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Suresh Tendulkar: An Economist's Life

An outstanding academician with an enviable publication record and a public servant of enormous personal integrity, Suresh D Tendulkar (1939-2011) was also a warm friend, an excellent colleague, and, above all, a great human being. A record of his life and work, and tributes by his friends, colleagues and students.


Suresh Tendulkar: An Economist’s Life

K Sundaram

“Analysis of Occupational Differences in Consumer Expenditure Patterns” in Sankhya in 1973. However, it was a series of papers that offered a trenchant critique of the Fifth Five-Year Plan – notably a two-part paper in the 12 January and 19 January 1974 issues of the Economic & Political Weekly – that

An outstanding academician with an enviable publication record and a public servant of enormous personal integrity, Suresh D Tendulkar (1939-2011) was also a warm friend, an excellent colleague, and, above all, a great human being. A record of his life and work, and tributes by his friends, colleagues and students.

K Sundaram ( is with the Centre for Development Economics, Delhi School of Economics.

uresh Dhondopant Tendulkar was born on 15 February 1939 in Kolhapur, Maharashtra. He was the youngest of five siblings with three elder brothers and one elder sister. Moving to Pune at the tender age of eight months, Suresh completed his schooling from Perugate Bhave School, Pune. He went on to complete his bachelor’s degree in commerce with a first class first from the Brihan Maharashtra College of Commerce, University of Pune in 1960.

In 1960, Suresh joined the MA Economic Statistics course at the Delhi School of Economics. Here, he was taught, among others, by K L Krishna. Thus began a lifelong association between Krishna and Suresh. Suresh completed his master’s degree in 1962 again with a first class first from the University of Delhi. In January 1968, Suresh obtained his PhD in Economics from Harvard University for his thesis on “Some Experiments in Multi-Sectoral Planning Model for India”, with H S Houthakkar and H B Chenery as his supervisors.

On returning to India, Suresh joined the Planning Unit of the Indian Statistical Institute (ISI) in September 1968. In January 1971, he married Sunetra (nee Pramodini Nadgauda). Their two daughters, Juee and Saee were born in 1972 and 1977. On a twoyear leave of absence from ISI, Suresh worked as an Economist in the Development Research Centre of the World Bank in Washington DC and returned to ISI Delhi in August 1976 as full professor. He was with the ISI till mid-1978.

Over the decade or so of his association with the ISI, Suresh published a number of important papers including, among others, on “Interaction between Domestic and Foreign Resources in Economic Growth: Some Experiments for India” in Studies in Development Planning, a 1971 Harvard University Press volume edited by H B Chenery and others. With L R Jain, he published

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brought Suresh Tendulkar to the limelight. It is indeed a commentary on the independence of institutions at that time that this critique was penned while the Planning Unit of the ISI was still located in Yojana Bhavan.

In August 1978, Suresh Tendulkar was invited by the University of Delhi to join the department of economics, Delhi School of Economics, as a professor. About the same time, I had rejoined the department as a reader after a two-year stint with the Planning Unit of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, New Delhi. It was my privilege to have been associated with Suresh in developing the curriculum for and teaching the compulsory course on the Indian economy, currently titled “Economic Development and Policy in I ndia”. Except for a two-year break when I was away between October 1990 and September 1992, Suresh and I offered this course from 1978 till 2004 when Suresh retired from the department. Despite being a full professor with a formidable reputation, while I had just become a reader, there was total collegiality. In the initial years of the development of the course, he would readily sit in when I lectured in the course. Till the very end, treating all his colleagues as equals remained his defining characteristic.

Suresh Tendulkar served the Delhi School of Economics with great distinction from August 1978 right till 14 February 2004 when he retired from the University of Delhi. Between 1981 and 1986, Suresh was the managing editor of the department’s journal Indian Economic Review. He served as the head of the department of economics from January 1986 to January 1989 and as the director of the Delhi School of Economics from September 1995 to September 1998. Between August 2000 and February 2004, Suresh Tendulkar served as the executive director of the C entre for Development Economics (CDE), Delhi School of Economics. He remained

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an active member of the CDE till the very end. Over and beyond all the positions he held, what stood out was Suresh’s deep love for and commitment to the Delhi School of Economics as an institution.

Suresh Tendulkar was an outstanding academician with a truly enviable publication record. He authored two major books – Reintegrating India with the World Economy, with T N Srinivasan, and Understanding Reforms Post-1991 India, with T A Bhavani. Suresh also wrote close to 100 research papers and reports. These covered a wide range of subjects from “Press as a Public Utility” (New Quest, March-April 1983) to “An Approach towards Integrating Large and Small Scale Surveys” in the Pranab Bardhanedited 1989 volume Conversations between Economists and Anthropologists: Methodological Issues in Measuring Economic Change in Rural India. Our journey as co-authors began with a piece on “Prospects for Industrial Growth in Sixth Plan” in 1983, followed by “Approach to the Seventh Plan: An Appraisal” (1984), both in the Economic Times.

It would, however, be fair to say that the measurement and analysis of living standards in India, with a focus on inequality and poverty, was the dominant theme of his academic work. Suresh wrote a series of papers with L R Jain on the “Inter-temporal and Inter-fractile Group Movements in Real Level of Living for Rural and Urban Population of India”, the “Role of Growth and Distribution in the Observed Changes in Head Count Ratio Measure of Poverty” and “An Analysis of Inter-state and Inter-commodity-Group Rural-Urban Consumer Price Indices in India: 1983 to 1988-89”. With B S Minhas as an additional co-author, Jain and Suresh also wrote “Rural and Urban Cost of Living: 1983 to 1987-88, State-wise and All-India”.

