For twenty years, full time Chief Economist to India's
Tata Group of Industries and to the Group Chairman, Mr.
J. R. D. Tata, and other senior Group directors. J.R.D.
considered him to be easily the most readable economist
in the country. DRP occupied senior positions in the Government of India in the Ministries of Finance and of Commerce & Industry, for over ten years before joining the Tatas. He worked as a Consulting Economic Adviser & ran his own one - man think tank 'Centre for Economic Policy Advice', Mumbai.
D. R. PENDSE (1930 - 2018)
Most of India's vast population will never know what they owe to Mr,. Pendse, an
economist who for several decades kept alive the idea that there is more than one
way to run a country. He studied economics at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge,
beginning in 1950 - the heyday of the ideas of Richard Crossman, Stafford Cripps,
Douglas Jay, Hugh Dalton, old uncle Harold Laski and all. But he was independent
- minded. He was taught by Austin Robinson, of whom one obituary mentioned:
"his practical experience as a civil servant, his attention to detail, and his feeling for
practical solutions....... He was one of the few economists who have appreciated the
importance of an optimum size for governments" - all of which also describes
From 1954 to '67 he worked for the Indian government; and from 1967 to ' 91 he
ran the economics department at the Tata group. He wrote books about Tata's
pioneering managers - JRD Tata and Sumant Moolgaokar. He was largely the
author of the famous talks given by Nani Palkhivala to thousands of people who
turned up at a large Bombay cricket ground after each Central government
Budget. (I enjoyed one of those, and have always felt that somebody should
introduce the practice in Britain).
For much of his life in India , Pendse was working in a closed, investor - unfriendly
and public sector - led economy - which had rendered itself uncompetitive overseas
and counter - productive at home. Few other minds argued consistently for de -
licensing, public sector de - reservation - in general for freedom, with competition
and flexibility in Indian industry and trade. He never stopped; and he certainly did
not agree with those who claimed that since the crisis of 1991, India has finally
become a liberalised economy, free from civil -servant control. Most recently, he
was interested in signs that Air India might at last be privatised - as a major
signpost towards de - nationalised manufacturing industries, energy companies,
and perhaps even banks ?
In line with his scepticism, Pendse even analysed the Reserve Bank of India (the
central bank) 's Annual Report. He felt that the information given on its operations
was inadequate; what were the details of its employees' salaries and benefits; why
was there not much more about the Bank's incomes and expenditure, sources and
application of funds ? In short, the electors should be able to expect as much (or
more) information from the RBI as shareholders from a company. This was a fresh
Mr. Pendse also pointed out the way in which Governors of the RBI , appointed by
the central Government, regularly become more independent - minded than their
masters expected. (Such a change goes back to Thomas Becket after he was made
Archbishop of Canterbury by Henry II in 1162 !)
Other gems from Pendse included: :
"Elections to Parliament and State legislatures have become highly capital -
intensive industries; as well as a major source of and outlet for black
money" (1996) .
"Privatisation is neither a panacea nor a general tonic. It is a specific medicine to treat
specific economic ills " (1985)
and nearly 20 years ago, he wrote in "Should manifestos be dumped ? " that he had
perused the political parties' documents. "The exercise turned out to be largely
thought - provoking and enlightening (read, wasteful and amusing)"......."A party in
power should be left free to forget the manifesto and to do what it considers best,
even if its manifesto was silent on it, or even if it pleaded for the exact opposite.
This freedom is the best chance of something good happening".
He was for more freedom, and for challenging conventional wisdom, He agreed
with Mrs. Thatcher's view that governments should not throw other people's
money around - although I don't think he ever met her. He started the little book
still annually produced by Tata's: the "Statistical Outline of India" which has been
a godsend for very many people over the years. He obtained an extraordinary
private interview with Dhirubhai Ambani (the founder of Reliance Industries),
who explained his subtle techniques for interviews with government servants, low
and high. In retirement Pendse never ceased being interested in policy
developments in India and abroad - and commenting on them , in many articles. I
made regular visits to his modest apartment in Mumbai, and always found that I had
to explain myself precisely. I could not get away with headline statements - which
did me a lot of good.
In addition to his paid employment at Tata, Pendse wrote several books as well as
his several hundred articles. He had visited more than a few countries, for
conferences and to give talks. These included the USA and China as well as
Britain, Canada, Switzerland. In his 70's, Mr. Pendse continued to visit a daughter
in London and his son in California.
I met his delightful wife, whom he greatly missed after her death. It was she who
told me of their practise when he gave one of his many talks. She would stand at the
back of the hall and wave vigorously when he was becoming boring. All speakers
should have such an assistant.
As a widower, Pendse made at least two long rail journeys alone. He consulted
the railway timetables of several European countries before travelling from Italy to
Sweden (or was it Finland ?), staying at small hotels in many towns on the way. And
not much later, he did the same in Britain, between Devon (or Cornwall) and the
northernmost tip of Scotland.
Indians can be grateful to him for his humour and the fact that he raised his voice
over many difficult years. I am grateful to him for stimulating conversation and
continuous hospitality. In short, friendship.
Beyond the Giant Personal insight into the life of
J. R. D. Tata
The book is not just another biography. It has a story
that needs to be told and which the author alone could
For years and years to come, this is destined to remain
the most penetrating book tracing the J.R.D. - Beyond
the Giant; his qualities, his lot and his legacy.
Cover of the book with Obituary to D R Pendse
Budget 2009 - 10
Musing on soft interest rate regime