Longtime Water Resources Engineer in India, Thomas Dies at 97

Kandathil Chacko (K.C.) Thomas, a designer and builder of dams in India as well as an international water resources consultant, has died. He was 97.

Photo of Kandathil Chacko (K.C.) Thomas

Thomas was chairman of the Indian government’s Central Water Commission from 1949 to 1980, after starting as an assistant engineer and being assigned to various other organizations over his career with the CWC. 

He was the first to receive a doctorate of science degree in civil engineering from the Carnegie Institute of Technology, graduating near the top of his class in 1948. This was quite an achievement given that only a few years earlier he was, as he once said, “running around barefoot in a small village in Kerala,” in India.

After Carnegie Tech, Thomas headed west from Pittsburgh to visit noted dam sites, including the Grand Coulee Dam and dams built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Returning to India, he worked as executive engineer on the Hirakud Dam in Orissa; as reader and then senior professor at the Water Resources Development Training Centre in Roorkee; as chief engineer, member, and then chairman of the Himachal Pradesh State Electricity Board; and as general manager of the Chukha Hydro Electric Project in Bhutan.

He became a chief technical adviser for the United Nations from 1983 to 1987 and was involved in early-stage work on a water resource development project in Kenya. This was alongside consultant work that continued until 2014. Among his clients were the World Bank, the U.N., and various Indian water resources development departments and organizations. He was among a panel of experts for all reservoir projects of the Karnataka Power Corporation, and chairman of a World Bank-sponsored Dams Safety Review Panel for the rehabilitation of 20 reservoir projects of the Madhya Pradesh Water Resources Department. 

Such was his esteem that although he had retired from personal visits to project sites, engineers at power projects from the Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka and Kerala State Electricity Boards continued to visit him at his residence for further advice. 

Thomas was a Life Member of ASCE and also active with the Indian Institute of Engineers.


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