Monday, August 29, 2011

Vijay Kelkar

Financial Express recently did a special feature about 20 interesting people in India's economic reforms. In that, I wrote this profile of Vijay Kelkar.

Vijay Kelkar's is a fascinating story in Indian public policy. He started out as an economics Ph.D. and turned himself into a consummate policymaker. While he did many interesting things in the field of oil and gas, and as executive director of the IMF, I worked with him in his fiscal phase.

This involved carrying forward the tax reform agenda of the 1990s, translating the intent of the FRBM Act into a concrete workplan, leading the transformation of income tax administration through innovative institutional arrangements in the form of the Tax Information Network (where the implementation was contracted out to NSDL), analysing and championing the Goods and Services Tax (GST) and leading the 13th Finance Commission.

For most people, the idea of the fiscal reform is exhausting. Fiscal systems have many moving parts, and suffer from the political economy problem of entrenched beneficiaries. I used to get astonished at the way Kelkar, who is 20 years older than me, consistently found the energy and morale to go back into the fray again and again, chipping away at solving long-standing problems. This also taught me that while weary cynicism is a more fashionable pose, progress is only achieved through the dint of boundless optimism.

Practical people are often dismissive of the world of ideas, but that is not the Kelkar that I have known. For one thing, he made a point of reading the current global research in economics on an astonishing scale. I have been frequently humbled in finding that his knowledge of the current literature was better than mine. I suspect his years at the IMF were very useful in tooling him up in modern open economy macroeconomics, which is often a gap in the knowledge of those who experienced a closed India in their formative years. Kelkar has always encouraged me, saying that in an open society, ideas matter, so it was important to build good ideas, and to push important messages out in the public domain, even when this makes many people uncomfortable.

After decades of engagement, Kelkar is no longer active in the public policy work of the New Delhi community. However, he has begun a stint as chairman of the National Stock Exchange (NSE). Given the immense importance of the equity market in the Indian economy, and the immense complexity of ownership and governance of stock exchanges, it is indeed valuable that a person of his wisdom is performing this public service.

6 comments:

  1. This also taught me that while weary cynicism is a more fashionable pose, progress is only achieved through the dint of boundless optimism.

    What a fantastic line!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks for that valuable information. It's really strange that in this age of twitter and facebook, we have forgotten the persons who have really made the Indian Economy strong.

    ReplyDelete
  3. This is a valuable review. Could you post the link to the main article in FT, India. Keen to know more about the other people.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Thanks for forcefully bringing out the policy impact of Dr.Kelkar. Dr.Kelkar has always been young at heart and brain and hence has the 'space' to accommodate diverse ideas and people. I was lucky to work with him for 4 years in the BICP (now, and in the distant past,Tariff Commission)in my early, formative years of service and greatly influenced by all the qualities Ajay has described. He used to encourage us,the young Officers, to interact freely not only with him but also in the monthly seminars on topical policy issues where in all the top policy makers were regulars.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I have read it........ This special edition has truly collected Indian Economic Intellect.....Best being Chanda Kochhar writing about Mr. Deepak Parikh and Deepak Parikh writing about Mr. Kamath.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Any link to this and other articles?

    ReplyDelete

Please note: Comments are moderated; I will delete comments that misbehave. The rules are as follows. Only civilised conversation is permitted on this blog. Criticising me is perfectly okay; uncivilised language is not. I delete any comment which is spam, has personal attacks against anyone, or uses foul language.