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A biosketch by scores of his admirers

K Krishnanunni (1941-2020)

Sri K. Krishnanunni, former Director General, Geological Survey of India expired on 4 June 2020 at his native place Palakkad in Kerala. He was a brilliant student and always stood first in school and college. He was topper of the first batch UPSC examinations held in 1964 for recruitment in the Geological Survey of India. He was also topper of the batch in the training programme in the Indian photo-interpretation Institute at Dehra Dun in 1968-69, which earned him a fellowship at the International Training Centre, Delft, the Netherlands for pursuing another M.Sc course.

He was a great visionary, as can be seen in the establishment of National Remote Sensing Agency (NRSA) in 1976-77 or in setting up of Regional Remote Sensing Service Centres (RRSSC) under ISRO. His greatest contribution to the Geological Survey of India and in turn to the society is the conception and development of village economy through mineral assessment programme (DOVEMAP) aimed at improving village economy and creating employment opportunities in rural areas. This idea was appreciated by many decision makers in government but unfortunately not followed for extraneous reasons.

Sri Krishnanunni was a great human being and was at ease in talking with not only the likes of Prof. Dhavan, Prof. U.R. Rao and senior bureaucrats in the Government but also Group D employees of the Department.

His knowledge and informal attitude won him many admirers across the country, who decided to institute a memorial to perpetuate his memory and vision via channels like suitable publications, organising memorial lectures and awarding fellowships to the needy students. When approached by them, MGMI, Kolkata readily agreed to provide space in the Jul-Sep 2020 volume of Transactions for a Bio-sketch of Sri Krishnanunni.

Accordingly, it was compiled based on the inputs of the his close associates of yesteryears and lifelong friends of Sri Krishnanunni –  S/ Sri Subhas C. Verma ,Prakash K. Shrivastava , Akshay K. Mukherjee and Gouri P. Ghatak 1962 Batch mates.(ISM - Dhanbad), Sri N C. Shekar and  Dr. Ajoy  Kumar Moitra, (GSI, Gujarat Circle, Ahmedabad), Sri D.N.Setti and Sri J. K. Bhalla, (GSI Central Hqrs., Kolkata), Sri S. Raghunathan, (NRSA, Hyderabad), Ms Geeta Varadan and  Dr.Udayraj , (RRSSC, ISRO) and Sri. Vimal Kumar and  Sri Y.Kumar, (North-Eastern Region, Shillong ). We are also indebted to the family members of Sri Krishnanunni for providing some details of his early life, education and an adorable photograph of his younger days.

Biosketch: Mission
On the dias
Krishnanunni in his younger days (Palakkad, Kerala)
With Prof. Dhavan, Chairman ISRO, Sri. D N Setti and Dr. Radhakrishnan
Farewell at Shillong (1998)
Inaugurating seminar at Mangalore as Director General, GSI
Biosketch: News & Updates

Family & Early Education

1941 - 1958

Kalathinkal Krishnanunni, popularly known as Krishnanunni was born on 23rd March 1941 at Paravur, near Ernakulam, in Kerala. His father Prof. P. Kochunni Panicker was a history Professor and Principal of Victoria College, Palakkad and his mother Smt.Sarojini Amma was a house wife.

After his early schooling in Paravur and he passed out the SSLC Examination, from Govt High School, North Paravur (now Govt Boys' Higher Secondary School) with first rank in the school, and fifth rank in the then state of Travancore-Cochin. He studied intermediate at Union Christian College, Aluva and B.Sc Geology from University College, Trivandrum

ISM Dhanbad

1959 - 1961

The Indian School of Mines (ISM), now IIT-ISM, was established in 1926 by the British Indian Government, modelled on the lines of the Royal School of Mines, London. Sri Krishnanunni gained admission directly into the second year in ISM App. Geology course in July 1959, being a meritorious graduate in Geology from Kerala University.

