Lives of the fellows

Bashi Lal Tanjea

b.18 February 1903 d.25 January 1976
MB BS Punjab(1926) DTM&H(1928) MRCP(1930) MRCPE(1930) FRCP(1968)

A kindly man of enduring charm and absolute integrity, people had great faith and trust in Bashi Lal Taneja and his advice was willingly accepted. ‘Bashi’, as he was popularly called, became a household word in most families uprooted from Pakistan and he will long be remembered with gratitude, respect and affection by a large circle of friends, students, colleagues and patients.

Bashi Taneja was born in Dera Ismail Khan on the North West Frontier of India, now Pakistan, where his father Thakar Dass Taneja was a business man dealing in sugar and general merchandise. He was educated at the V B High School and Punjab University, Lahore, undertaking his clinical studies at the Mayo Hospital, Lahore.

After completing his house appointments, Bashi came to London and obtained his membership of the College, subsequently being elected a Fellow. On his return to India in 1930 he joined the Indian Medical Service and became a recognized specialist in medicine and pathology. During the second world war he served in the RAMC, being assistant director (pathology) to the 11th Army Group Allied Land Forces, South East Asia Command from 1944-45 and a member of the British Scrub Typhus Commission. He was commended by Sir Oliver Leese, commander in chief Allied Land Forces, for his investigations on scrub typhus. He won an international reputation as a research worker in tropical diseases, and held the rank of colonel on demobilization.

In 1945, Bashi Taneja was appointed professor of pathology and principal, Glancy Medical College, Amritsar. Two years later he became director of pathology to the Irwin and Safdarjang Hospitals. In 1950 he was appointed professor of pathology at the Armed Forces Medical College, Poona. In 1956, with the country’s independence, he was appointed director of Medical Services (Navy), 1956-58. In 1958 he was instrumental in the founding of Maulana Azad Medical College, New Delhi, paying personal attention to the construction of the College building. His efforts ensured that the professorial posts were filled in time and the first session became operational without delay. The medical college is now of international repute.

Six years later Taneja was appointed director-general of the Indian Council of Medical Research, an assignment he held with distinction for five years. He then became executive director of the Indian Academy of Medical Sciences, of which he was a founder member.

Bashi Taneja was the author of a number of scientific papers on medical practice, hospital administration and medical education in India. His name will always be associated with field trials of cholera vaccine, carried out under his guidance at the Cholera Research Centre, Calcutta.

He was a member of the scientific advisory committee of the Cabinet; a member of the planning commission panel on scientific research and national science policy, Research Advisory Committee, Armed Forces Medical Service; a member of the governing body of the National Institute of Health Administration and Education, and of the Central Family Planning Institute. For many years he was a member of the WHO Advisory Panel on the organization of medical care. He was also a member of the Indian delegation to the UNESCO conference on the application of Science and Technology, South East Asia, and a member of the national committee in the International Council of Scientific Unions.

In 1959, Bashi Taneja had been selected for promotion to the rank of major general, but he continued to serve in the civil sector in order to complete the task he then had in hand - that of building up the Maulana Azad Medical College and associated hospitals. By refusing promotion, and the consequent rise in status, he was true to himself and his dedication to duty. A man of sterling qualities and outstanding personality, and of few words, he was endowed with a gift for grasping essentials. He believed in and encouraged applied research in preference to fundamental studies.

In 1927 Bashi had married Kama Devi, daughter of Seth Chuhar LaI, a banker. She was a woman of rare courage, calm and patience, and devoted to her husband. They had four sons.

YP Munjal
Sir Gordon Wolstenholme

(Volume VIII, page 495)

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