COVID Crisis: Let’s Know How IIT Delhi is Combating it with Dr.V. Ramgopal Rao

Dr. V Ramgopal Rao

Eduvoice exclusive interview

Dr. V. Ramgopal Rao

Director, Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi
Dr. Rao has over 450 research publications in the area of nano-scale devices & Nanoelectronic
Co-founder of two deep technology startups at IIT Bombay

“I think this is a golden moment for all academic institutions to rise to a certain level and deliver solutions in time.”- Dr.V. Ramgopal Rao


Overwhelmed, nervous, elated at the same time, a rare combination of human emotions. This happens when you interact with someone who is an energy source and inspiration for many future minds. He is  Dr.V. Ramgopal Rao Director, IIT Delhi.

He has concerns for everyone whether it is a student, professor, parent, daily wager or even an animal at the campus. He is so optimistic even in this tough scenario, where all of us are fighting and panicking at some of the other phases of life. Dr. Rao and his team are working day and night to fulfill their social responsibility as a research giant, there are no words matching their commitment.

Dr. Rao along with his team is busy working out plans to equip students with online material during this period of lockdown. Dr. Rao wants to ensure that his students get the best even in this trying times of lockdown. Dr. Rao is truly a living example for all of us to look up and follow.

Let’s know how IIT Delhi as an institution is combating this crisis time.

Sujata Mehta

IIT Delhi is such a huge campus, so how are you managing the affairs of the institution in this tough time with COVID-19?

Dr.V. Ramgopal Rao

When all this began, we decided to shut down the institution because we knew that if we delay the process of sending students back home, it might get too late. So, we took a strong decision and went ahead to send them back. Actually, we were the first institute in the whole country to take this bold step of sending students back. 

But we had researchers working in the labs of COVID-19 related areas, so we announced that those who wanted to stay voluntarily can stay back and continue with their work. The institute took the responsibility of providing them with all the necessities and requirements. Some students and faculty decided to stay on and continued their noble work. 

We also announced a research scheme for COVID -19 related projects, which would be funded internally by the institute itself.

We are having a block of international students too, these students were advised to stay back on the campus itself. We did so as no one knows the duration and the after-effects of this pandemic. If they go back to their countries; it is unlikely that they would be able to come back and it will affect their careers badly.

So now we have around 200 students on campus including researchers and for them, we are running hostels. Around a hundred students stayed back and some other researchers too and we have been running the hostel for these people too.


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    Dr.V. Ramgopal Rao

    Initially we were facing issues with the availability of sanitizers because there were no sanitizers available in the market at a nominal cost. We brought it to the notice of our chemistry department and they came to our rescue by preparing 50 liters of sanitizers to be used by all on the campus. 

    We are one of the very first among the institutions in the country to come up with the idea of manufacturing our own sanitizers.

    Dr. V. Ramgopal Rao

    We shared the procedure publically so that anyone who wants to make their own sanitizer will be able to do that. It is very simple and easy and anyone can make it.

    Sujata Mehta

    Kindly share everything about the research work related to COVID-19 which is being done on the campus.

    Dr.Ramgopal Rao

    Researchers are working hard day and night. They have taken it as an opportunity. They have come forth as a team to provide and be of use at the need of the hour without losing time. They are on the job every second to fight this pandemic which has affected each one and everyone globally.

    So, now our focus is to give back to the society that too within days to weeks.

    DR. V. Ramgopal Rao

    1. We have a detection system for COVID-19 in which we are testing with a real sample now. Till now we were using different kinds of samples in the library. Now, it is working well with a single sample.
    2. We also triggered several startups in the campus to provide for in this tough period. We have a startup that promises to provide one lakh face masks per day. So, for manufacturing these masks, I contacted MHRD and Niti Ayog for their logistics issue a few days ago. They are lending help by all means and so we will be able to supply 1 lakh face masks per day to the hospitals and the healthcare workers. 
    3. There is another startup led by a faculty member working on the garments. These can be worn by healthcare workers to develop anti-microbial resistance while they are giving a strong fight against COVID-19.

    We have taken care of their financial requirements with the help of government agencies and also trying to address the logistic requirements through various means.

    The issue is not the finance but the logistics part of it which requires intervention at much higher levels as coordination in this crisis is difficult. But I’m sure we will be able to find a way out.

    Sujata Mehta

    It’s a prompt decision of authorities of IIT Delhi to fund all projects, but up to what extent will you be able to do this? Are funds coming up from somewhere else also?

    Dr. Ramgopal Rao

    Yes, we’ve contacted many corporate for the CSR funding because the institute can fund only up to a certain extent. We have made contacts with almost all corporate and shared the details of our ongoing projects too. Now, many of them are coming forward to support us.

    Sujata Mehta

    After lockdown, academics must be a major concern for you. How are you going to manage it to minimize the loss?


    As far as academics are concerned, we have instructed our faculty to record lectures and make online content available. Till now, almost 100 faculty members have recorded the lectures and are also available online.

    Dr. V. Ramgopal Rao

    We are aware of the fact that many students do not have internet connectivity. But, we still want to make the content available because when the institute reopens all this content should have been completed so that we will be able to cover the rest of the content faster.

    In this way, we can save some time in the academic calendar. We want to minimize the disturbance to the academic program for everyone’s benefit. As we all know students will be having their internships and campus interviews too after they join.

    Now we are encouraging faculty to record lectures and post them and we have set 6th April as the deadline for the lecture material to be posted.

    Another constraint is many of them never used digital platforms for teaching. So, for them, we are providing technical help. They are asked to record lectures from their laptop’s webcam itself and our technical team is assisting them. There is a common student interface where these lectures are getting uploaded. We cannot use commonly available e-platforms here as coordination will be difficult.

