With the demise of Prof. Suresh Tendulkar at the age of 72 following a cardiac arrest in Pune, the country has lost yet another eminent economist who played a significant part in moulding the government’s economic policy making.
A Ph.D in economics from Harvard University and Professor of Economics at the Delhi School of Economics (University of Delhi) from 1978 to 2004, Prof. Tendulkar was a member of the Prime Minister’s Economic Advisory Council (PMEAC) from 2004 to 2008 and its Chairman from 2008 to 2009 when C. Rangarajan vacated the chief’s position to enter the Rajya Sabha.
Prof. Tendulkar’s pioneering contribution was his extensive work on poverty and estimation of people below poverty line (BPL). In his report submitted in November 2009 as Chairman of an expert group on the methodology for estimation of poverty constituted by the Planning Commission, he estimated that every third Indian is living in poverty and the number of the poor has shot up by nearly 10 per cent to over 37 per cent. The report pointed out that 41.8 per cent of the rural population spend a meagre sum of Rs 447 a month on essential necessities like food, fuel, light, clothing and footwear.
Agreeing with the estimation of the expert group, Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia had said: “Personally, I think the recommendation made by the Tendulkar report regarding higher number of people that need to be covered under BPL schemes is reasonable. Planning Commission will review the Tendulkar Report soon,” said Ahluwalia.
The endorsement of the Tendulkar report’s view by Mr. Ahluwalia assumed significance at that point of time as the Empowered Group of Ministers (EGoM) on the Food Security Bill was then deliberating on the number of people to be declared beneficiaries under the Act. Going by the report, while the number of the country’s poor would stand increased by 10 per cent, the BPL cardholder list would also go up to a little over eight crore as compared to the obsolete data which pegged the figure at 6.5 crore.
Even as the National Advisory Council (NAC) headed by Congress President Sonia Gandhi is yet to come to a final decision, the fact remains that while funding the food security scheme at present would entail a cost of over Rs 45,000 crore, the higher estimates of poverty by the Tendulkar committee would increase the funding cost to about Rs 65,000 crore.
Prof. Tendulkar also did extensive work on credit and privatisation policies and Indian development issues and policies, including liberalisation and globalisation. He was also a part-time member of the National Statistical Commission (2000-01), the first Disinvestment Commission (1996-99), and the Fifth Central Pay Commission (1994-97) appointed by the government.
In a condolence message, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said that in his demise, "our country has lost one of our most eminent economists. His work on poverty was path-breaking and will continue to guide and inspire the coming generations of economists".