve the functioning of the university.


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VC steers clear of rows, invokes JNU values

VC steers clear of rows-07-April-2016-TOI-current-view

Click here


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Need for India Specific University Rankings

The Economic Times; Apr 5, 2016, 02.23AM IST

By M Jagadesh Kumar

Universities offer formal and organised higher education in a variety of subjects. The primary objective of higher education is to enable the students to (i) acquire critical thinking, (ii) ability to ask questions, (iii) synthesise information and (iv) use the acquired knowledge to find solutions to unfamiliar complex situations. In the recent past, the yearly announcement of world university rankings has caught the public imagination and questions are being asked about why Indian universities do not find their place in the top rankings.


Very few know that there are nearly 50 world ranking systems for rating the universities. Among them, the most popular ranking systems are the Times Higher Education World University (THE) Rankings and the QS (Quacquarelli Symonds) World University Rankings. Only 5% of the world’s 15,000 universities are included in these rankings.

Hiring organisations, prospective faculty applicants, funding agencies and more importantly parents are influenced by the university rankings. By reducing the entire university’s function into a single number, the ranking systems have ensured that universities are projected as corporate entities where students are treated as customers.

The reason why Indian universities do not appear in the top world ranks is because the parameters that are used for rankings are highly skewed towards citations, publications in top notch journals, presence of Nobel prize winners, availability of large endowments, presence of international students and faculty, online-based popularity surveys and so on. While many of these parameters are important, for a country like India, with a huge young population, it is important that Indian universities not only focus on academic excellence but on several other factors too for them to become more socially relevant. India should evolve its own ranking system based on a broader spectrum of parameters in addition to academic excellence.

It is only recently that India has started aNational Institutional Ranking Framework in six broad categories: engineering, management, pharmacy, architecture, universities and colleges. The parameters used by NIRF for evaluation are teaching, learning and resources, research and professional practices, graduation outcomes, outreach and inclusivity, and perception.

While this is a beginning in making Indian educational institutes compete with each other and excel, it is important that we include additional parameters to make these rankings more socially relevant for a country like ours. Universities have the responsibility to be inclusive and encourage diversity by being accessible to the most disadvantaged sections of society. They should incorporate enough safeguards to avoid any discriminative practices. Do Indian universities ensure that their campuses are safer for women and do they proactively work towards gender equality?

Often very little attention is paid by the universities to the physically challenged students in terms of designing proper access to the buildings and providing appropriate tools to enhance their learning. By looking beyond the stereotype mentality, universities should provide equal opportunities to help the students achieve their full potential.

When universities become large, the power consumption can be in excess of 10 MW per annum. Universities must evolve a green policy for efficient utilisation of power and should necessarily focus on self-sustainability, so that the university’s power requirements are met through renewable energy sources such as photovoltaic systems.

The ability of a university to adjust and adapt to the changing pedagogical approaches too is important. For example, do universities put a special emphasis on self-learning component in their curriculum? Has the university evolved techniques to provide suitable guidance and resource materials to the students to make self-learning an effective component of teaching process?

Coupled with this is the need for continuous evaluation. The purpose of examinations and tests is to provide timely feedback to the students to help them navigate through their learning. However, if tests are conducted only in the middle and end of a semester, they will serve no useful purpose in helping the students in altering their approach to learning. For too long, our varsities have produced job seekers. Why is that they do not produce job creators? Do our universities place enough emphasis on entrepreneurial skills and create an ecosystem which enables their students to become startup wizards?

As the Indian system of evaluation evolves and when the Indian educational institutes excel by competing with each other to become role models for the rest of the society for their teaching, research and social commitment, the world is going to take note of it. That is better than getting into the ugly contest of university hegemony promoted by the elite clubs of universities.

