Dr Ramdas Pai: Man Behind the Metamorphosis of Modern Manipal

Pics: Hemanath Padubidri
Daijiworld Media Network
September 17, 2011

From a barren hillock to an educational hub to a nerve centre of approximately Rs 3000-crore Manipal Education and Medical Group (MEMG), the saga of success of the Pais of Manipal is unparalleled in the field of education in India.

The road to success, however, was not an easy one. The challenge was in surmounting every hurdle that came its way, including the infamous bitter family feud and continuing the legacy founded by Dr TMA Pai in the 1950’s. In a fitting recognition of the contributions of MEMG Chairman Dr Ramdas Pai, the son and successor of the architect of modern Manipal Dr TMA Pai, to the field of education, was conferred with the prestigious Padma Bhushan award by the President of India, in April this year. Known to be a down-to-earth plain-speaking gentleman Ramdas Pai says, "The award is a reward to the entire institution and not just an individual accomplishment. Basically I think it is not for me, it is for the collective efforts of our employees who are primarily responsible for my getting the award."

Continuing the legacy of his father, Ramdas Pai has been instrumental in making Manipal a force to reckon with, metamorphosing it into a leading player in the healthcare and education sector in the country. If TMA Pai was the architect of modern Manipal it was Dr Ramdas Pai who took it across the oceans and mountains. In the last three decades under his astute stewardship the name of Manipal has bloomed and spread its fragrance all over the country and beyond the boundaries of India with its presence in countries like Malaysia, Nepal, UAE and Antigua. Plans are on the anvil to make a foray into countries like Sri Lanka and parts of Africa which also offers tremendous scope for expansion. He, along with his son Ranjan Pai, the CEO of MEMG has succeeded in expanding the single Manipal Hospital in Bangalore in 1991 into a multi-location chain of hospitals across seven cities in South India. It is a feather in the cap of Dr Ramdas Pai that he runs Hospitals that are rated amongst the best in the country.

Untouched by Success

Despite such amaranthine profundity Dr Ramdas Pai comes across as an unassuming, straightforward and determined person, who knows his onions well and who is quite comfortable in handling success and the recognition that has come his way. He goes by certain values he has imbibed and also by the power of ratiocination in his capacity as the Chairman of MEMG, Chancellor of Manipal University and also as the Pro Chancellor the Sikkim Manipal University.

Even the messy family feud that attracted unwanted public attention resulting in the intervention of the late Dhirubhai Ambani, without any success, failed to deter him from his cherished goals. After the group splintered Ramdas Pai who got the educational institutions and hospitals as his share of the family property built MEMG into a powerhouse of education and healthcare along with his son Dr Ranjan Pai and the result of their combined efforts is there for everyone to see. His vision put into active action has paid rich dividends and Manipal has emerged as a brand in the field of education and healthcare keeping in tune with the Manipal philosophy of ‘education knows no boundaries’.

At 76, he shows no sign of slackening pace in his work though his family business is run professionally in the last few years. The group recently achieved a coup of sort by roping in former Infosys CFO and H R whiz T V Mohandas Pai, to join as the Chairman of Manipal Universal Learning (MUL), one of the two wings of MEMG.

Dr Ramdas Pai is not going to bask in the laurels but is bent upon scaling greater heights by creating world class healthcare and educational infrastructure. He harbours no political ambitions unlike his cousin late T A Pai, saying "in politics you require to be corrupt and politics is not my cup of tea. My father used to say politicians are like electricity. So don’t go near politicians but make use of them" and he is abiding by this sage advice. Sounding a word of caution he says "don’t take the public for granted and be transparent in your activities. Even the government must come out with rules which are transparent. I hope the Anna Hazare movement will put many corrupt people behind bars".

Visionary in Action

Born on September 17, 1935, Dr Ramdas Pai, got his medical graduation degree from Karnataka University and a postgraduate degree in Hospital Administration from Temple University, Philadelphia, USA. Naturally he began his career as Hospital Administrator at Kasturba Hospital, Manipal in 1961 at a young age. Along with his father he went on to develop various institutions of education and healthcare by the effulgence of his public virtues, hard work and perseverance. And the rest, as the cliché goes, is history. The conferment of the Deemed University status to the Manipal institutions by the government in 1993 was a turning point for the history of the institution. Dr Pai has been the catalyst of change that opened up to the Indian students the vistas of education, providing avenues to the youngsters to showcase their talent and providing best of facilities in education and health case. Above all, Dr Pai showed to the world what a small coastal town like Manipal could attain if it is guided by a visionary and in a congenial atmosphere.

Needless to say today Manipal group has become the epicenter of about 53 educational institutions in the medical group having an enrolment of about 32,000 students from more than 51 countries of the world. It has become an ideal educational hub that churns out thousands of well trained graduates year after year. It goes to the credit of this institute that ¼ of all practicing doctors in Malaysia are alumni of Manipal.

