Former RBI Governor S. Venkitaramanan passes away at 92

Venkitaramanan was the Governor from Dec. 1990 to Dec. 1992, during which period the country had faced a severe balance of payments crisis

November 18, 2023 12:39 pm | Updated November 19, 2023 12:00 am IST

S. Venkitaramanan

S. Venkitaramanan | Photo Credit: Businessline

Former Governor of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) S. Venkitaramanan (92),  passed away at a private hospital in Chennai on the morning of November 18 due to age related issues. 

He is survived by two daughters including a former Chief Secretary of Tamil Nadu, Girija Vaidyanathan.

Born on January 28, 1931. in Tirumayam of Pudukottai district, Venkitaramanan obtained a post-graduate degree in physics from the University College Thiruvananthapuram. After he joined the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) in 1953, he also received a post-graduate degree in management from the Carnegie Mellon University in the U.S. in 1968. 

Belonging to the Tamil Nadu cadre of the IAS, Venkitaramanan became the RBI Governor in December 1990 when a balance of payment crisis was brewing.

“Venkitaramanan was Governor of Reserve Bank of India at a critical time when the country faced a most severe balance of payments problem,” recalled C. Rangarajan, who served in the RBI as a Deputy Governor during Venkitaramanan’s time at the helm and subsequently succeeded him as Governor in December 1992. “This was the time when there were quick changes in the Central government. The responsibility of the Reserve Bank of India, in that context, became even more critical,” he added.

“He faced the situation with great determination and courage. We had to raise the necessary resources to bridge the gap. We took the extraordinary step of shipping gold out of India to raise the foreign exchange,” Dr. Rangarajan observed. “Venkitaramanan tapped all his friends in the various international financial institutions to raise the needed foreign exchange,” he recalled.

His two-year-long tenure at the helm of the central bank also coincided with the multi-crore securities scam. Amid the Opposition’s persistent demand for his resignation, the then Union Finance Minister Manmohan Singh, in July 1992, gave a clean chit in Parliament to Venkitaramanan, saying he had “performed his duty in a manner worthy of his office.”

Dr. Rangarajan also recalled Venkitaramanan’s contribution to economic reforms.

“Venkitaramanan was also a reformer. He initiated the banking sector reforms. He made the initial change in the exchange rate management system by moving towards a dual exchange rate regime. All in all he was a courageous person who took the right decisions at the right time. The nation is deeply indebted to him,” he added.

“His term also saw India adopt the IMF’s stabilisation programme where the Rupee underwent a devaluation and the launch of the programme of economic reforms,” the RBI said on its website about Venkitaramanan’s tenure as Governor.

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M.K. Stalin, in his message, recalled the services of Venkitaramanan as Union Finance Secretary and RBI Governor.

‘Extraordinary leadership’

Yaga Venugopal Reddy, a former RBI Governor who served in the Union Finance Ministry in the early 1990s and had worked closely with Venkitaramanan during the Balance of Payments crisis recalled him with great admiration.

““I am a great admirer of Venkitaramanan. His dedication to the nation was evident in his determination not to allow any default,” observed Dr. Reddy. “If there is one person who showed extraordinary leadership in resolving the Balance of Payments crisis, it is Venkitaramanan, who was then Governor of the RBI. It was the country’s good fortune,” he added.

On a more personal note, he recounted: “He would frequently consult me, and if he found that I agreed with his view would courageously go ahead and implement the decision.”

Finance Secretary

In his long administrative career, Venkitaramanan occupied various positions, both in the Tamil Nadu government and at the Centre. He had the distinction of holding the post of Finance Secretary in the State as well as in the Union government. In March 1969, a month after M. Karunanidhi became Chief Minister, he was made Finance Secretary and held the post till June 1974. Eleven years later (February 1985), he became Finance Secretary in the Union government and served there for four years. 

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M.K. Stalin, in a condolence message, recalled the services of Venkitaramanan as Union Finance Secretary and RBI Governor.

Earlier in his service, between the end of 1962 and 1966, he served as Private Secretary to the then Union Minister C. Subramaniam and was a member of the team that oversaw the implementation of the Green Revolution programme. While in the State government’s service, he also held the post of Vice-Chairman and President, Southern Petrochemical Industries Corporation (SPIC) during 1977-83. 

Talking of Venkitaramanan’s stint as Tamil Nadu’s Finance Secretary, Electronics and Information Technology Secretary in the Union government S. Krishnan, who too served as Finance Secretary in the State between June 2019 and November 2021, recounted an anecdote from Venkitaramanan’s time in the department, which exemplified his keenness to resolve issues and problems in a humane manner.

When the Finance department refused to entertain the request of the family of a government employee who died immediately after the launch of the Family Benefit Scheme on the ground that an amount of ₹5 was not deducted monthly from the employee’s salary, Venkitaramanan was said to have pinned ₹5 to the file, Mr. Krishnan recounted. 

Reminiscing about his senior from the cadre as a very innovative and positive person, R. Poornalingam, who belongs to the 1970 batch of the Tamil Nadu cadre of the IAS, said Venkitaramanan was credited with many schemes in the State including the launch of computerisation of government accounts in 1974 .

Venkitaramanan also served for a brief stint as Adviser on economic affairs at the Prime Minister’s Office when Rajiv Gandhi was the PM. In May 1989, he was deputed to Karnataka as an Advisor to the Governor, at a time when the State was under President’s rule.

A wrong image was added to this article initially. The error is regretted.
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