Abhijit Sen, who built a reputation as one of India’s foremost agriculture economists in a career spanning decades and taught at premier institutions including Oxford and Cambridge, died on the night of August 29 after suffering a heart attack.
“He suffered a heart attack around 11 PM. We rushed him to the hospital, but it was all over by the time we got there," Pronab Sen, his brother and former chief statistician of India, said in published remarks.
In a career spanning more than four decades, Sen held several important positions including as chairman of the Commission for Agricultural Cost and Prices (CACP) and as a member of India’s erstwhile Planning Commission, disbanded in 2014.
Born in 1950 in Jamshedpur, Sen was schooled in Sardar Patel Vidyalaya in New Delhi after which he studied physics at St Stephen’s College in Delhi University.
He then moved to economics, completing his Ph.D. from the University of Cambridge. Prior to joining Jawaharlal Nehru University in 1985, he held teaching positions in the Universities of Sussex, Cambridge, Oxford and Essex in the UK.
Sen, known for his advocacy of public distribution of foodgrains, was involved in a number of official policymaking bodies over the years, including the CACP that he helmed between 1997 and 2000 and as a member of the Prime Minister’s Task Force on the World Trade Organisation in 2000-01.
He was the chairman of the High-Level Committee of Experts on Long Term Grain Policy, which submitted its report in 2002. The panel pushed for a universal public distribution system.
He was also the Chairman of the Committee on the Wholesale Price Index that submitted its report in 2008. In 2007-08, he chaired the Expert Committee on Impact of Commodity Futures Trading in India.
He was also a member of India’s Planning Commission from 2004 to 2014, under the United Progressive Alliance government led by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
Sen served on the Senate or Executive Council of several academic institutions in India, such as the Indian Institute of Technology (Delhi), University of Allahabad and the University of Delhi.
He also served as adviser or consultant to a number of international organisations such as the United Nations Development Programme, the International Labour Organisation, the Food and Agriculture Organisation, the OECD Development Centre, and the Asian Development Bank.
Sen was awarded the Padma Bhushan, the third highest civilian award in India, in 2010, in recognition of his distinguished service in Public Affairs.
Known for his infectious humour and charming irreverence, he is survived by his wife, economist Jayati Ghosh, and daughter Jahnavi Sen.