Hailing from the Deep South, he had some initial difficulty with the language spoken by fellow students in the class room or in the hostel in northern India, though the ISM students came from all parts of India. But, Sri Krishnanunni was a quick learner of languages and adapted with ease to the long standing traditions and milieu prevailing in ISM, Dhanbad campus. As for language, the first things he picked up were the lingo, jargon and slang vocabulary such as are usually used by the more boisterous lot in a north Indian college. Though it may not sound too refined, but this type of language does help in quickly establishing a camaraderie and bonhomie between the students hailing from different regions and backgrounds. The fellowship and bond so established lasted a life-time, long after passing out of the college campus into a professional life at various places in different parts of the world. It is this trait practiced by Sri Krishnanunni that won him large number of pan-India friends and admirers throughout his career.

Once integrated into the ISM student family, Sri Krishnanunni stood out as a very soft-spoken, affable, humorous, highly intelligent and serious student with enormous self-confidence and adaptability. He was calm and collected at all times. His personality and conduct endeared him to all – students and teachers alike. He kept up his academic brilliance and passed both the 3rd year final B.Sc.(Hons.) examination and  4th and final year, the M.Sc. & AISM Diploma examinations in 1st Division with merit. After completing M.Sc in July 1962, Sri Krishnanunni, along with some of his batch mates was offered position in the geology department where he worked as Demonstrator for a few months. Sri Prakash Shrivastava, his classmate in M.Sc. Applied Geology recalls that it was great fun working with him taking practical classes for 1st & 2nd Year students. In no time Krishnanunni befriended many young students and mentored them.

Short stint in AMD

1962 - 1965

In late 1962, Atomic Minerals Division (AMD) of the Department of Atomic Energy. Govt. of India advertised posts of Scientific Officer SB for candidates holding a M.Sc. degree in Geology or a degree or AISM Diploma in Mining Engineering. Many ISM 1962 batch mates applied. Sri. Subhas Verma, a batch mate of Sri Krishnanunni, holding M.Sc. degree in App. Geophysics, did not meet the norms of the advertisement, but applied anyway. He got a call letter for interview, whereas Sri. Krishnanunni who was truly qualified did not get a call for interview – apparently due to some technical or administrative glitch or lapse. The interviews were held on 8th Jan. 1963 in the South Block, Central Secretariat, New Delhi, chaired by Dr. D.N. Wadia, a renowned geologist & Advisor to Govt. of India. Sri Krishnanunni reached the interview venue & represented his case successfully and was interviewed along with the others. All the ISM batch mates who had applied were selected. This event reflects Sri Krishnanunni’s confidence, determination and ability to overcome obstacles.  By mid -1963, Sri Krishnanunni joined AMD and was posted in Singhbhum Thrust Belt (Project -STB), Bihar (now Jharkhand), where detailed exploration for uranium was under way in different blocks.

While working in AMD, Sri Krishnanunni appeared for the first UPSC examination for recruitment of Geologists in GSI, in March 1964 and topped the list of successful candidates. He confided with close friends that the difference between him and the next rank holders was the marks he got in English. He left AMD in 1965 to join GSI in the Gujarat Circle at Ahmedabad. He maintained contacts with his ISM batch mates all along.

GSI, Gujarat Circle, Ahmedabad

1965 - 1972

Sri Krishnanunni’s first posting in GSI was to the Gujarat Circle, Ahmedabad, where he joined as Geologist (Jr) in early 1965. It was a small circle office with about dozen young officers in their twenties and Mr Vemban, Superintending Geologist, later re-designated as Director, who was a hard task master but affectionate and benevolent boss. Though Sri Krishnanunni was senior most officer after the Superintending Geologist, by virtue of his top rank in UPSC examination, there was great intimacy and camaraderie amongst all the young officers. A colleague of his in Gujarat days recollects that during the off-season, Sri Krishnanunni used to organise a weekly convention of his colleagues, in which each of them was to make a presentation of the work done during the previous field season. The author had to circulate a synopsis of his paper on the previous day. Here, it got a little more colourful. On the back of the sheet containing the synopsis, a mutually agreed menu of the high tea to be offered at the end of the lecture would be indicated. When the synopsis was circulated, everybody would flip to the back page first on which, besides menu, a question and answer (ragging) session was also enlisted. Like a true friend Sri Krishnanunni would help both sides, in preparing for the lecture as well as in amicably settling the menu and questionnaires.

Even at that young age, he showed exemplary leadership qualities. While Sri Krishnanunni enjoyed his carefree bachelor days like the rest of his friends, he was an intelligent and highly committed person, executing whatever assignment was entrusted to him with earnest sincerity. He also took great interest in what was being done by his colleagues in the Circle office to keep himself abreast of the latest developments.

