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Who is Jean Dreze? Economist-activist detained in Jharkhand is champion behind RTI, NREGA

Dreze's detainment riled up people across the country, and many political figures and economists condemned the act on social media

March 29, 2019 / 04:01 PM IST

Noted economist and social activist Jean Dreze was detained along with two others by police in Jharkhand's Garhwa district for organising a gathering about Right to Food without permission from authorities.

Authorities called the public meeting a violation of the 'Model Code of Conduct'. Dreze submitted a personal bond and was released later in the day.

Dreze's detainment sparked a wave of outrage from many political figures and economists who condemned the act on social media.

Politician Yogendra Yadav took to Twitter and said Dreze "had done more for the country than any other economist" and dubbed his arrest as shameful.

The official Twitter handle of Congress condemned the arrest as well.


Belgium-born Dreze is a well-known economist and has worked with the Indian government over numerous programmes since the 1990s.

Dreze: The academic

Dreze gained popularity in India due to his work in fields of hunger, gender inequality, child health and education. He has lived in India since 1979 and became an Indian citizen in 2002. In the 1980s, Dreze finished studying Mathematical Economics at the University of Essex and got his doctorate.

He was a teacher at the London School of Economics and the Delhi School of Economics in the 1980s. He was visiting faculty in GB Pant Social Science Institute in Allahabad.

He is an Honourary Chair Professor of the 'Planning and Development Unit', which was created through an endowment by the Planning Commission, Government of India in University of Allahabad's department of economics.

Dreze has co-authored a book with Nobel laureate Amartya Sen about famine, one book with British economist Nicholas Stern about policy reforms in the markets, and another with Nobel laureate Angus Deaton.

Dreze: The economist and activist

He played a major role in drafting the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act 2005 (NREGA), and he still monitors its implementation. He was consulted for other flagship government initiatives including the Right to Information Act (RTI) and the National Food Security Act in India.

Dreze's passion for social justice made his life experiences very unique. During his PhD studies, he lived with homeless people in London and helped them organise a movement in 1988. He refused luxury in life both in India and the UK and penned down a book called No. 1 Clapham Road: the diary of a squat. He still lives in a slum with his wife, Bela Bhatia in Jharkhand.

He was at the forefront of the RTI campaign before drafting of the act. He joined a peace camp station on the Iraq-Kuwait border during the 1990-1991 Iraq war in a bid to promote his peace movement. He wrote 'Hunger and Poverty in Iraq, 1991', which was one of the first pieces of work about the country's economy after the Gulf war.

Dreze has written many columns, a collection of which has been published as a book called 'Sense and Solidarity'. The essays cover topics like food security, healthcare and rights of children.

After being released, Dreze stressed upon the importance of public discourse before elections, he said that the understanding of democracy in India is shrinking.

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Moneycontrol News
first published: Mar 29, 2019 03:56 pm
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