In recognition to Late Professor Prasantra Chandra Mahalanobis best known as father of Indian statistics, Statistics Day is being celebrated throughoutIndia both at the state as well as national level on 29th June every year. The Day is celebrated by holding seminars, discussions and competitions to sensitize the stakeholders including the civil society by highlighting the importance and role of statistics in national development. The objective of the day is to create public awareness especially amongst the younger generation. The theme of National Statistics Day 2022 is “Data on Sustainable Development Goals”. To meet the UN’s sustainable development goals (SDGs), open data has the potential to be a universal resource to help achieve and measure the SDGs.
Prasantra Chandra Mahalanobis was very much known as applied Statistician than a basic Statistician or Physicist. He played a significant role in laying the foundations of a modern statistical system for the country. As an architect of development planning, he had guided the evolution of statistical studies as an important instrumentality for policy planning. Prasantra Chandra Mahalanobis was born at 210 Cornwallis Street Kolkata on 29th June 1893. His Parents were Probodh Chandra (Father) and Nirodbashini Probodh Chandra (Mother). He married Nirmal Kumari. The family were of the Brahmo Samaj religion. The Poet Rabindranath Tagore was a significant influence in Mahalanobis. He got B.Sc degree with honours in physics in 1912 from Presidency College, Kolkata. He completed Tripos in Natural sciences in 1915 from King’s college. During his time in Cambridge he became friendly with Srinivas Ramanujan (A legendary mathematician and mathematical genius).
P. C. Mahalanobis got appointed as Professor of Physics at Presidency College, Kolkata in 1922, he began teaching physics where he analyzed examination results using the statistical techniques. The interest in statistics was very much there. Joining Department of Physics at Presidency College, Kolkata could not deter him from statistics. He enjoyed this work so much that he left physics and developed deep attraction with data revealing figures, graphs and charts and their interpretation. In 1920 he met Nelson Annandale, Director of the Zoological survey of India, who persuaded him to analyze anthropological measurements collected on the Anglo-Indians of Kolkata. This meeting resulted in the publication of his first scientific research paper in 1922. He coined D-Square (D2) statistics, which is best known as Mahalanobis distance Measure, and used it for explaining divergence in subjects and thereby resulted in grouping technique.
In agriculture his crop-cutting surveys for estimation of agricultural yield are still relevant today due to their design and also form basic for designing of experiments. His contribution to sample survey is of importance, it was he who initiated sample surveys in 1937 for estimating production and area under jute. His creditable achievements in the field of sampling surveys cannot be forgotten. He succeeded in proving that sometimes survey results do exhibit a pattern similar to the complete enumeration or census and that these surveys are cost efficient and consume less time and there by a success. Pilot surveys which were conceptualized and conducted by Professor Mahalanobis later on became the foundation for sequential sampling. Due to his contribution to Sampling he was elected as the Chairman of the United Nations Sub-commission on statistical sampling in 1947.
A laboratory which was established in his chamber at the Presidency College, Kolkata, witnessed the birth of Indian Statistical Institute (ISI) on December 17, 1931. Initially this functioned from the Physics department of the College. However over the years, other statisticians got associated with Professor Mahalanobis and the institute expanded tremendously gaining international repute. He started publication of Sankhya, a well reputed statistical journal of the institute, in 1933 along the lines of Karl Pearson’s Biometrika. His continuous efforts made the Indian Statistical Institute an institution of academic and research excellence. The Indian Statistical Institute flourished during his tenure. In 1951 Sir Ronald Aylmer Fisher inaugurated the main building. Sir Ronald Aylmer Fisher (17 Feb 1890 – 29 July 1962) known as father of statistics was evolutionary biologist, statistician and geneticist.His contribution to statistics is unlimited.The Government of India also hailed the achievements of the institute by passing the Indian Statistical Institute Act in 1959, thereby recognizing it as an institute of national importance and giving it the status of a Deemed University. The father of world statistics Sir R. A. Fisher commented that “The Indian Statistical Institute has taken the lead in the original development of the technique of sample surveys, the most potent fact finding process available to the administration”.
After independence in 1947, it was felt that the statistical system needs to be revamped to ensure the socio-economic development of the country at a much faster pace. Professor Mahalanobis was appointed the Honorary Statistical Advisor by the Government of India in 1949. The central Statistical Unit was established under his guidance and supervision. It later, in 1951 became the Central Statistical Organization (CSO). The prime objective of this organization was to coordinate with various Central Ministries which were engaged in statistical activities. Mahalanobis was India’s first agriculture Statistician; his most important contributions are related to large scale sample surveys. On the recommendation of the National Income Committee, which was chaired by Professor Mahalanobis, a very famous institute - National Sample Survey (NSS) came into existence in 1950 with its mandate to capture data conducting socio-economic surveys in various fields. Harold Hotelling wrote: “No technique of random sample has, so far as I can find, been developed in the United States or elsewhere, which can compare in accuracy with that described by Professor Mahalanobis”.
Professor Mahalanobis received many honours for his remarkable contribution in Statistics in India. He was awarded Weldon Medal and prize from Oxford University (1944). Sir Devi prasad Sarvadhikari Gold Medal (1957).The Gold Medal from Czech Academy Sciences (1964) and the Durga Prasad Khaitan Gold Medal from the Asiatic Society (1968). He was President of the Indian Science Congress in 1950 and the President of International Statistical Institute in 1957. He was elected a fellow of many societies and academics such as: the Royal Society of London (1945), the Econometrics Society, United States (1951), the Pakistan Statistical Association (1952), the Royal Statistical Society, U.K. (1954), the USSR Academy of sciences (1958) and the American Statistical Association (1961). He received Honourary degrees from the University of Calcutta (now Kolkata) in 1964, Sofia University (1961) and the University of Delhi (1964). In 1959, he was elected as Honourary Fellow of King’s College, Cambridge. He received one of the highest civilian awards, the Padma Vibhushan from the Government of India. On his death on 28th June 1922, Professor C. R. Rao said the “Mahalanobis Era” in statistics which started in the early twenties has ended. Indeed it will be remembered for all times to come as the “golden period of Statistics” in India.
It is highly relevant that we celebrate the Statistics Day in honour of the memory of Professor Mahalanobis which provides us a great opportunity not only for remembering Prof. P. C. Mahalanobis on his birth anniversary but also creating public awareness in general among the masses and particularly among bubbling younger generations about importance and role of statistics and taking lessons from his outstanding contributions in the field of statistics and planning. As it is well established that statistics is the back bone of research and planning, the improvement in the statistical system will provide the researchers and policy makers a genuine planning and policy formulation for the country.
(Tariq A. Raja is Professor and Head, Division of Agricultural Economics & Statistics, FoA, Wadura and Fehim J Wani is Assistant Professor, Division of Agricultural Economics & Statistics, FoA, Wadura)