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A Mentor beyond D-School

 talk about market failure and so forth. He answered all my questions patiently, but we remained on opposite sides of the divide. However, he had a deep commitment to empirical rigour and to a careful, minute scrutiny of data, and thus, would not accept an argument simply because of its laissez-faire stance. I noticed this on several occasions, but recall a recent incident vividly. Early this year, there was a conference in Delhi with extremely high-profile participants. Tendulkar was the discussant for a paper on India



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A Mentor beyond D-School S Mahendra Dev former course. He combined theory and models (e g, the seminal paper by Arthur Lewis in 1954 “Economic Development with Unlimited Supplies of Labour”) with empirical analysis of Indian data. As is

y association with Suresh Tendulkar dates back to 1978 when I joined the Delhi School of Econo mics as a doctoral student. Although by that time Amartya Sen, Jagdish Bhagwati, Pranab Bardhan and some others had left, D-School still had outstanding faculty. The list in 1978 included, among others, Sukhamoy Chakravarthy, A L Nagar, Kaushik Basu, Mrinal Datta Chaudhuri, K L Krishna, Bhaskar Dutta, Dharma Kumar, Om Prakash, K Sundaram, V N Pandit, Pulin Nayak, and Ashok Lahiri.

Economic & Political Weekly

august 6, 2011

Suresh Tendulkar joined D-School in August 1978. He was one of my mentors during my days as a doctoral student, and also during much of my life after D-School. I used to consult him not just on issues in economics, but also regarding my career options.

‘Knowledge Cannot Be Stolen’

Suresh Tendulkar taught courses on economic development and planning (later policy) in India and industrial economics. I attended some of his classes on the

vol xlvI no 32

well known, he was very meticulous with data analysis and his clarity of thought was reflected in his teaching. One of his students told me that he did not hesitate to change his opinion on growth particularly after the introduction of reforms. Earlier, he taught about the five-year plans and during the Sixth Plan (1980-85), he particularly concentra ted on redistribution of the same pie. But later, during the 1990s, his focus shifted to increasing the pie and redistribution. He always had time for students to discuss the various aspects of economic development in India. Many of his students


who are now in academia and the government tell me that they benefited a lot from his lectures at D-school. He used to tell me, “knowledge cannot be stolen” and that it should be shared with everyone. In one of the years during my stay at the D-School, students ranked the faculty, and if I remember correctly, Tendulkar was among the top, along with Raj Krishna, A L Nagar, Mrinal Datta Chaudhuri and Kaushik Basu.

The Poverty Debates

The subject of my MPhil thesis was industrial productivity, and I used to interact with Suresh Tendulkar on issues relating to this topic. For my PhD, I worked in the area of agriculture and poverty across regions in the country. Although he was not my official supervisor, he meticulously went through handwritten chapters of my thesis four or five times. I benefited immensely from our discussions, particularly on issues related to poverty. K Sundaram and Suresh Tendulkar had written several joint papers on trends in poverty, its determinants, and poverty alleviation programmes. Both personally worked on the data using a simple calculator till the mid-1980s. Some people thought that Sundaram-Tendulkar was one name!

Tendulkar believed that higher economic growth would reduce poverty because of several effects such as productive employment generation and increase in the tax-GDP ratio, which can be spent on social sectors such as health and education. I had a few differences with him on the manner in which economic reforms were implemented, and I argued that it could have been much more broad-based (what we now call “inclusive growth”). He took my comments in the right spirit and argued the case for more reforms to have a higher growth and to reduce poverty. On the measurement of poverty, he would tell me that any poverty line approach was arbitrary, but that as long as we followed the same procedure consistently, it would be useful for comparison purposes. He believed that reduction in absolute poverty was more important for countries like India in spite of an increase in inequality in the initial stages.

In addition to his distinguished academic career, Suresh Tendulkar was at the forefront of several high-level policymaking bodies under the government, such as the Disinvestment Commission, the Fifth Pay Commission, the National Statistical Commission, the National Sample Survey Organisation, and member and chairman of the prime minister’s Economic Advisory Council. During my term at the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices, I met him frequently in the years 2008-10. He advised me to act independently, and encouraged me to explore the possibilities of international comparisons of costs of production and prices of different crops and compare them with those of India.

A Source of Inspiration

As a person, the qualities that distinguished Suresh Tendulkar were his


intellectual integrity, simplicity and humility. He used a two-wheeler – Bajaj Chetak – which I borrowed sometimes. He was open to argument and always tried to help students, scholars and institutions. As mentioned earlier, I also consulted him regarding my career options. When I was offered a job in the Planning Commission after my PhD at D-school, he advised me to join the Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research (IGIDR) in Mumbai. He was straightforward and not diplomatic in putting forth solutions to the problems of the economy. He did not want to earn fame by offering populist prescriptions. My last meeting with him was at a conference organised by the IGIDR in honour of Kirit Parikh. He was patient enough to give suggestions on each paper that was presented at the conference. He was to visit IGIDR at leisure some time later, but unfortunately, that was not to be.

I learnt a lot from my interactions with Tendulkar in the last three decades. He was a source of inspiration to many of us in our work and personal lives. As Prime Minister Manmohan Singh rightly put it, “his work on poverty was path-breaking and will continue to guide and inspire the coming generations of economists”.

S Mahendra Dev (profmahendra@gmail.com) is at the Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research, Mumbai.




august 6, 2011 vol xlvI no 32

Economic & Political Weekly

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