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Dr N A Mujumdar: In Memoriam - Outside View by S.S. TARAPORE

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Dr N A Mujumdar: In Memoriam
Apr 21, 2014

Dr Narasinh Annaji Mujumdar (NAM to his close associates), the renowned economist, passed away on April 6, 2014 at the age of 84. Dr Mujumdar had a phenomenal career. He completed his PhD from the School of Economics, Mumbai University, in 1957. His thesis on 'Some Problems of Underemployment: An Analytical Study of Underemployment in the Agricultural Sector' was lauded by leading economists of the day and was published as his first book. He was awarded the Nuffield Fellowship at Oxford University in 1959.

Early years in the RBI

On his return to India in 1960, he joined the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) as Research Officer, but his reputation had preceded him and he was much sought after by his seniors. Within a few years of his joining the RBI, he published a path-breaking paper on 'Monetisation in the Agricultural Sector.'

Soon after the Indo-Chinese war of 1962, Joan Robinson, the doyen economist from Cambridge, on a visit to the RBI, berated the top RBI economists for not stepping up the then three per cent growth rate to 6 per cent. Dr Mujumdar could not take it any longer and he took the floor to explain that it was not a question of 'willing' a higher growth rate, but of ensuring adequate supply of inputs required to attain a higher growth rate. For once Robinson was silenced and appreciated Dr Mujumdar's contribution to the debate.

International recognition

International recognition shortly followed, as he was seconded to the Central Bank of Zambia as Adviser in 1967. The International Monetary Fund ( IMF) sought his services and he was the only RBI officer to be deputed to central banks in five different countries - Zambia, Mauritius, Tanzania, Belize and Cambodia - a record unmatched by anyone else in the RBI.

Vital role

In the RBI, Dr Mujumdar was on the fast track to promotion and rose to Principal Adviser, Department of Economic Analysis and Policy. His views held sway in the 1970s and the early 1980s. His philosophical ancestor was Nicolas Kaldor.

Governors M Narasimham, I G Patel and Manmohan Singh, all had great respect for his views. Dr Patel and Dr Manmohan Singh would, on occasions, refrain from taking certain measures in deference to the views of Dr Mujumdar, whom they called the 'High Priest of Policy.'

The 1981-82 liquidity bind

Commentators today freely talk of a liquidity crunch, the moment there is the slightest measure of monetary tightening. The 1981-82 liquidity bind was unprecedented. Policy interest rates were raised sharply and stringent liquidity stipulations were prescribed. The money market was tight, rediscounting of bills by the RBI was discontinued and discretionary refinance was severely curtailed. In internal discussions, Dr Mujumdar argued that the monetary tightening could be milder. But once the policy was decided and had to be implemented, such was Dr Patel's faith in Dr Mujumdar that he entrusted the operation of monetary policy entirely to him and gave him unfettered freedom to execute the policy within the framework of the broad parameters. Dr Mujumdar executed the policy with total dedication.

Nurturing younger economists

He took great pains to see that the younger economists under him were given proper guidance and space to develop. He had the unique skill of making each of his disciples feel that they had his special and exclusive attention. On a personal note, I cannot fully express my deep sense of gratitude for Dr Mujumdar's guidance, blessings and support at crucial phases of my career in the RBI. Dr Rangarajan, who had basic policy differences with Dr Mujumdar, would often remind us that "none of you can write like Dr Mujumdar."

Post-retirement work

After retiring from the RBI in 1988, Dr Mujumdar undertook prodigious work in the public domain. He was Editor of the 'Indian Journal of Agricultural Economics' from 1987 until he passed away. He wrote periodic columns successively in the Economic Times, the Hindu Businessline and for the past three years, in the Free Press Journal. He also delivered a large number of lectures and wrote a number of books, which were published by the Academic Foundation. His latest book, Reinventing Development Economics: Exploration from the Indian Experiment (2014), published by the Academic Foundation was released a few days after his demise.

Mujumdar, the man

While his achievements in the field of economics and central banking are legendary, these pale into insignificance in the light of the sterling qualities of Dr Mujumdar, the human being. He was essentially a family man. But apart from his nuclear family there was a very wide family whom he had adopted and it was a privilege for the present writer to have been part of this wider family. He never refused help to anyone who asked for it. More importantly, he would provide help to even those who would not ask for it because he was convinced that they needed help. Our guru has departed, but "to live in the hearts of those who love is not to die."

Please Note: This article was first published in The Freepress Journal on April 21, 2014. Syndicated.

This column, Common Voice is authored by Savak Sohrab Tarapore. Mr. Tarapore, is an economist and he runs his own Multi-Language Syndicated Column. Mr. Tarapore's other column, which appears in The Hindu Business Line, is titled Maverick View.

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