Related Images

Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis FRS(29 June 1893 – 28 June 1972) was an Indian scientist and applied statistician. He is best remembered for the Mahalanobis distance, a statistical measure and for beign on eof the members of the first Planning commission of free india. He made pioneering studies in anthropometry in India. He founded the Indian Statistical Institute, and contributed to the design of large-scale sample surveys.

Mahalanobis belonged to a family of Bengali landed gentry who lived in Bikrampur (now in Bangladesh). His grandfather Gurucharan (1833–1916) moved to Calcutta in 1854 and built up a business, starting a chemist shop in 1860. Gurucharan was influenced by Debendranath Tagore (1817–1905), father of the Nobel Prize–winning poet, Rabindranath Tagore. Gurucharan was actively involved in social movements such as the Brahmo Samaj, acting as its Treasurer and President. His house on 210 Cornwallis Street was the center of the Brahmo Samaj. Gurucharan married a widow, an action against social traditions.His elder son Subodhchandra (1867–1953) became a distinguished educator after studying physiology at Edinburgh University. He was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. He was the Head of the Dept. of Physiology, University of Cardiff (the first Indian to occupy this post in a British university). In 1900, Subodhchandra returned to India, founding the Dept. of Physiology in the Presidency College, Calcutta. Subodhchandra also became a member of the Senate of the Calcutta University.Gurucharan’s younger son, Prabodh Chandra (1869-1942) was the father of P. C. Mahalanobis. Born in the house at 210 Cornwallis Street, P. C. Mahalanobis, grew up in a socially active family surrounded by intellectuals and reformers.

Many colleagues of Mahalanobis took an interest in statistics. An informal group developed in the Statistical Laboratory, which was located in his room at the Presidency College, Calcutta. On 17 December 1931 Mahalanobis called a meeting with Pramatha Nath Banerji (Minto Professor of Economics), Nikhil Ranjan Sen (Khaira Professor of Applied Mathematics) and Sir R. N. Mukherji. Together they established the Indian Statistical Institute (ISI), and formally registered on 28 April 1932 as a non-profit distributing learned society under the Societies Registration Act XXI of 1860.
The Institute was initially in the Physics Department of the Presidency College; its expenditure in the first year was Rs. 238. It gradually grew with the pioneering work of a group of his colleagues, including S. S. Bose, J. M. Sengupta, R. C. Bose, S. N. Roy, K. R. Nair, R. R. Bahadur, Gopinath Kallianpur, D. B. Lahiri and C. R. Rao. The institute also gained major assistance through Pitamber Pant, who was a secretary to Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. Pant was trained in statistics at the Institute and took a keen interest in its affairs.

In later life, Mahalanobis was a member of the planning commission contributed prominently to newly independent India’s five-year plans starting from the second. In the second five-year plan he emphasised industrialisation on the basis of a two-sector model. His variant of Wassily Leontief’s Input-output model, the Mahalanobis model, was employed in the Second Five Year Plan, which worked towards the rapid industrialisation of India and with other colleagues at his institute, he played a key role in the development of a statistical infrastructure. He encouraged a project to assess deindustrialisation in India and correct some previous census methodology errors and entrusted this project to Daniel Thorner.Mahalanobis also had an abiding interest in cultural pursuits and served as secretary to Rabindranath Tagore, particularly during the latter’s foreign travels, and also worked at his Visva-Bharati University, for some time. He received one of the highest civilian awards, the Padma Vibhushan from the Government of India for his contribution to science and services to the country.
Mahalanobis died on 28 June 1972, a day before his seventy-ninth birthday. Even at this age, he was still active doing research work and discharging his duties as the Secretary and Director of the Indian Statistical Institute and as the Honorary Statistical Advisor to the Cabinet of the Government of India.