Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis

Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis was an Indian Bengali scientist and applied statistician.

Updated: July 19, 2020


Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis was an Indian Bengali scientist and applied statistician. He is best remembered for the Mahalanobis distance, a statistical measure, and for being one of the members of the first Planning Commission of free India. He made pioneering studies in anthropometry in India. He founded the Indian Statistical Institute, and contributed to the design of large-scale sample surveys. Mahalanobis has been considered the father of modern statistics in India for his contributions. He was born on 29th June 1893 and died on 28th June 1972.


Childhood of Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis:

Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis belonged to a family of Bengali landed gentry who lived in Bikrampur (now in Bangladesh). Prabodh Chandra (1869-1942), was the father of P. C. Mahalanobis. Born in the house at 210 Cornwallis Street, Mahalanobis grew up in a socially active family surrounded by intellectuals and reformers.


Education of Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis:

Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis received his early schooling at the Brahmo Boys School in Calcutta, graduating in 1908. He joined the Presidency College, then affiliated with the University of Calcutta. Mahalanobis received a Bachelor of Science degree with honours in physics in 1912. He left for England in 1913 to join the University of London. After missing a train, he stayed with a friend at King's College, Cambridge.


Family of Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis:

Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis met Nirmalkumari, daughter of Herambhachandra Maitra, a leading educationist and member of the Brahmo Samaj in Calcutta. They married on 27th February 1923, although her father did not completely approve of the union. Sir Nilratan Sircar, P. C. Mahalanobis' maternal uncle, took part in the wedding ceremony in place of the father of the bride.


Some facts about Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis:

  • On 17 December 1931 Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis called a meeting with Pramatha Nath Banerji (Minto Professor of Economics), Nikhil Ranjan Sen (Khaira Professor of Applied Mathematics) and Sir R. N. Mukherji. Together they established the Indian Statistical Institute (ISI) in Baranagar, and formally registered on 28 April 1932 as a non-profit distributing learned society under the Societies Registration Act XXI of 1860.
  • The institute started a training section in 1938 and the institute was declared as an institute of national importance and a Deemed university in 1959.
  • Mahalanobis Distance was first proposed by Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis in 1930 in context of his study on racial likeness which is one of the most widely used metric to find how much a point diverges from a distribution, based on measurements in multiple dimensions. It is widely used in the field of cluster analysis and classification.
  • He introduced the concept of pilot surveys and advocated the usefulness of sampling methods.
  • He introduced a method for estimating crop yields which involved statisticians sampling in the fields by cutting crops in a circle of diameter 4 feet.
  • Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis was a member of the planning commission contributed prominently to newly independent India's five-year plans starting from the second.
  • His variant of Wassily Leontief's Input-output model, the Mahalanobis model, was employed in the Second Five Year Plan, which worked towards the rapid industrialisation.
  • In the 1950s, Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis played a critical role in the campaign to bring India its first digital computers.
  • He served as secretary to Rabindranath Tagore, particularly during the latter's foreign travels, and also worked at his Visva-Bharati University, for some time.
  • He received one of the highest civilian awards, the Padma Vibhushan from the Government of India for his contribution to science and services to the country.
  • Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis died on 28th June 1972, a day before his seventy-ninth birthday.
  • He was working as the Secretary and Director of the Indian Statistical Institute and as the Honorary Statistical Advisor to the Cabinet of the Government of India.
  • The government of India decided in 2006 to celebrate his birthday, 29 June, as National Statistical Day.
  • On the occasion of his 125th birth anniversary on 29th June 2018, Indian Vice-President M Venkaiah Naidu released a commemorative coin at a programme at ISI, Kolkata.


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