(The writer is Vice-Chancellor, JNU, New Delhi)

Need for India specific University Rankings

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Court Decides on Sedition, We On Breach of JNU Rules

JNU VC Interview in Economic Times 28 March 2016


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JNU can deal with its internal challenges on its own: The Telegraph, 13 March 2016


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IITs and Skill India: An incomplete dream

To appear in Nov-Dec 2015 issue of IETE Technical Review as an editorial.

For commuting within New Delhi where I live, I often travel in an auto (a three wheeler and a popular means of transport in India). While traveling, I usually strike a conversation with the auto driver and enquire about his kids, their education and aspirations. On one such occasion, after knowing that I am a professor at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Delhi, the driver asked me: Sir, my son wants to become an electrician. Is there any program at IIT which will make him a skilled electrician so that he can be self-employed?” His question sounded to me odd because tales abound of how IITs are known globally for their undergraduate and post-graduate programs in engineering. I told him: we do not have any program at IITs which can help your son in becoming a good electrician. I could see the disappointment in his face at my snappy answer.

In India, there are critics and admirers of IITs. The critics often say that IITs have not stood up to the measure in terms of developing indigenous technologies required in, for example, India’s space programs and defence applications or providing clean environment or green energy solutions and so on.  Roughly it costs about Rs. 3,45,000 per year to educate an IIT student while the annual fee collected from each student is only Rs. 90,000. Critics argue about the futility of subsidizing the education of IIT students when their contributions in helping India develop indigenous technologies required for improving the quality of life and providing security to the people of India is dismal.

While IIT students get world class education in different branches of engineering and sciences, observers who are critical of IITs often point out how IITians do not join in their core areas and instead drift to consulting, banking, business and many other professions which are not directly related to their core training. While some IITians, for example, Narayan Murthy and Nandan Nilekani (of Infosys), Sachin Bansal and Binny Bansal (of Flipkart), and Bhavish Aggarwal and Ankit Bhatia (of Olacabs) are popular names in India for their contributions through entrepreneurship, critics of IIT system argue that to our continued consternation, very few IITians join entities such as Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), government research labs (there are scores of defence and CSIR labs) or mammoth organizations such as Indian railways which require their technical services.

On the other hand, justifiably, there are many admirers of IITs and that includes me too.  The graduates of IITs have excelled all over the world as entrepreneurs, technologists, scientists and professors. Globally they have contributed enormously to the advancement of human welfare. While Sundar Pichai of Google is the most popular IITian today, there are several other blue eyed IITians whose contributions influence our everyday life in some form or the other.

Among many famous IITians, I am listing here only a few as representative examples: Vinod Khosla of Sun Microsystems (the company which developed the Java programming language), Google’s Amit Singhal  (whose team decides how search engine results appear on your screen), Padmasree Warrior who worked at Motorola and later at Cisco Systems (Forbes listed her as the 71st most powerful woman in the world in 2014) and so on. A recent Global Startup Ecosystem Ranking report says that while Indians are only 6 % of the Silicon Valley working population, a whopping 15% of the 14,000 – 19,000 startup companies in the Silicon Valley are founded by them, which includes a significant number of IITians.

More often than not IITians have attributed their success to the quality of education they received from IITs. The faculty in these IITs, many of whom are IIT alumni themselves and obtained their degrees from world renowned institutes, do a remarkable job in training their students and in carrying out research. They, undoubtedly, are respected globally.

Let me now come back to my conversation with the auto driver and his son’s desire to have training by an IIT so that he can be self-employed. I think that his question is not because of his ignorance about what IITs do but about what IITs should be doing to help realize the dreams of crores of young Indians who are entering the job market.

The Delhi Government’s Economic Survey for 2014-15 reports that the number of unemployed youth with diplomas in different vocations in 2013 is 44,934. The situation could be as bad or even worse in other parts of India. These youngsters neither could get a job nor engage themselves in self-employment mainly due to the poor quality of training they might have received at scores of polytechnic institutes and vocational training centers spread across India. In the villages, towns and cities of India, it is common knowledge that the electricians, welders, plumbers, auto mechanics and civil construction workers, to name only a few professions, often self-learn the skills either on-the-site or as apprentices to friends and family members, devoid of any formal training, leading to poor service and un-employability.