Ask him what brings him utmost satisfaction and he is quick to say "my greatest satisfaction is building this institution and also providing an opportunity for many people to come up in life", he reminisces. And what he has to say about the incident of KMC locking the horns with Kasturba Medical College, which had even recommended de-recognition to the college despite figuring among India’s top 10 medical colleges recently? Dr Ramdas Pai says MCI had an issue with regard to KMC’s decision to provide large quota to NRI’s which was resolved subsequently. However, according to information percolating from other sources it is said that the now disgraced Ex President of MCI Dr Ketan Desai, arrested for accepting bribery, was seeking bribe and Dr Ramdas Pai was equally unwavering in his decision not to pay a single rupee to him which led to the controversy of de-recognition. Being a man of principles, Ramdas says he did not want to go in an unethical way in any dealings. "Ketan Desaid used to give admissions only after taking money. We did not give any money and that was the issue. He wanted to derecognize citing reasons of staff shortage, lack of infrastructure and other minutia details but did not succeed".

Bequeathing Credibility

At this juncture I just asked him about the famous incident of his refusing medical seat for his own son Ranjan Pai for his failing to qualify the cut off percentage of 80% fixed by the board of trustees. Ranjan Pai had secured 72% marks which did not qualify him for getting a seat at KMC. But Ramdas stood his ground and did not bent the rule backward to accommodate his son and finally Ranjan did complete his 1st year MBBS in Dharwad Medical College. Dr Ramdas Pai did face some displeasure from his wife Sudha who took the cudgels on behalf of her son. But Ramdas Pai convinced Ranjan about the prudence of sticking by his principles telling him "You are inheriting my biggest asset – credibility. Ensure that you preserve it". That convinced Ranjan and he succeeded in convincing his mother and hence the issue did not cause much heartburn in the family. Though Ramdas Pai sometimes tells this to politicians who try to cajole him in giving a seat they fail to understand it and continue to pester him to give seats to their kith and kin.

Dwelling on the issue of the family feud that went on for 4 years in full public glare finally resulting in the split, Ramdas Pai says his cousin wanted to interfere in the allotment of medical seats which means Manipal would have become like any other college sacrificing its quality and reputation for the sake of money. Critics have been quick to point out that the model of capitation first introduced by KMC in 1953 is tantamount to selling degrees. However, he dismisses the criticism saying the system has provided them with an opportunity to create good infrastructure, faculty and provide quality education. At the same time he says unlike other institutions Manipal group of Institutions do not do any under-hand dealings. "We strictly go by the rules and regulations and go by the not-for-profit outlook", Ramdas Pai states.

Another achievement to the credit of Dr Ramdas Pai is that he has put the name of Manipal in the history of our legal system when in 2002 an 11-bench Supreme Court headed by then Chief Justice B N Kirpal in the now famous TMA Pai Foundation and Others vs the State of Karnataka and others pronounced a landmark judgment. The judgment provided that the state cannot interfere if the admission was on merit and a reasonable fee was being charged.

Going for PPP

Dr Ramdas Pai has also been a fervent proponent of public private partnership (PPP) in the field of higher education and healthcare. This policy paved the way for setting up of the Sikkim Manipal University of Health, Medical and Technological Sciences in Sikkim. Though the group wanted to spread its tentacles in other parts of the country like Rajasthan and Orissa the UGC acted as the spoilsport by procrastinating on the issue of granting permission. In Orissa the government passed an ordinance to this effect and the group has plans to start its campus from next year. It has got invitation from the governments of Maharashtra and Gujarat also. Dr Pai says "in the next five years Manipal group will be an important player in any government sector. Today there are many Indians who are abroad and the purchasing power of many is much more than those in India. They are looking towards their mother country for educating their children for which they will be able to pay unlike in other countries where the cost is much higher. We can easily give them what they are looking for. Our objective is to provide quality education at a reasonable cost". The admissions to the institutions are on merit and Dr Pai does not interfere in admission matteRs The fee structure is clearly delineated and there is no scope for under-the-table dealings.

Dr Pais says the Manipal group goes by the system merit cum means and believes that those who are able to pay should pay. Giving an example of AIIM, he says according to a survey majority of the students who get admission in AIIMs belong to affluent sections of the society who can afford to pay. Manipal group therefore adheres to the policy of merit cum means. Apart from this Dr Pai has channelized his philanthropic activities through Manipal Foundation which pursues diverse developmental activities from offering scholarship to running unique maternal and child welfare homes for the rural population of the region. The ‘Manipal Arogya Card’ has been a trendsetter in this part of the country as far as health insurance scheme is concerned.

Work Goes on

He is shuttling between Manipal and Bangalore and other places where the group has its campuses. His two daughters Rakha and Shaila are settled. Son Dr Ranjan Pai has been instrumental in the corporatization and also ushering in professionalism apart from seeking new avenues of growth. Wife Sudha has played an equally stellar role in his achievements.

Dr Pai is the true personification of humanity, vision, charity, commitment to the society and to the people. He has traversed through a tough terrain but did not compromise on the principles which have been dearer to his heart and which guided him all through these years in his quest to create world-class health care and education. Dr Ramdas Pai has played an archetypal role in shaping and institutionalizing the model of inclusive growth as well as striving to create a special place for the country in the annals of history in education and health care.