He along with other top rankers of the first batch of  UPSC examination was promoted as Geologist (Sr) in 1968. In the same year he was deputed to the Indian Photo-interpretation Institute, Dehra Dun for training in aerial photo interpretation for geology. He stood first among the trainees and was awarded fellowship at the International Institute for Aerial Surveys, popularly known as ITC, in Delft, The Netherlands for pursuing M.Sc course, which he accomplished with distinction.

On return from the Netherlands, in March 1971, he returned to Gujarat Circle and continued there till early 1973. As No.2 in the Circle he used to look after the administration in the absence of the Director on tour or leave. By his informal and jovial attitude he used to make new recruits very comfortable in their job.

Following a demand by the local MP in the Parliament, a geological investigation was included in the field programme of the Circle to carry out reconnaissance survey in the backward and tribal district of Dangs in south Gujarat. Sri Krishnanunni along with a young geologist Dr. Ajoy Kumar Moitra took up the investigation and proceeded to Ahwa, the district headquarters. It was found out that Sri Krishnanunni and Dr. Moitra were the first geologists to carry out geological investigations in the district which was highly inaccessible, densely forested hilly terrain. He was very serious in the job during the field work and used to discuss many geological aspects based on the field observations. After a hard day’s field work, he used to discuss after dinner, a variety of topics like culture, literature, mythology, politics and wild life suggestive of his versatile personality. He got married on 12 July 1972 to Ms. Lata who was equally pleasing and positive like Krishnanunni. A perfect match.

GSI, CHQ Kolkata

1973 - 1976

Sri Krishnanunni’s stay in Kolkata was longest in his career in GSI. He was there in three spells, 1973-1984 (with a two year break in 1976-77 when he was on deputation to NRSA, Hyderabad), 1989-1992 and 1998-2001.

He loved the city of Kolkata so much that he toyed with the idea of finally settling there. Kolkata then was and still is described lovingly as a city of lively contradictions, a melting pot of different cultures, generational values, polarized followers of political causes, economically disparate social groups, evolved trade union movements, multiple confusions and unanswered questions typical of a society which puts higher value on intellectual pursuits over material abundance. There would always be multiple perspectives on any issue with each person’s view being uniquely emphatic. This capacity of the city to nurture multi-dimensional thinking on societal and economic issues has given India six of its Nobel Laureates. The city of such unique qualities greatly attracted Sri Krishanunni, befitting his own multifarious facets.

Sri Krishnanunni was transferred in 1973 from Gujarat Circle to Photogeology Division of CHQ which was a part of Map division. Soon after his joining the division was renamed as Photogeology and Remote sensing Division. It was catering air photo and satellite imagery interpretation services to different Regions of GSI besides carrying out its own research assignments.

Deputation to NRSA

1976 - 1977

Sri Krishnanunni joined as Technical Staff Officer to the Director NRSA in January 1976, on deputation from GSI.  He was to assist the Director NRSA on all technical matters, their planning and realisation, which included facilities for remote sensing data procurement, processing and utilization and recruitment of suitable technical personnel. This was a crucial phase since the organisation was at its nascent stage having been in existence only for a few months.

Creation of facilities for organising indigenous aero-magnetic surveys and data collection for user agencies like Airborne Mineral Surveys and Exploration (AMSE) Wing of GSI and Atomic Minerals Directorate of Dept. of Atomic Energy were under way. Sri Krishnanunni was the principal scientist in planning for the surveys and interfacing with the users and also preliminary verification of the data collection to ensure that user needs were being met.

Sri Krishnanunni was actively involved in the discussions for procurement of airborne Modular Multispectral Scanner (M2S) and Multispectral Data Analysis System by NRSA. He was also actively associated in planning of the facilities at Balanagar – the buildings, computer room layout, UPS facilities along with the diesel generator back up provisions – were the other activities at that time. 

