Dr Raja J Chelliah, renowned economist and Chairman Emeritus, Madras School of Economics, passed away on Tuesday in Chennai after a brief illness. He was 86 and is survived by his wife Sita Chelliah and two daughters.

Born on December 12, 1922, Chelliah obtained a post-graduate degree from the University of Madras and began his career as a lecturer in economics at the Madras Christian College for five years.

In 1956, he was selected as a Fullbright Scholar and left for the United States to obtain his PhD in economics from the University of Pittsburgh. After returning to India, he worked as a senior economist at the National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER) in 1958.

Dr Chelliah is best known for his role as the chairman of Tax Reforms Committee, set up by the government in 1991-95. He helped the then finance minister Dr Manmohan Singh to bring initial reforms to the direct taxation structure and worked out a roadmap for reducing import duties. Between 1993 and 1995, he was also the Fiscal Adviser in the Union Finance Ministry.

The Padma Vibhushan recipient was instrumental in setting up the Madras School of Economics, with the support of leading industrial groups and state government and also served as the chairman of the National Institute of Public Finance and Policy (NIPFP) for six years, where he was credited with building the institute into a full-fledged research institution in fiscal matters. Dr Chelliah was also a member of the Planning Commission, the 9th Finance Commission and the World Bank mission to China on inter-governmental financial relations.

An authority on public finance, the veteran economist also headed the state-level taxation enquiry bodies of Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat in the late 1970s and served as the chairman of the Tax Reforms and Revenue Augmentation Commission in the Tamil Nadu government during 2002-2003. Chelliah authored nearly 15 books and various research papers on taxation, fiscal and public finance.

We are deeply saddened by his demise. He was our guiding light and helped the school grow in right direction. Many of his students have gone on to become high-ranking officers with various governments. The school will try to live up to his expectations and take his dream and vision forward, said D K Srivastava, director, Madras School of Economics. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called Mrs Chelliah and offered his condolences.

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