Raja J Chelliah, 86, a renowned economist who worked out a roadmap for reducing import duties in the early 1990s, passed away on Tuesday in his Chennai home.
Chelliah is survived by his wife, Sita Chelliah, and two daughters.
Chelliah is best known for his work as chairman of the Tax Reforms Committee between 1991 and 1993 under the then finance minister Manmohan Singh, which set out a roadmap for reducing import duties. This paved the way for liberalisation.
A specialist in public finance and an institutional builder, Chelliah founded the National Institute of Public Finance and Policy in 1976 and built it up into a full-fledged research institution in fiscal matters between 1976 and 1985.
He was also instrumental in setting up the Madras School of Economics, with the support of leading industrial groups and state government. “As a young man, Chelliah did pioneering work in public finance and was an institutional builder,’’ recalled Ashok Desai, an eminent economist.
Chelliah also served as chairman of the National Institute of Public Finance and Policy (NIPFP) for six years. The Report of the Tax Reforms Committee was the basis for shift in the country’s policy towards lower import protection and globalisation.
Born in 1922, Chelliah did his masters in economics from the University of Madras, before going to the US for his doctorate as a Fulbright scholar in 1956. After obtaining his PhD in economics from Pittsburgh University, he returned to India to work as a senior economist at the National Council for Applied Economic Research (NCAER).
After stints in the University of Rajasthan and Osmania University between 1961 and 1969, Chelliah went to Washington to serve as chief of the Fiscal Analysis Division in the Fiscal Affairs Department of the International Monetary Fund (1969-75)
He was honoured with a Padma Vibhushan in 2007.
Chelliah also authored a number of books, including ‘Fiscal Policy in Underdeveloped Countries’, ‘Economic-Functional Classification of Central and State Government Budget’ and ‘Aspects of the Black Economy in India’.
Chelliah also served as a Planning Commission member (1987-89) and on the Ninth Finance Commission. He also held the post of Fiscal Advisor in the Union Ministry of Finance (1993-95) and was
Chairman Emeritus at the Madras School of Economics.