The Freedom to Choose a Career is a Privilege Many Students Today Take for Granted. To Dr. Virendra N. Rikh, pursuing an electrical engineering degree in 1950s India, this was a hard-won honor.
Despite his many engineering accomplishments, Rikh says he considers himself “basically a reserved person” who enjoys surfing the Internet and engaging in philosophical thinking.
“Like most Indians, I am interested in cricket and tennis, as well as television serials and movies,” he says. “Having traveled around the world several times, I am now settled in Meerut, a city within the capital region of Delhi, where I take long walks in the evening.”
Born in the early 1930s to an affluent family in a small town located in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh (U.P.), India, Rikh says significant financial and social disparities still existed in his country at that time.
“The literacy rate was very low,” he recalls. “Most well-off families preferred to engage in farming, business or other professions that offered much better financial prospects than academics due to the limited educational facilities and lack of profitable jobs.”
Despite his family's objections, Rikh decided to attend technically focused schools in nearby larger towns. After passing his pre-degree examination with honors, he was accepted, in 1953, to one of the most prestigious universities in India — the Engineering Education Center University, now known as the Indian Institute of Technology at Roorkee.
Rikh quickly earned his bachelor of electrical engineer degree. After one year of field training, he joined the U.P. State Electricity Board (UPSEB), a public power utility responsible for the generation, transmission, supply and management of electric power in U.P. — the most densely inhabited state in India, with a population of approximately 186.5 million.
Rikh spent more than 36 years at the UPSEB, where he held various positions such as assistant engineer, executive engineer, superintending engineer, chief engineer and as a member of the board. While at UPSEB, he also earned a masters degree in electrical engineering and a PhD in engineering and technology from the University of Nagpur. Rikh ultimately held the top post of chairman and managing director of the UPSEB, a corporation with more than 100,000 employees.
In this role, he was responsible for the planning, design, engineering, construction, maintenance and management of generation, transmission and distribution power systems, as well as the commercial/financial aspects of power supply and all aspects of management.
“One of the most challenging assignments I successfully executed while at UPSEB included the planning, design and construction of India's first 400-kV transmission line in U.P. in the 1960s,” Rikh says. “For this, I received special training at Ontario Hydro in Ontario, Canada, on the Pinard-Hanmer 500-kV line. I was subsequently involved in the design of India's first 800-kV transmission lines in mid-1980s.”
In the mid-1980s, the engineer also traveled to Africa on a World Bank-sponsored assignment. As advisor to the government of Tanzania/Tanzania Electric Supply Co. (TANESCO), he assisted with various power T&D planning and design tasks, including the power evacuation system for the Mtera Hydro Project as well as the new 220-kV transmission grid system under construction in Tanzania at the time.
Rikh left the UPSEB in 1991 to serve as a power systems advisor to the Power Grid Corp. of India (PGCIL) in New Delhi. According to Rikh, he counseled PGCIL on technical matters regarding the establishment of a strong and well-knit transmission grid across India. Next, Rikh became a full-time member of the Public Service Commission of the State of U.P., where he worked until 1995. Since then, he has served as a consultant for several top-ranking consultancy/engineering organizations, including Water & Power Consultancy Services and the Central Board of Irrigation & Power (CBIP) in New Delhi. This work has taken him to Bhutan, Afghanistan and Zimbabwe.
In addition to his engineering career, Rikh's passion for reading and writing has resulted in more than 120 technical papers and articles being published in journals in India, the United States, the United Kingdom, Sweden and Australia. He participated in more than 50 conferences in India and abroad, and was an active member of CIGRÉ's Study Committee 36 on Interference. “I try to conceive and review common problems from a new perspective and present fresh ideas.”
Rikh has received recognition for his efforts, including the President of India Prize in 1968, Diamond Jubilee Award by CBIP in 1996 and the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Meerut Engineers Association in 2005.
“Early on, I met and married my wife, Beena, a graceful, intelligent and loving girl who has stood solidly by me through thick and thin for the past 50 years. We were blessed with four charming daughters who have since been married and happily settled with their families in India and abroad.”