The M2S had a provision to generate a quick look film output using an equipment called visicorder. This could help in viewing the flight path and the area covered during the survey. Sri Krishnanunni utilised this output for these purposes and also to interpret the data in a preliminary manner over the area covered. He had extensive discussions with the other scientists on the geometrical distortions of the M2S data along the scanview angle and the effects of aircraft roll, pitch and yaw. He would visualise precisely the impact of these on the picture elements (pixels) and wrote a detailed analysis paper on how to account for these in the image   interpretation.

GSI, CHQ, Kolkata

1977 - 1984

On repatriation to GSI in early 1978 after two years deputation, Sri Krishnanunni was posted back in the PGRS Division of GSI Central Headquarters. As in-charge of the Division he provided guidance in the two national projects, preparation of lineament map of India and preparation of geomorphological map of India, both on 1:2 M scale by Landsat satellite data interpretation. Both the projects involved preparation of the maps by all the Regions of GSI on 1:500000 scale by visual interpretation of hard copies of the Landsat imagery of their respective areas and their compilation to 1:2 M scale national maps at headquarters by seamless mosaicing. The entire exercise was done by manual methods as digital processing techniques were not available then.

Another investigation carried out by the PGRS division under Sri Krishnanunni’s guidance was “Project Indravati”, one of the end to end experiments taken up under National Natural Recourses Management system (NNRMS) by the lead agency GSI using aerial photos, imageries and airborne multispectral data. Sri D N Setti was the co-ordinator for the project. Sri N.K Datta was involved in planning and execution of field studies in part of Bastar area. Sri Krishnanunni along with Sri D N Setti carried out, an investigation on preparation of geomorphological map of south Kerala coast, the only time he visited his native state, Gods own country, on official work in his long professional career.

The outcomes of these landmark projects won profuse appreciation of several eminent scientists. Professor Satish Dhawan, Chairman, ISRO was appreciative of GSI and it’s scientists for the early initiatives and commitment to use RS Technology. Prof. Pisharoty (father of Remote Sensing in India) was all praise for GSI Scientists in quickly adopting RS techniques even prior to the launching of IRS and NNRMS .Much of this credit goes to Sri Krishnanunni

Apart from his technical achievements, Sri Krishnanunni was equally involved in the welfare measures for fellow earth scientists. He was actively associated with GSI Scientific Officers Association (GSISOA). SOA was established by GSI officers during mid-sixties to draw attention of the government to multiplying operational difficulties in carrying out geological investigations in remote areas of the country and also lack of adequate system of career progression resulting in cadre distortions and acute stagnation at all levels. Sri Krishnanunni along with S/Sri S K Roy, Debasis Chaterjee, J K Bhalla, D N Setti and a host of other officers vigorously followed the efforts of the founders of GSISOA. Their greatest contribution to the SOA was the creation of GSISOA Welfare Fund aimed at rehabilitation of families of officers who lost lives while in service. The fund was financed by annual subscription from members of SOA, with the bulk of collections going towards payment of premium of LIC Group Insurance scheme, and the balance forming a corpus to meet operational expenses.

The institution of Central Government Employees Group Insurance Scheme (CGEGIS) by the GOI in 1980-81, which was almost a replica of GSISOA WF, but with financial benefits several times higher has reduced the attraction of GSISOA Welfare Fund, Sri Krishnanunni made it possible to make some constitutional changes and by delinking LIC ensured that all the additional benefits were passed on to only the families of deceased members.

Transfer to AMSE, Bengaluru

1984 - 1986

Sri Krishnanunni, on promotion as Director, was transferred to PGRS Division, AMSE Wing, Bengaluru in 1984. Besides supervising the work of the officers of PGRS Division, he was extending technical support to the Dy. Director General.

Simultaneously he was involved in regular consultations with Prof. Satish Dhavan, Chairman, ISRO and Sri Y.S. Rajan, Scientific Secretary to the Chairman on the implementation of recommendations of workshop on National Natural Resources Management System, held in 1983, and participated by various central and state government departments on the use of remote sensing data.

Deputation to ISRO

1986 - 1989

These discussions culminated to his joining ISRO on deputation as Director, NNMRS-RRSSC in early 1986, with a view to establishing Regional Remote Sensing Service Centres.

The main objectives of each Regional Centre were to provide support of digital infrastructure in processing Remote Sensing data, taking up of collaborative projects and providing training and capacity building exercises in their respective regions.

