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In Memoriam: K K Subrahmanian

This tribute to K K Subrahmanian, a profound scholar and a wonderful human being, who passed away on 16 October, commemorates his contributions as a teacher, adviser, innovator and a writer. His liberal approach towards sharing knowledge makes him stand head and shoulders above many in terms of the human capital he generated and the social capital he acquired.

COMMENTARY

In Memoriam: K K Subrahmanian

K J Joseph, P Mohanan Pillai

his active academic life in CDS as an Honorary Fellow.

During his long innings of 25 years in CDS, he contributed in manifold ways to the development of the centre – as a teacher and a mentor to many, as a member of the governing body, committee director,

This tribute to K K Subrahmanian, a profound scholar and a wonderful human being, who passed away on 16 October, commemorates his contributions as a teacher, adviser, innovator and a writer. His liberal approach towards sharing knowledge makes him stand head and shoulders above many in terms of the human capital he generated and the social capital he acquired.

K J Joseph (kjjoseph@cds.ac.in) and P Mohanan Pillai (mpillai@cds.ac.in) are with the Centre for Development Studies, Thiruvananthapuram.

T
he demise of K K Subrahmanian (known as KKS) in Thiruvananthapuram on 16 October, at the age of 76, after a fairly long and highly productive academic life, left a deeply felt sense of loss among his colleagues, friends and students. Though KKS had been suffering from ill-health for some time, he kept himself fully engaged in varied academic activities, and in a sense, he had hardly any life outside the world of scholarship. The commemoration meetings held in the Centre for Development Studies (CDS), Thiruvananthapuram, Sardar Patel Institute, Ahmedabad and Institute for Human Development, New Delhi, attracted a large number of his students, friends and colleagues. The participants in these meetings included some of his colleagues like Y K Alagh, S P Kashyap and Thomas Isaac (who delivered the commemoration address in CDS), who, apart from providing rich tributes to KKS (also known as Subu Saabu), remembered his passionate commitment to academic profession along with his genuine and sustained affection and concern for his colleagues, students and those with whom he closely associated. With the demise of KKS, we have lost a profound scholar and a wonderful human being.

Teacher and Mentor

Born in Thrissur district of Kerala in 1933, KKS left for Mumbai after his school education. He did PhD at Bombay University under the supervision of D T Lakdawala on foreign capital and technology in India. He started his professional life as the deputy director in the ministry of industry, government of India and worked with the Industrial Licensing Enquiry Committee chaired by R K Hazari. Later, he joined the Sardar Patel Institute of Economic and Social Research, from where he resigned from the post of director and joined CDS in 1984 as a professor. Even after retirement from CDS he continued

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to mention a few. His informal manner without compromising on quality made him dear to students and colleagues. It may not be an exaggeration to state that there was hardly any thesis in CDS that did not receive input from KKS. His ability to converse and interact freely with people at different levels was remarkable.

KKS served as a consultant to various international bodies such as the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), World Institutue for D evelopment Economic Research, Asian Development Bank and was a member/ chairman of various committees ap pointed both by the state and the central governments. Perhaps, his greatest contribution was in building the skills of the large number of students whom he nurtured. In fact, his house was always open for discussions and debates for his students and colleagues.

Seminal Contributions

It may be coincidental that KKS started his research on foreign capital and technology in India that turned out to be a pioneering work (Subrahmanian 1972) and the paper that he completed before his last breath also turned to be a survey paper on foreign direct investment (FDI) in India prepared for the CDS-UNCTAD research programme. It is thus evident that he sustained his interest on FDI and there is hardly any issue relating to FDI and d evelopment, which had not received his attention.

His “Import of Capital and Technology” was one of the early works that voiced concern on the very high cost of technology, and indiscriminate imports (repetitive multiple collaborations) at the cost of technology already generated within the country. KKS had initiated pioneering research in the area of technology import by focusing attention on imperfections and asymmetries in the international market for technology, monopolistic advantages of multinational corporations

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(MNCs), weak bargaining power of host developing countries, etc. He emphasised the need for developing indigenous technological capabilities in shaping and stimulating a ppropriate technical change. A related enquiry in recent years (with Pillai and Joseph) had been “whether or not foreign ownership” as such is a significant determinant of export performance of firms. The research findings concluded that such a hypothesis had a weak empirical foundation.