    Many students who have internet accessibility are following them from home. Some students don’t have the internet, they can use it once they come back. This will ensure that the syllabus will be covered on time without any loss.

    There’s another thing that we have done on the campus. We don’t just have the students, staff, and faculty but there are many animals too on the campus like peacocks, dogs, and birds. So, we have taken measures to ensure that all these animals don’t go hungry and are well fed. There are volunteers but we realized that we cannot depend on volunteers alone. We also need staff who can devote themselves to this cause.

    Alumni are also coming forward with their noble intentions to contribute. For example, some of them wrote to me saying, we want to help by developing the best ventilators at a very minimal cost.

    So, we have also facilitated many of them and provided some space in our laboratories. We are providing technical help also by fabricating some of these ventilators.

    Sujata Mehta

    What if the situation gets worse and the lockdown continues?


    Yes there is a lot of uncertainty. We will surely be able to accommodate without too much of a disturbance up to a month of lockdown. But if it extends beyond that, then we need separate protocols to address the issues. We’re looking at all the possibilities right now.

    impact of covid 19

    If the institute reopens later, say as currently being planned on April 20th we have a certain plan in place and if we open on 1st May, we have a different plan and if it opens even after that say on May 15 we have another set of a plan for that.

    So, we have taken care of all these multiple scenarios to deal with the situation. We have moved all our meetings to online platforms to make sure that regular interactions take place.

    Sujata Mehta

    Do you recommend any particular platform which is user friendly?


     IIT Delhi subscribes to multiple platforms. We have WebexZoom and many people are using Skype too. Some of them whom I know were not even aware of any of these and are using simple Whatsapp.

    Sujata Mehta

    Are there any plans for virtual classrooms too if lockdown extends?


    Yes, we are looking at this aspect too, if this extends we need to teach online. We certainly have a group of 150 students whom we need to address. So, we are exploring different technology platforms and the implications of the bandwidth.

    Online Courses for Teachers

    As we are well aware that many students might have only 2G connectivity. An online platform that can be used with 2G connectivity should be the best choice. There are platforms that can adjust bandwidth and even people with the simplest and a very basic mobile connection can make use of.

    Sujata Mehta

    What kind of challenges you are facing in your day to day life at campus?


    Initially IIT was procuring things since there were 7,000 people in our hostels. So, there was always an excess of the things available which would even last up to a week or 10 days. So, now as the students who had gone will be back we will be using these things for at least three weeks. We also are procuring more to match the requirement.

    Many people are also coming from outside the campus and we asked every one of them to stay at the campus itself. We at the campus have at least 1200 laborers as of now because there was a lot of infrastructure work going on. We have also advised them not to go back to their villages. So, they are staying here in temporary shelters. We are providing them with groceries and daily needs so that they can lead a normal life.

    Other people are also dependent on us, though we are not paying their wages directly like the Rickshapullers. For them, we have started an IIT Benevolent Fund that we have launched just three days ago. Magically within 24 hours, we have collected almost 10 lakh rupees in it and people are still contributing.

    Then we have many alumni coming forward for this purpose and now we have received almost 15 Lakh as donations from them to deal with this crisis.

    We are identifying the people who need support and care with the help of a team of volunteers.

    Sujata Mehta

    If the lockdown extends then how have you planned for student internships? Will the date get some extension?


    It all depends on when things come back to the normal state because internships are the last thing on anybody’s mind right now. I don’t think industries will be able to get people from different places immediately. Everything is going to take time to return to normal functioning and we can surely jump back to our normal course within that time.

    But, I am sure that many of these internships will become online and students should be able to take up even while they are completing their specific courses or the requirements on the campus.

    So, I would personally expect that many of these internships which corporate are offering will turn into online internships. Students can do some work for the corporate, learn something and also complete the academic requirements.

    Our biggest focus right now is to ensure that the academic requirements get completed on time so that students do not lose any of the opportunities that become available.

    Sujata Mehta

    Two suggestions for all institutions across India to minimize the academic loss to students as well as to institutes in this crisis.


    This situation calls for some extraordinary kind of measures. So, I think we all need to be prepared. Even this batch, which is graduating will be remembered for a very long time to come as the 2020 class.

    This is time for many measures which we wouldn’t have taken in the normal time.

    For example,

    Can we still do well with grades? Or should we go with the pass-fail kind of a thing?

    In IIT Delhi we also conduct interviews in addition to the regular exams for admission into the masters. So, we will most probably decide to do away with those interviews and will take students based on just the online test scores. I know some of these measures will look very drastic, but they need to be taken and we should take them.

    I think that out of the box thinking should matter more than any rigid criteria. In my opinion, this is very essential to ensure that students do not lose opportunities, which I believe is most significant.

    The pivotal point for an academic institution such as ours is the students. Whatever is happening today, if it affects their career for a longer period, then I would believe we failed in our duty to contain the situation.

    So to me containing the situation just to this period and to ensure that it doesn’t overflow into their careers for a longer period should be the motive. It is the first responsibility we have as an administrator.

    Bio Big Data Science

    Secondly, as far as the research is concerned, I think this is a golden moment for all academic institutions to rise to a certain level and deliver solutions in time. I think if this is done after three or four months, the interest would be gone. But today, for example, we have put out a detection kit that can test people for COVID-19 at a very low cost. This is the need of the hour.

    I see this as an opportunity for academic institutions to come up to a certain level and then deliver these solutions.

    These are the two things which we are doing at IIT Delhi and I think every institution must look at it.

    Let me know in the comment section or email me what measures you are taking at your campus.

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