Five Regional Remote Sensing Service Centres (RRSSC) were proposed at Bengaluru, Nagpur, Jodhpur, Dehradun and Kharagpur, strategically located to cover the entire country. Sri Krishnanunni’s first job was to seek financial and logistic support from the potential users of remotely sensed data in the Central Ministries and Departments, to support these centres. In this initiative, he succeeded admirably. Accordingly, the .Ministry of Mines agreed to fund the Bengaluru centre, National Bureau of Soil Science and Land Use Planning (NBSSLUP) the Nagpur centre, Central Arid Zone Research Institute (CAZRI), the Jodhpur centre, Department of Space the Dehradun centre and ministry of Science and Technology the Kharagpur centre.

To man these centres Sri.Krishnanunni ensured a blend of experienced scientists from user Departments on deputation and freshly recruited talented young scientists were made available. They were all given 6 months orientation training at Bengaluru.

A state of the art hardware and software configuration was procured for each of the centres. They were installed and operationalised after vigorous acceptance test procedure. Along with these five centres 4 more centres were established with exactly identical facilities, viz., at Chennai by Government of Tamilnadu, at Lucknow by Government of Uttar Pradesh, at DehraDun by Forest Survey of India and at Hyderabad by Department of Space. Once the Centres were made operational, the first task on hand was to establish the efficacy of digital interpretation vis-à-vis visual interpretation for various themes. After successfully establishing this, each of the five Centres formulated a number of theme-based application projects to be executed jointly with the user agencies in their respective regions. Simultaneously theme-based training programmes in digital image processing were formulated and training imparted to many users from Central and State government agencies and private industry to popularize digital processing of satellite data across the country. In addition, several software packages developed in house were installed  at all the RRSSCs and state centres after due certification for undertaking the National level projects viz: Drought Mission, Landuse Landcover and Crop monitoring projects.

One of the prestigious projects taken up at that time was Project Vasundhara, a collaborative project between Geological Survey of India and ISRO aimed at prognosticating mineral targets by multi-theme data integration including digital image processing. The project proposal prepared by Sri Krishnanunni was highly appreciated by the then Chairman, ISRO Prof. U R Rao and Secretary, Ministry of Mines, Government of India Sri B K Rao. GSI has suggested 7 potential areas for the study for search of diamond, gold and base metals. Based on the results of data integration, GSI geologists followed up with ground checking. Scientists of RRSSC, Bengaluru developed a raster based Geographic Information System (GIS) called INGIS as a part of this project. Another important national project carried out in RRSSCs was National Drought Monitoring Project undertaken by NRSC using NOAA satellite data. RRSSCs provided complete digital analysis support for the Project.

That the RRSSCs conceived and commissioned by Sri. Krishnanunni, have now become Centres of Excellence for the application of geospatial technologies in the country is a fitting tribute to Krishnanunni.

After his 3-year tenure of deputation was over, Sri Krishnanunni sought repatriation to GSI. Reluctant to lose such a talented person, Chairman ISRO, Prof. U R Rao pleaded with him to stay back in ISRO, offering lucrative prospects. A firmly determined Krishnanunni politely rejected the offer as he knew that he was having better prospects in GSI.

GSI, CHQ, Kolkata and Northern Region, Lucknow

1989 - 1994

On repatriation from ISRO in 1989, Sri Krishnanunni was first posted at Geodata Division where he took measures to digitize the maps and reports and also convert legacy maps into soft copy form. In early 1991 he was transferred to the International Wing, where apart from routine duties he was co-ordinating the work carried out in different IGCP projects.

On promotion as Dy. Director General in August 1992, Sri Krishnanunni was posted in Northern Region, Lucknow and was soon made the H.O.D of the Region.

GSI, North-Eastern Region, Shillong

1994 - 1998

Sri  Krishnanunni  joined as Dy. Director General  N.E.R. at Shillong in August, 1994, Right from day one, he had been thinking of some innovative programme which could be useful to generate employment opportunities in rural sector, besides the usual technical field investigations. In November, 1995, during a review meeting taken by Secretary (Mines) at Mangalore he presented the idea of formulating such a programme by which there could be development of village economy through mineral appraisal.  The plan was appreciated and a project named, "DOVEMAP" (Development of Village Economy through Mineral Appraisal Programme) was conceived.