While being progressive, KKS was never dogmatic and he could change with changing times. Thus we find, the position of KKS on FDI and its role in Indian economy changed over the years. According to Subrahmanian, an open door policy on foreign investment, which is a critical component of ongoing Indian economic reforms, may attract FDI into the country, but may not necessarily meet with the envisaged policy goals. He also suggested that a policy approach of “selectivity” in liberalisation and integration with world economy based on an incentive structure of the market may serve better the interests of India.

In addition to various issues relating to FDI, he also worked on technology and innovation, issues relating to manufacturing industries in general, and in specific industries like chemical, electronics, capital goods and others. Other areas of his contribution included regional analysis, labour and employment and issues relating to Kerala’s development.

On regional analysis and labour, he collaborated during the initial years at Sardar Patel Institute of Economic and Social Research with colleagues such as Y K Alagh, S P Kashyap and T S Pappola. Yet another area wherein he made s eminal contributions, with implications for both theory and policy, was innovation and technological change. Here again one could see how KKS has been able to induct new thinking.

Technological Innovations

While technological self-reliance was underlined in the import substitution regime, KKS argued for viewing the techno logical context in a dynamic manner with an appropriate role for inhouse research and development and

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technology import. Here again he deserves the credit for producing some of the most known innovation scholars in India. What is remarkable to note is that he was able to sustain his interests and keep contributing to our stock of knowledge in all these areas.

On regional analysis, his book Regional Industrial Growth under Economic Liberalisation (2003) dealt with industrial d evelopment in regional perspective with a special focus on southern Indian states. In the sphere of innovation and technology, his book (jointly with Suresh Babu), Innovation in Indian Industry is under the process of publication. His interests in i ndustry-specific studies are evident from his book on the handicraft industry in Kerala (2006).

Kerala’s Development

With respect to Kerala’s development, KKS had a perspective of his own. His work on Kerala’s industrial performance jointly with P Mohanan Pillai disproved some of the conventional notions that then prevailed. The study called for an industrial restructuring with a focus on industries that are footloose and technologyintensive in tune with the resource endowment of Kerala. A study of Kerala’s electronics with K J Joseph brought to light some of the limits to Kerala’s strategy for hi-tech industries. He made immense contribution towards Kerala’s development through his intellectual input for decentralised development, as a member of the Administrative Reforms Commission, as adviser to the Planning Board and chairman of the Expenditure Review Committees and various policy-oriented research that he undertook.

An overview of his contributions, though not exhaustive, becomes all the more remarkable when considered against his very humble beginning. The authors of this note, fortunate to be groomed by him, and who later, had the opportunity to be his colleagues, experienced his liberal a pproach towards sharing knowledge and experience. He stands head and shoulders above many in terms of the human capital he generated and the social capital he acquired.

References

Subrahmanian, K K (1972): Import of Capital and Technology: A Study of Foreign Collaboration in Indian Industry (New Delhi: Peoples Publishing House).

  • (2003): Regional Industrial Growth under Economic Liberalisation (New Delhi: Manak Publications).
  • (2006): The Handicrafts Industry in Kerala: Blending Heritage with Economics (New Delhi: Daanish Books).
  • Subrahmanain, K K and P Mohanan Pillai (1979): M ultinationals and Indian Exports (New Delhi: Allied Publishers).

    Subrahmanian, K K and Suresh Babu (forthcoming) Innovation in Indian Industry (New Delhi: M acmillan).

    V.V. Giri National Labour Institute, NOIDA
    Course on Quantitative Methods in Labour Research (February 8-19, 2010)

    V.V. Giri National Labour Institute, NOIDA invites applications from young researchers, teachers and faculty members in colleges, universities and research institutions to participate in a Course on Quantitative Methods in Labour Research during February 8-19, 2010. The objectives of the programme are to: (a) equip the participants with various quantitative research tools used in labour research;

  • (b) orient the participants on the major sources of data on labour; (c) familiarise the participants with major statistical packages used in labour research. No programme fee will be charged and the selected candidates would be paid secondclass sleeper Rail/Bus fare from their place of work to NOIDA. Minimum qualification for the applicants is a Masters Degree in Social Sciences, with some orientation on statistical and quantitative methods. The participants will be provided free boarding and lodging at the Institute’s Campus. Interested candidates may send their application with a brief C.V. to Mr. Anoop Kumar Satpathy, Course Director,
  • V. V. Giri National Labour Institute, Sector-24, NOIDA-201301, (0120-2411533-35; Ext: 205/238 Fax: 0120- 2411469,
  • E-mail: nerc.vvgnli@gmail.com. Last date for receiving application January 25, 2010

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