Bal Dattatreya Tilak
(19181999) was born at Karanja (Vidharbha) in Maharashtra. His father, Dattatreya
Damodar Tilak, was a textile engineer. He rose through the ranks and retired as the chief
engineer and manager at Khandesh Mills in Jalgaon, Maharashtra.
B. D. Tilak had his early education at Jalgaon. After completing his
matriculation in 1933, he received his undergraduate training at S. P. College, Pune. He
graduated in 1937 with a B Sc securing first class and 1st rank. Tilak enrolled at
the Royal Institute of Science (Bombay) for a study of dyes used for textile industry and
obtained a B Sc Tech Degree in 1939. For his doctoral work, he joined the illustrious
school of dyestuff chemistry of K. Venkataraman at the Department of Chemical Technology
(BUDCT), Bombay University. After receiving Ph D (Tech) in 1943, Tilak pursued his
training in research with Sir Robert Robinson, Nobel Laureate and the Grandfather of
modern organic chemistry at Oxford University. Tilak received D Phil in 1946 at
Oxford. The Oxford University also awarded him the Doctor of Science (D Sc) degree in
Tilak worked with several outstanding scientists in his career. For
example, he worked with Woodward, another Nobel Laureate in chemistry at Harvard
University in 1960 during his sabbatical leave from Bombay University.
Upon returning from Oxford in 1946, Tilak rejoined BUDCT to pursue
research in heterocyclic chemistry at Matunga, Bombay. He taught and guided research in
chemistry of dyes, heterocyclic compounds and steroids. A chemical reaction in sulphur
chemistry was named after Tilak. He published over 200 scientific papers in Indian and
International scientific journals and guided over 95 students for M Sc, M Sc
(Tech), Ph D and Ph D (Tech) degrees. Most of them have reached the pinacle in
their chosen careers. Many of his students are holding key positions in chemical
industries and national laboratories.
Apart from his outstanding research, Tilak also contributed
significantly to Indias march towards self-reliance in chemical technology. Thus,
industrial research carried out under his leadership has led to the establishment of
several small, medium and large-scale industries which are producing organic
intermediates, dyes, pesticides and textile auxillaries.
As a result of the dynamic R&D policies and programmes initiated by
Tilak during his tenure between 1966 and 1978 as the Director of National Chemical
Laboratories (NCL), the value of commercial production based on NCL know-how increased
phenomenally from 15 lakhs (1965) to more than Rs 81 crores by the time he retired in
1978. While at NCL, as well as after his retirement, Tilak served as a consultant to
several chemical industries. He travelled widely and delivered lectures on his
research work at a number of leading universities and industrial R&D laboratories
through out the world. Tilak led several delegations to many countries on behalf of India
and visited various institutions in these countries for the continued development and
progress of Indian Chemical Industry.
Tilak was elected to various academic bodies like Indian National
Science Academy, Maharashtra Academy of Sciences and the Indian Academy of Sciences. He
served as the Chairman of Hindustan Organic Chemicals for nine years. He was also on the
board of directors of not only several large public limited companies such as HAL, EIL and
IPCL but also many other small and medium scale industries. He was very active in guiding
these industries for a number of years well beyond his retirement from the Directorship of
NCL in 1978.
Tilak served on various National and State Committees. He was the
Chairman of the National Committee of Science and Technology (NCST) and directed the
Maharashtra States Science and Technology Cell. He was involved in various projects
for development of eco-systems in Maharashtra. Tilak believed that the lives of the rural
and tribal communities in India can be vastly improved by the application of science and
technology. With this conviction, he visited and studied problems of the adivasis in
remote areas of Bastar and earned their trust.
Several prestigeous awards have been conferred on Tilak in recognition
of his outstanding work in organic and dyestuff chemistry and in research and development
for chemical and dyestuff industries. He was the recipient of Shantiswaroop Bhatnagar
Award, P. C. Ray Award and K. G. Naik Gold Medal, etc. to name but a few. The crowning
moment of glory came when he was honoured with the national award of Padmabhushan by the
President of India in 1972.
Tilak remained active after his retirement from NCL, taking deep
interest in Indias national and social issues. He continued his work with a
missionary zeal for the economic upliftment of rural people through application of Science
and Technology. He founded Centre for Application Science and Technology for Research and
Development (CASTFORD) and conducted a number of projects for the benefit of rural people.
For example, CASTFORD helped develop energy efficient and safe, hazard-free chulas.
Another project involved agricultural development by the use of slow release urea and
diammonium phosphate. In this endeavour, Tilak served as the Chairman of Forum for Science
and Technology for Rural Education and Development (FOSTERED) and guided its activities
for development of rural people through application of modern science and technology.
During his last five years, Tilak developed a keen interest in
ayurvedic medicine, particularly in anticancer and antiviral compounds of natural origin.
He was involved in performing a survey of Indian medicinal plants which are used for
geriatric patients in Ayurvedic medicine. Tilak was particularly interested in the use of
medicinal plants for the purpose of promoting healthy ageing.
Tilak remained active till his last illness at the age of 81. On 25 May
1999, he breathed his last following a cardiac illness and the scientific community lost a
doyen of Indian chemistry and chemical technology. He is survived by his wife and three