LETTER: We have just heard the news that our own Tan Sri B.C. Sekhar, known in Malaysia as the father of the nation's natural rubber industry, will be honoured in Kerala, India. Kerala is the main rubber growing state in India, and Sekhar apparently had his roots there.
Sekhar, a chemist by training, was the first Malaysian director of the world renowned Rubber Research Institute of Malaysia (RRIM). He was a respected figure in the global rubber circle. It was during his tenure at RRIM that the reputation of RRIM soared.
He pioneered many firsts at RRIM. One that made the biggest impact was the production of the Standard Malaysian Rubber (SMR), a technically specified natural rubber (NR) material. Before that, only synthetic rubber was produced in the technically specified form.
My first job was with RRIM when Sekhar became chief executive officer. We were proud that a Malaysian rose to head RRIM. His knowledge of NR was not limited to the chemistry of rubber. He could speak about the biology and techno-economics of NR with ease. His communication skills, which we often witnessed during rubber conferences, were par excellence.
His persuasive and convincing style enabled RRIM to enjoy good support from the government and industry alike. Because of his stature and demonstration of exemplary research leadership, the government appointed him to also chair the newly established Palm Oil Research Institute of Malaysia.
Sekhar shared many ideas on how to improve the lot of research scientists. He proposed setting up a Scientific Civil Service to entice more to become scientists, where researchers could seamlessly move among the many research entities that would allow the country to optimally use scientific talent.
He was truly devoted to the plantations industry. This was demonstrated when the then Sports Ministry wanted to convert the Tun Abdul Razak Research Laboratory in London into a training centre for sports. He opposed the move.
I was told by Datuk Dr Aziz, also a former RRIM director, of an occasion when Sekhar wanted to lobby the government not to close the London laboratory. Aziz received a call from Sekhar for a meeting to discuss the plan. Sekhar was then on the way to India, while Aziz had to catch a flight to Bangkok.
They finally met at KL Central to plan the move. Their promise of a follow-up meeting in Bangkok, where Sekhar was supposed to attend a wedding, could not materialise. While in India, he suffered a heart attack. The nation lost a great leader in science.
He would be pleased to know that the Tun Abdul Razak Centre in London is intact. But not everything is well either with the centre, after years of neglect. For his contributions to the NR industry, Sekhar should be rightfully honoured.
One idea he shared was to merge the palm oil and rubber research, and turn them into one big Renewable Materials Research Centre. After all, they share many common disciplines. This may be the opportunity for us to honour Sekhar.
The time is also right as the plantations industry is experiencing a dearth of talent. We must remember that both rubber and palm oil combined contribute more than RM100 billion a year to the economy. If we add the forest plantations sector as well, the economic benefits to the nation are enormous.
PROFESSOR DATUK DR AHMAD IBRAHIM
Fellow, Academy of Science UCSI University
Sumber: New Straits Times