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‘He was a force of nature’ — colleagues recall ‘distinguished’ economist & ex-minister YK Alagh

New Delhi: In the passing of Yoginder K. Alagh, India has lost a distinguished economist and an outstanding team leader who brought out the best in those who worked with him, say his former colleagues.

Former Union minister, eminent economist, academic and a former Planning Commission member, Alagh passed away Tuesday following an illness. He was born in Chakwal, in present-day Pakistan, in 1939.

Alagh studied at the University of Rajasthan, he also held a doctorate in economics from the University of Pennsylvania. He was a professor emeritus at the Sardar Patel Institute of Economic and Social Research (SPIESR).

Having risen in prominence as a respected, balanced and rigorous economic voice in the country, he further cemented this reputation in his role as Adviser, Perspective Planning, at the Planning Commission between 1974 and 1980.

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Colleagues reminisce ‘outstanding academic’

“I knew him very well in the 1980s and 1990s and interacted with him quite a bit,” Dr. Montek Singh Ahluwalia, a former member of the Planning Commission, told ThePrint. “He was one of the most distinguished economists who have worked on economic policy.” 

As chairman of the Agricultural Prices Commission between 1982-83, he revamped India’s planning with regard to agriculture, including an agro-climatic foundation to policymaking, setting up an econometric cell within the Commission, and encouraging debate on a number of pressing issues of that time. In 1980-1982, he also held the position of executive vice-chairman of the Narmada Planning Group.

“He was a force of nature, a larger-than-life personality, and he managed to give a lot of respect and get the best out of the people he worked with,” said Dr. Pronab Sen, former Chief Statistician of India, and who also worked with Alagh in the Planning Commission. “That was one of his great talents. As a team leader, Alagh was outstanding.” 

From 1992 to 1996, Alagh was vice-chancellor of the prestigious Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), where he reportedly increased the university’s non-government funding and expanded the recruitment of professors to include those from universities abroad.

“A wise, thoughtful institution builder and outstanding academic, he recruited many of us against all odds. Om Shanti,” Professor of International Relations at JNU Amitabh Mattoo tweeted

In 1996, Alagh was elected to the Rajya Sabha from Gujarat, and was a member until 2000. He also served as the Union Minister of State for Planning and Programme Implementation, Science and Technology, and Power during 1996-98.

“Even when he was in government, he continued with his deep interest in academic work and was always willing to subject practical considerations to fairly rigorous economic analysis,” Ahluwalia said. “That’s quite a distinctive characteristic and quite a positive one. His passing is a great loss.”

Alagh served as chairperson of the Institute of Rural Management Anand, in Gujarat from 2006-12. Previously, he also served as chancellor of the Central University of Gujarat in Gandhinagar, and vice-chairman of the SPIESR in Ahmedabad.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi also expressed pain at his passing, on Twitter: “Professor YK Alagh was a distinguished scholar who was passionate about various aspects of public policy, particularly rural development, the environment and economics. Pained by his demise. I will cherish our interactions. My thoughts are with his family and friends. Om Shanti.”

(Edited by Anumeha Saxena)

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