One hopes he will be able bring more laurels to the country in the coming decade where new policies by the government are expected to explode in the field of education and healthcare.

He is celebrating his birthday on Saturday September 17, and let me wish him a very happy birthday.


Florine Roche Recent Archives:

Florine Roche
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Comment on this article

  • Dr Ambarish Padhee, Bhubaneswar

    Mon, Aug 13 2012

    My life had a u turn after an deades stay in KMC Manipal

  • Satish , Manipal

    Sat, Mar 10 2012

    Inspirational/Mentor a human god is Dr Pai.

  • Dr.Bastian T S MDS, MBA, Mangalore

    Wed, Sep 21 2011

    "Dr Ramdas Pai has been instrumental in making Manipal a force to reckon with metamorphosing it into a leading player in the healthcare and education sector in the country. ".That's very true.I appreciate his vision and commitment.The ‘Manipal Arogya Card’ is a boon for thousands of poor people in south kanara.May almighty bless him.

  • Dr S Kamath, Mumbai

    Mon, Sep 19 2011

    Great Personality Dr Ramadas Pai .It is a Great Joy to think about you as the Pioneer in the Field of Medical Education in India and world .The Most Beuutiful part of Dr Ramdas Pai s Life which is not written about here in much detail is his very simple Life style But Very High thinking which is Ideal for many business men in India

  • manoj,

    Mon, Sep 19 2011

    commendable achivement by both father and son...highly applaudable..i have a question..why not they return something to Dharwad from where both of them obatined their basic doctor degree...hope they establish some fine colleges in Dharwad.

  • vasudha saralaya, mangalore

    Mon, Sep 19 2011

    A very well written piece on the illustrious Dr. Ramdas Pai. He is responsible for providing an opportunity to the students to avail of the world class facilities in the field of education which has benefitted them immensely.Not only that, he has also provided employment to a sizeable number of people.Belated Happy Birthday to you, Sir.

  • Saleem Javed, Malpe

    Sun, Sep 18 2011

    Leader par Excellence .

  • oliver machado, udupi/ sharjah

    Sat, Sep 17 2011

    Tears of Sincere Gratitude and Appreciation for the man who has been a Divine Blessing for innumerable families. Dr. Ramdas Pai was a just and upright man.Infact the Pai family of Manipal were the only ones who were with unassuming capablities. Dr TMA Pai, TA Pai and Ramesh Pai were diligently working for the prosperity of the people of our nation. Long Live the Pai Dynasty
    with whose help many people rose to prosperity. The list of those prosperous people were not included in the article other than one,if so , I assume the list would be endless.

  • Dr Parag, Dharwad

    Sat, Sep 17 2011

    Great article... And Many Happy Returns of The Day Dr.Pai Sir...

  • Shilpa, Mangalore/Dubai

    Sat, Sep 17 2011

    Hatts off , to Dr . Ramdas pai !..I salute him for his acheivements !....Happy birthday , Dr.Ramdas.pai !

  • An alumnus and teacher at MU., Mangalore

    Sat, Sep 17 2011

    Salutations on the 76th birthday of Dr. Ramdas Pai, a benevolent gentleman and Chancellor of a University that I am proud to be a part of! Dr. Pai's simplicity and credibility are so rooted in ethics and values. Nothing can diminish the respect, admiration and high esteem with which we regard him.On this day, may the good Lord shower him with the grace and blessings he richly deserves.


    Sat, Sep 17 2011

    MANIPAL- is a brand name in the state,national and international arena in the field of education and banking.The legacy of TMA pai had been preserved with values and trust of millions.The instance of accountability is denying a MMBS seat for his own son (RAMDAS PAI'S)due to non qualification of std stipulated by his own firm.In long run definitely it will pay dividends.Once called a desert, Manipal, now a place for enlightenment for lakhs of students who were spread all over the world with plum excutive posts and responsibilities.

    Besides the spread of educational institutions all over DK and Udupi, its wings also are crossed Indian boundaries which is pride and a reason to celebrate being Mangalorean/Kannadiaga and Indian.Tributes to TMA PAI,TA PAI,and KK Pai for thier contribution in the developmental of the undivided DK/UDUPI. Finally, a salute to Dr Ramadas Pai, who is role model for young generations of India.

  • Louis Mendonca, Mudarangadi,Dist Udupi,

    Sat, Sep 17 2011

    I salute Manipal educational institutions,and I am very proud person, because my childrens got their education in this great almamater,and I wish all the success.

  • Prakash, Baidebettu/Kuwait

    Sat, Sep 17 2011

    very good article. proud to be a Tonse Pai fmily member. May Malshi bless us all


    Sat, Sep 17 2011

    Nice article, very informative. Thanks Florine.
    Dr. Ramdas pai infact dedicated his life towards creation of a world class healthcare and education infrastructure.

  • Vasant Raj, Udupi / Abudhabi.

    Sat, Sep 17 2011

    Very beautiful coverage, nice to see the Photos of Manipal,but wonderful 'End Point'location is missing.

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Title: Dr Ramdas Pai: Man Behind the Metamorphosis of Modern Manipal

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