A recent report by the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) indicated that only 2.2% of those between 15 to 59 years age group received formal vocational training. Bad training and un-employability also lead to lack of respect and a negative image about these professions discouraging youngsters from taking up vocational training. Skill development through vocational training is no longer an appealing option in Indian society. The only solution to overcome this problem is to make sure that the vocational training imparted to the students is of highest possible quality so that these youngsters can get jobs in the labour market or self-employed in different sectors of the growing economy.

Could IITs, with their strong emphasis on high quality education, consider this as a challenge to solve? The well-wishers of IITs may feel despair at my propensity for even thinking about such an impractical idea. Train the youth of India to become better electricians, plumbers, masons and mechanics? What about our research? What about getting into the top world university rankings?  Doesn’t it dilute the vision for which IITs are set up? Even if IITs decide to take up this challenge, isn’t the scale of operation enormous since it involves training thousands of young Indians? How can IITs do it? Have IITs ever carried out any such socially relevant operation on a large scale? Now, take a breath.

As it turns out, what IIT Mumbai and IIT Kharagpur are doing in an area that will have a far reaching social impact in India is praiseworthy.  Let me brief you on this. Lack of well trained teachers is negatively impacting the Indian higher education system leading to closure of hundreds of engineering colleges across the country. Even those who pass out from these engineering colleges are utterly unemployable in the job market due to the poor quality of education they receive. Under the National Mission on Education through ICT (NMEICT), IIT Mumbai and IIT Kharagpur have taken up the “Train 10 thousand teachers” initiative with an aim to provide training to the engineering college teachers to improve their teaching skills in core engineering and science subjects. Already thousands of teachers have experienced the usefulness of this approach and over the next few years, this silent revolution could change the way education is imparted in engineering colleges across India.

How did these two IITs manage to do this experiment at such a massive scale? By doing away with the traditional class room teaching and by heavily deploying technology involving eLearning, animation, spoken tutorials, virtual labs, and Free and Open Source Software for Education (FOSSEE). NMEICT is a great example of how IITs have the willingness and the expertise to take up large scale experiments with a wide spread social impact even if these activities do not have a direct bearing on their own research output.  The exercise carried out by these two IITs is not a half-hearted cookie-cutter attempt but a radical reorganization of our approach towards social commitment.

In similar lines, the vocational education and training by IITs need necessarily to be done on a massive scale with a well thought out plan for execution, standards for training and evaluation, and measurable outcomes. The trick is unless we raise the expectations of what IITs can do, optimal results cannot be realized. The older IITs, after nearly half a century of their establishment, and also the newer IITs, have a historic opportunity today to impact the Indian society, particularly the socially and economically backward Indian youth to become job-ready and self-employable. Since such a move by IITs could lead to job creation to tens of thousands of Indians who cannot fit into the traditional college education, it is bound to positively impact the economic prosperity of India. Providing vocational education and training to the Indian youth, therefore, should be the next high social impact experiment that the IITs could consider on a priority basis. IITs can rope in the underutilized infrastructure available at hundreds of engineering colleges for this purpose since skill training involves hands on experience in the laboratories. Without involving IITs and the other higher educational institutes, which are the sources of skills, a task of this nature cannot succeed.

If thousands of young and aspiring Indians get transformed into skilled workers with new career opportunities opening-up and if this benefits their families and the Indian economy, would that not make IITs a source of pride for all the Indians?

Let us think about it.

MJK-photoMamidala Jagadesh Kumar is a Professor of Electrical Engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology, New Delhi, India. He is the Editor-in-Chief of IETE Technical Review and an Editor of IEEE Transactions on Electron Devices. He has widely published in the area of Micro/Nanoelectronics and is known for his excellence in Teaching.  He is a member (PT) of Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI). More details about Dr. Kumar can be found at

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