P. C. Mahalanobis

Prasantha Chandra Mahalanobis or P. C. Mahalanobis  (1893-1972) was the first Indian statistician to receive world recognition. In 1933, Mahalanobis founded the first Indian statistical journal Sankhya, along the lines of Biometrika, which had inspired him greatly.

The Government of India established a central statistical unit in 1949 to work under the technical guidance of Mahalanobis.

In 1954, the Jawaharlal Nehru called on Mahalanobis to initiate studies in planning at the ISI to help in the formulation of five-year plans.

In 1959, the Indian Statistical Institute was declared as an Institute of national importance by the parliament and empowered to award degrees. Within a short span of time Mahalanobis, with his untiring efforts and high intellect, had been able to raise statistics to a high pedestal. Some also call this period the Mahalanobis era in statistics.

Mahalanobis was elected Fellow of the Royal Society, London in 1945. He was also a founder fellow of the Indian National Science Academy (INSA).

Mahalanobis and Indian Statistics

  • In India, statistics came to the centre stage in national life through sample surveys consistently conducted since the 1930s by Professor Mahalanobis and his colleagues in the ISI to understand complex problems of national development and social welfare.
  • This involvement was enhanced when, after independence, Professor Mahalanobis was appointed honorary statistical adviser to the Cabinet.
  • In 1950, through his initiative, the National Sample Survey was undertaken for a socio-economic survey of all-India coverage on a continuing basis. This provided the central government with a database for various developmental programmes for the first time, particularly with respect to the country’s five-year plans.
  • In 1951, the Central Statistical Organisation (CSO) was set up at the initiative of Professor Mahalanobis. In 1954, Prime Minister Nehru entrusted him and his colleagues in the institute with the responsibility of preparing the draft Second Five-Year Plan.
  • During the Cold War era, Professor Mahalanobis was perhaps the only Indian scientist who was equally welcome in the USA and the USSR as well as in China and Japan. This should be a noteworthy precedent, which could have some relevance in the midst of the present cross-currents of globalisation.
  • Mahalanobis is known to have introduced innovative techniques for conducting large-scale National Sample Surveys, calculation of acreage, crop yields, irrigation requirements etc.

Mahalanobis Model

In 1950s, an Old Russian Model was indianized by PC Mahalanobis. This model is known to have set the statistical foundations for state-directed investments and created the intellectual underpinnings of the license-raj through an elaborate input-output model. This Model suggested that there should be an emphasis on the heavy industries, which can lead the Indian Economy to a long term higher growth path. India’s second five year plan and Industrial policy Resolution 1956, which paved the way for development of Public Sector and license raj; were based upon this model

Mahalanobis Committee

Distribution of Income and Levels of Living commitee headed by P. C. Mahalanobis was one of the committees set up in 1960s to find an answer to the question that who was benefitted by the first and second five year plans, as there was no substantial increase in the per capita income of the people.  There were other questions on the “monopolistic tendencies”. The committee submitted its report in 1964 and it observed that “Planned Economy encouraged the process of concentration by facilitating and aiding the growth of Big Business. Further, it also observed that the big Government institutions such as IFC (Industrial Finance Corporation), LIC, National Industrial Development Corporation etc. have aided to the Monopolistic growth”. The Mahalanobis committee also recommended that sooner the Government would set up necessary machinery for collection, examination and analysis of relevant data, easier would be for the government to combine the industrial development with social development.