Internationally acclaimed economist (1933-2018)

Thirukodikaval Nilakantha Srinivasan, the acclaimed economist who breathed his last on 11 November 2018, did his Masters in Mathematics, and given his penchant for statistics aimed to become a statistician. He even completed his BSc. (Honours) and post-graduation in Maths from the Madras University, and also had the benefit of training in Statistics in the Indian Institute of Statistics, Kolkata.

However, he turned into a full-fledged economist after acquiring a PhD from the reputed Yale University in the US. In 1980, he migrated to the US, and since then had been working and teaching there.  His tenure as an understudy to Prof. Koopman who later won the Nobel Prize,  enabled him to get a good grounding in subjects like Operations Research and Linear Programming.  He also taught at various prestigious institutions over a period of four decades, and these included MIT, Stanford University, and statistical institutes in India. But for a major part of his long career, he was involved with Yale University. Srinivasan was a visiting fellow at the Centre for Research on Economic Development and Policy Reform at Stanford, and was also a Fellow of the Econometric Society, American Academy of Arts and Sciences at the American Philosophical Society. Another feather in his cap was his appointment as a Special Advisor at the Development Research Centre of the World Bank from 1977-80. He was also an Emeritus Samuel C. Parks Jr. Economics Professor at Yale University.

Srinivasan made significant contributions in several fields including economic growth and development economics, and was equally proficient in the sphere of international trade as well. He was also active in policy debates concerning India, and along with other renowned economists like Jagdish Bhagwati and Padma Desai, was actively involved in laying the intellectual groundwork for India’s economic reforms. 

Srinivasan who also served as a foreign associate of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA, was the Founding Editor of the Journal of Development Economics, World Economic Review, and the Journal of Quantitative Economics. He was a prolific writer as well, contributing to various journals on diverse subjects like econometrics, world trade and developing country economics. Many of the books that he co-authored with other writers were best sellers and these included inter alia, India’s Economic Policy (with Jagdish Bhagwati) and Re-Integrating India with World Economy (with Suresh Tendulkar). Srinivasan’s other works like Growth, Sustainability and India’s Economic Reforms – 2011 and Economic Reform in India: Challenges, prospects and lessons, too were authentic treatises on the subject concerned. A four column handbook of Development Economics that Srinivasan authored in collaboration with Hollis Chenery, is considered a landmark on the subject. Bhagwati and Srinivasan also brought out another book Indian Foreign Trade Regimes and Economic Development. This work was commissioned by the National Bureau of Economic Research, New Delhi, and the tome contains a storehouse of information for policy makers, analysts, and others.

Srinivasan’s outstanding scholarship and his principled belief in growth, free trade, and multilateralism, made him a force to reckon with in the field of world economics. An unassuming individual who never craved for public recognition, Srinivasan was a guru and mentor to a number of budding economists, one of them being former Governor of the RBI, Dr. Urijit Patel. A Padma Bhushan awardee (2007), Srinivasan who passed away at the age of 85, has left behind a rich legacy of outstanding scholarship, principled belief in growth, free trade, and multilateralism. A regular participant in conferences and seminars across the world, he also regaled his contemporaries with his sense of wit and humour. In an eloquent tribute, his alma mater hailed him as a vital and influential voice for Indian economic reform. Through his intellect and his passion he helped shape economic policies that improved the lives of hundreds of millions of people. Verily, his entire lifetime was spent productively and was studded with prolific contributions to knowledge and policy making that are certain to stand the test of time, and serve as a beacon to economists across the world.

C.V. Aravind

The writer is a Bangalore-based freelance journalist.