The basic idea of the project were discussed with the Secretary, North Eastern Council who agreed for partial funding of the project. The project commenced in F.S.1996 - 1997 and was continued for four years, covering more than 330 villages in Assam, Meghalaya and Tripura. The studies had generated enormous data on land use pattern, land suitability, groundwater and low-cost mineral potential. Thematic maps on geology, geomorphology, soil, land use and environmental hazards were prepared for each village on cadastral map base. The reports were distributed to the District Commissioners and Block Development Officers of the concerned districts, who greatly appreciated the efforts of GSI. A workshop on project DOVEMAP was held at Shillong in February, 2000.

Other major investigations initiated by Sri Krishnanunni included preparation of landslide zonation map of parts of north-eastern region, preparation of seismotectonic map of the north-east on 1:1M scale and preparation of public awareness brochures in both English and local language for all the states in the Region giving details of geology, river valley projects and vulnerability to earthquakes and landslides.

Sri Krishnanunni was promoted as Sr. Dy. Director General in November 1997. Though he was required to move to Central headquarters, he preferred to stay back in Shillong till March 1998. He confided to close friends that his tenure in the north-east was the most satisfying period in his whole professional career.

Back to GSI, CHQ, Kolkata

1998 - 2001

Sri Krishnanunni was transferred to the Central Headquarters, Kolkata in March 1998. He was very closely associated with the then Director-General ,Dr.S,K,Acharyya in framing and execution of both technical and administrative policies within GSI and at the same time, interacting with the Secretary, Additional Secretary and other officials of Ministry of Mines.

GSI was facing a veritable existential threat since the early part of 1990s with the declared completion of first generation of systematic mapping of the country and at the same time, being unable to convince the controlling Ministry and Planning Commission the necessity of strengthening  enormous data base thus generated  with substantially larger inputs of field and laboratory data to work out and provide a geological configuration of the country and plan strategies for mineral exploration, environmental mitigation, infrastructure and other projects which require earth science inputs. Coordinated efforts by the duo of Dr Acharyya and Shri Krishnanunni during the period 1998-2000 resulted in Department Related Parliamentary Committee on Industries advising Ministry of Mines to set up an Expert Panel for Modernization of GSI.

Accordingly, an Expert Panel with Shri Krishnanunni as Chairman, and experts from GSI and other scientific and user organizations as members, was constituted by DOM in March 2000.The Expert Panel analysed the existing level of technical and equipment support system, knowledge base available in GSi, manpower situation, user expectations from GSI culled from a unique DELPHI SURVEY of around 350 organizations, academia and eminent individuals. The Panel submitted its report in a record three-month time. The Report gave its views on future requirement of type and quantum of geological, chemical, geophysical analysis, IT infrastructure, phasing of purchasing and financing schedules keeping in view future developments in analytical techniques and suggested several far reaching recommendations on the type of facilities to be created and managed. The deliberations during the meetings were always constructive and smooth and any difference of opinion was easily sorted out due to the respect that Krishnanunni commanded and inspired in all organizations. The report of the Expert Panel has been an essential component of all future committees’ deliberations set up with a view to improve GSI’s working and all committees have drawn heavily from it in their recommendations.

He prepared a document on the role of the Ministry and the GSI in the project INDIGEO, a collaboration project with the I.T.C, the Netherlands aimed at capacity building of trained manpower in Geographical Information Systems (GIS), digital image processing and development of management skills in GSI.

In November 2000, considering that he would have only 4 months tenure as Director General, Sri .Krishnanunni wanted to seek voluntary retirement so that the next person could get a full one year term .He carried the letter to the Ministry applying for voluntary retirement. To his surprise the Ministry gave him appointment order as Director General w.e.f 1 December 2000.

After taking over as Director-General his first job was to plan celebrations on 150 years completion of the Geological Survey of India which he successfully organised in Central Headquarters, Regions and States.

After 36 years of yeoman service in the Department Sri Krishnanunni superannuated on 31 March 2001.

Life Story of K Krishnanunni

A documentary prepared by Parur HSS, Kerala

The documentary is in Malayalam language with subtitles in English

1997 - Crossing the Brahmaputra.JPG
Biosketch: Philosophy
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