A J Patrick pays tribute to a towering Malaysian, the late Tan Sri B C Sekhar, who not only advanced research into natural rubber but was also extremely concerned about plantation workers.
The recent passing of Tan Sri B C Sekhar was a sad moment for this nation. The late Tan Sri Sekhar was a beacon that graced the Malaysian shore. From the time he joined the Rubber Research Institute of Malaya (PRIM) until the time of his passing, he devoted his life to the advancement of research and development in natural rubber. From a young researcher, he moved on to become the Director of the RRIM and ended his illustrious public career as Controller of Rubber Research and Chairman of the Malaysian Rubber Research and Development Board (MRRDB), the first Malaysian to hold both these positions. Throughout this journey and even thereafter, he remained undoubtedly the strongest advocate of the techno-economic superiority of natural rubber.
Among the many contributions made by Tan Sri Sekhar in his research endeavours, the Standard Malaysian Rubber(SMR) Scheme that he engineered and promoted in the late Sixties and early Seventies stands out most significantly. He pioneered numerous innovations and spearheaded various other research programmes, but in all those endeavours he did not forget those whose lives depended on natural rubber. He was actively involved in the international price-stabilisation scheme for rubber and, in the prcess, helped to better the lives of the smallholders and rural poor in Malaysia and other natural rubber-producing countries.
As an administrator, Tan Sri Sekhar also played a decisive role in the wage negotiations to convert the daily wage of RRIM plantation workers into a monthly wage in April 1983. This was at a time when the owners of plantation companies were still bent on keeping their workers on daily-rated wages while they raked in millions of ringgit.
One of his oft-repeated quotes to officials of the Union was “I will take care of the tree while you take care of the man under the tree, but remember that if there is no tree there will be no man underneath it”. He eventually took care of both. Today, the plantation workers in RRI enjoy not only monthly wages but also pension rights and gratuity benefits calculated from the initial date of the workers’ date of employment.
In September 2005, when attempts were being made in the Master Plan to develop the Rubber Research Institute Experiment Station in Sungai Buloh, Tan Sri made an impassioned plea to the authorities to consider alloting an acre of land to all pioneer Plantation Rubber Research Institute progenies. These progenies would be second and third generations, i.e. the father or mother being worker at the Station or RRIM, and their son or daughter continuing to be employed at the Station or RRIM. Honouring Tan Sri’s plea would indeed be a tribute to him.
Tan Sri Sekhar was not only an eminent scientist, but also a devoted sports enthuasiast. He ensured that the RRI recruited sportsmen and sportswomen without compromising the standard and quality of research. When the Rubber Research Institute Recreation Club was formed in 1965, Tan Sri was responsible for allocating one of the RRIM bungalows as its clubhouse, and the Board granted an annual grant for the operational expenditure of the club.
During his tenure as Director and later Chairman of the Board, the Club was a formidable force in sports in Malaysia, particularly in hockey, cricket and badminton. The 1975 Hockey World Cup bears witness to Tan Sri’s contribution to sports when four hockey players from the RRI donned national colours and steered Malaysia to fourth position, a ranking we have not since attained. In cricket, in the seventies and eighties, the Club had at least five national players and several state players.
Shortly before his passing, Tan Sri Sekhar was in the forefront to prevent the Tun Abdul Razak Research Centre (TARRC) in Brickendonbury, England, being turned into a Sports Centre. Although he always remained a sports enthuasiast, he opposed any form of construction on the TARRC site that would change the nature and character of this renowned research facility. He argued that the TARRC was the centre of research for natural rubber applications and for good reason this centre had to be located in one of the industrialised countries. What better place than Brickendonbury where we have an established Natural Rubber research facility. With his passing, we sincerely hope that the Government will see the wisdom of his words and abandon all attempts to convert the TARRC into a Sports Centre. It would be a fitting tribute to this great Malaysian.
One can continue to write volumes about the contributions of this great icon. But sadly, after his retirement in 1984, the powers-that-be never found a way to continue to tap his wealth of knowledge and expertise. He, however, continued the journey on his own and, using his own words, “contributed his prepared and motivated mind” to all those within Malaysia as well as the rest of the world who sought his expertise.
The nation owes a debt of gratitude to Tan Sri Sekhar. Saluting him, we stand together with many others, among whom are those who were fortunate to have worked with him, those who were acquainted with him as well as those who knew him.
He was indeed a truly great son of Malaysia.
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