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Dr. Bagicha Singh Minhas

Dr. Bagicha Singh Minhas was a brilliant economist and down to earth policy analyst. He was an unimpeachable character, had integrity and was never afraid to speak his mind. Dr Minhas received the Padma Bhushan Award in 2003 for science and engineering. The Financial Express Award for economics 1999 was presented to Minhas at the Annual Conference of the Indian Economic Association held at Amritsar on December 27, 1999. Dr Minhas was a co-author of a pioneering article driving the constant elasticity of substitution production function and demonstrating its econometric uses.

Professor Minhas was born in Punjab in 1929 into a Sikh family. He obtained BSc Agriculture from Khalsa College Amritsar and a Master degree in Economics from Punjab University Chandigarh. He went to the USA for higher studies and obtained another Master degree from the University of Illinois and a PhD in Economics from Stanford University. He taught economics at Stanford University as an Assistant Professor, but later returned to India as a Research Professor and became Head of the Planning Division at the Indian Statistical Institute from 1971 to 1986.

Dr Minhas was a member of the Indian Planning Commission from 1971-1973 and simultaneously also a member of the Finance Commission in 1972-1973. He worked on the planning strategy as well as financial analysis. Minhas worked as a consultant to the World Bank at Washington D. C. and the Statistic and Survey Division of the Food and Agricultural Organisation (Rome). In 1976-1978, he worked as a Senior Fellow at the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex in the Uk and a little later, he held appointments as Visiting Professor at Johns Hopkins University and Ohio University. From 1981 to 1984, he served as a Secretary-General of the Afro- Asian Rural Reconstruction Organization and also Chairman of the National Sample Survey Organisation in 1980- 1990. He was the President of the Indian Economic Society from 1992-1993 and the President of the Indian Association for Research in National Income and Wealth from 1981 to 1988. Dr Minhas was a life member of the American Economic Association.

Most of his writings in economics after he returned to India were largely empirical and oriented towards analysing many of the critical economic policy issues faced by India. Among these contributions, a large proportion involved the measurement of poverty and policies for poverty eradication. Measurement and data issues engaged his attention throughout his academic life. As Chairman of the Governing Council of the NSSO and also as Chairman of the Data Improvement Committee of the Ministery of Finance in the late 1960s he constantly endeavoured to improve India's statistical system, while staunchly defending it against ill-informed criticism. Oxford University Press published a collection of essays edited by him on national accounting and data system.

Minhas believed that overarching objective economic policy and planning in India has to be necessarily the eradication of India's massive poverty. He had no patience with those who viewed economic policy with rose-tinted glasses of ideology, rather than their impact on the lives of the poor. For him, policy interventions, including public ownership and monopolies as well as free markets, have no intrinsic value but are instruments to be used, depending on their efficacy, in delivering equitable development.

Dr Minhas noted in the mid-1980s of the "corruption and enormous waste" in India's anti-poverty programmes, including, in particular, those numerous " ill-conceived and unproductive ones" of the emergency era. Indeed, his opposition during his membership of the Planning Commission to the nationalisation of the wholesale trade in wheat was driven not by any ideology for private wholesale traders, but by his conviction that the Government, while it can, does not do better than private traders.

He resigned his membership of the commission. He proved right and the Government soon abandoned its monopoly in the wheat trade. He was offered the membership of the Commission again in 1975, which he declined since he was unsure of what the Commission could possibly do during the emergency. He met Indra Gandhi in December 1975 and argued with her regarding lifting the emergency and release of political prisoners. Indra Gandhi frequently sought his advice even after he resigned from the Planning Commission. Jay Prakash Narayan held him in high regard. Minhas spoke at length about a relationship with the two in his J P Memorial lecture, appropriately titled "Planning and the poor of India" in 1985.

His critical voice is no longer to be heard when the county needs it most. Now, an enormously wasteful and corruption-prone anti-poverty programme that he criticised is being expanded. Dr Minhas always put his mind in planning to eradicate poverty and promoted anti-corruption plans. Dr Minhas died in 2005. Let us use his advice to develop India.

Reference: Dr MS Randhawa library PAU Ludhiana.

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