(Last Updated on : 18-06-2012)
P.C Mahalanobis is remembered by Indians as an Indian scientist and as an applied statistician. His most significant contribution in the field of statistics was the Mahalanobis Distance. Besides these he had also made pioneering studies in the field of anthropometry and had founded the Indian Statistical Institute. He also contributed to the design of large scale sample surveys in India.
Originally the family of Mahalanobis belonged to Bikrampur which is presently located in Bangladesh. Later in 1854 his family moved to Kolkata and his grandfather Gurucharan had started a chemist shop in 1860. P.C Mahalanobis was the son of Subodhchandra. Subodhchandra was a distinguished scholar in academics and was the Head of the Department of Physiology in Presidency College
. Later he became a member of the senate in the University of Calcutta
As a child Mahalanobis grew up in an environment surrounded by socially active reformers and intellectuals. He had his initial education from Brahmo Boys School in Kolkata
. Then he enrolled himself into Presidency College and got a B.SC degree with specialization in Physics. In the year 1913 Mahalanobis left for England for further studies and came in contact with S.Ramanujan
, the famous mathematician from India. After completion of his studies he returned to India and was invited by the Principal of Presidency College to take classes in Physics.
After some time Mahalanobis returned to England and he was introduced to a journal named Biometrika. Soon he was introduced to the importance of statistics and realised that it was very useful in solving problems related to meteorology and anthropology.
Mahalanobis got married in 1923 with Nirmalkumari, the daughter of Herambhachandra Maitra, a leading educationist and member of the Brahmo Samaj
Many of the colleagues of Mahalanobis took interest in Statistics and as a result in his room in the Presidency College a small statistical labarotary grew up where scholars like Pramatha Nath Banerji, Nikhil Ranjan Sen, Sir R.N Mukherji actively participated in all discussion. The meetings and discussions led to the formal establishment of the Indian Statistical Institute
and were formally registered on 28th April 1932. Initially the Institute was in the Physics Department of Prsidency College but later with passing time the institute expanded. It was mostly due to the tireless effort of Mahalanobis and his colleagues that the Institute expanded at a steady pace.
The most important contributions of Mahalanobis are related to large scale sample surveys. He had pioneered the concept of pilot surveys and sampling methods. The early surveys begun in the year 1937 to 1944 included topics such as consumer expenditure, tea-drinking habits, public opinion, and crop acreage and plant disease. Mahalanobis had also introduced a method of measuring crop yields. In the later stage of his life P.C Mahalanobis had become a member of the Planning Commission of India. During his tenure as a member of the Planning Commission of India he had contributed significantly to the five year plans of India.
The Mahalanobis Model was implemented in the second five year plan of India and it assisted in the rapid industrialization of the country and he had also corrected some of the errors of the census methodology in India.
Besides statistics Mahalanobis also had a cultural bent of mind. He had worked as a secretary to Rabindranath Tagore
particularly during the foreign visits of the great poet and also worked in the Visva Bharati University
. Mahalanobis was honoured with the highest civilian award of the country, Padma Vibhushan
for his immense contribution in the field of science and for the services which he had rendered to the country.
Mahalanobis expired on 28th June 1972 at the age 78. Even at such a ripe age he participated in his research work and discharged all his duties perfectly. After his death in the year 2006 the Government of India declared 29th June, the birthday of Mahalanobis as the National Statistical Day.