On inequality, he wrote, “Economic Inequality: Indian Perspective” in the Andre Beteille-edited 1983 Oxford University Press (OUP) volume Equality and Inequa lity: Theory and Practice. Suresh’s most recent piece on inequality was his paper on “Inequality and Equity during Rapid Growth Process” in the Shankar Acharya and Rakesh Mohan-edited Indian’s Economy: Performance and Challenges: Essays in Honour of Montek Singh Ahluwalia, published in 2010 by OUP. We also have his numerous papers and reports on poverty in India, many of which were carried by

Economic & Political Weekly

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the Economic & Political Weekly, in which I was privileged to be Suresh’s co-author. All his papers were marked by meticulous attention to detail, and an insistence on a thorough review of the database and great care in the use of data.

Concern for Data Quality

This concern for data quality led Suresh to a lifelong involvement with the data generation process. He contributed enormously to the development of the Indian statistical system as it exists today. Besides serving in numerous working groups for the design and conduct of several rounds of the National Sample Surveys, Suresh was a member and then chair of the governing council of the National Sample Survey Organisation. He also played an important role as a member and subsequently as chair of the National Accounts Advisory Committee and as a member of the Steering Committee on Industrial Statistics. He was a member of the National Statistical Commission chaired by C Rangarajan and subsequently was the first chairperson of the newly constituted National Statistical Commission from July 2006 to 2009. Through this period, he also chaired the Steering Committee on National Sample Surveys.

As a member of the 1993 Expert Group on Estimation of Proportion and Number of Poor chaired by D T Lakadawala, and, more recently, as chair of the Expert Group to Review the Methodology for Estimation of Poverty (also known as the Tendulkar Committee), Suresh helped shape the methodology adopted by the Indian Planning Commission to count the poor. The Tendulkar Committee recommendations mark a clear break from the past in explicitly moving away from the calorie norms that anchored the original official poverty line at 1973-74 prices. As Deaton and Dreze (“Food and Nutrition in India: Facts and Interpretations”, Econo mic & Political Weekly, 14 February 2009) have convincingly argued, there are in fact very good reasons not to treat calorie intake as an anchor for setting or adjusting poverty lines.

Recently, there has been some criticism of the poverty line for 2004-05 derived by the Tendulkar Committee on the grounds that it was too low. In his paper on “Poverty in Asia and the Pacific: Conceptual Issues and National Approaches to Measurement”,

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co-authored with me, in the December 1993 Economic Bulletin for Asia and the Pacific, Suresh had articulated his position on the absolute poverty line (p 45):

The absolute poverty line is not the aggregation of expenditure needed for purchasing the commodities and services required for fulfilling all the basic needs. This follows from the problems of objective norm specification as well as those of aggregation across interdependent basic needs….and from the fact that households are not uniform in their composition, tastes and location across climatic conditions. There is therefore an inherent and irreducible element of arbitrariness in the specification of the absolute poverty line and [there is] no alternative but to treat it as broadly representing a “low enough yet reasonable ‘minimum living standard’ ”.

The Tendulkar Committee sought to approximate the “reasonableness” criterion by using the all-India urban headcount ratio in 2004-05 (the uniform reference period) as the starting point of its calculations, noting that the latter was not perceived as being “too low”. It is important to underline the idea of “low enough”, for it is always possible to specify a poverty line such that three-fourths or more of the all-India population would be below it. That, however, would rob the concept of poverty of any operational cutting edge in policy formulation and implementation.

Suresh also played an important role in policy formulation as a member of the Fifth Central Pay Commission, as a member of the Disinvestment Commission, and a member of the High-level Expert Committee for Formulating Long-Term Grain Policy. This phase of his involvement in public policymaking culminated in his becoming first a member, and subsequently, the chairman of the Prime Minister’s Economic Advisory Council, from August 2008 to August 2009.

In all his assignments in the diverse councils, commissions and committees, Suresh put in tremendous amounts of time and effort, and, above all, brought to all of them an enormous personal integrity. As a public servant, he drew a clear and sharp line to separate his public life from his personal life. To illustrate, a half-day’s work on a committee or commission to him meant that he would not use the officially provided transport for any personal work in the other half of the day and travel by a Delhi Transport Corporation bus instead.


Away from the public domain, Suresh formed deep and enduring friendships which extended to friends’ families. Deeply attached to his own family, he and Sunetra were blessed with one that was extremely well-knit. They truly rejoiced in one another’s success while being ever ready to offer support and comfort in times of stress. When Sunetra and Suresh organised an exhibition of cartoons and sketches by

his brother Mangesh Tendulkar in early February this year, their affection for his brother was visible to all of us who were fortunate to see the gifted artist’s work. Towards the end of April this year, while in Pune to attend a family wedding, Suresh Tendulkar was diagnosed as having multiple artery blockages and had to undergo an emergency bypass surgery. While in the inten sive care unit, he contracted a lung infection. After fighting a valiant battle for close to two months, he passed away peacefully on 21 June 2011 in Pune. Suresh was a warm friend, an excellent colleague, and, above all, a great human being. My family and I and his numerous friends, colleagues and students will all miss him deeply. We deeply mourn this loss and offer our heartfelt condol ences to his wife Sunetra and his daughters, Juee and Saee, and other members of the family.
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