About a year-and-a-half ago, I received an email from my friend Dr Girish Pant. Girish asked about my memories of his father, the late Dr Yadav Prasad Pant. He asked whether I would agree to share my thoughts, memories and impressions of Dr Pant in an article that would be part of a commemorative book. I was not only happy to oblige but considered it an honor to be asked to contribute to furthering the memory of a great man.
I recalled meeting Dr Pant when I was a young boy in Kathmandu. I recalled meeting him again as an economics graduate student at Thammasat University in Bangkok. I recalled how he inspired me to be an academic. I wrote about all that in a tribute article which appeared in a recently published book entitled A Homage to Dr. Yadav Prasad Pant.
I received a copy of the book not too long ago. Upon perusing the collection, I was struck to see the number, the breadth of not only Nepali but also foreign dignitaries who contributed to the collection: All retelling anecdotes, acknowledging the influence, the inspiration and persistence of the works and life of Dr Pant. In the tribute to Dr Pant, Indian Finance Minister Mr Pranab Mukherjee writes “I was struck by his simplicity and the depth of his professional understanding. Interaction with him always left a deep impression on me, full of respect for his expertise and skill." Former Philippines Prime Minister Mr Cesar E A Virata in his reflection on late Dr Pant writes “I consider him to be senior, and also as a national resource and treasure of Nepal, and a man of full seasons”. Mr Eric Gonsalves, former Indian Ambassador to Japan and the European Union, in his memoir indicates that he greatly benefited from the then Nepali Ambassador to Japan Dr Pant. He writes “fortunately, we interacted with the Japanese Government, we were able to draw on the wisdom of Ambassador Pant which found receptive echoes in the attitude of academics and senior statesman in Japan like the late Professor Saburo Okita”. Former Newsweek Tokyo Bureau Chief Mr Bernard Krisher in his memories of Dr Pant writes “Dr. Pant was a distinguished scholar, diplomat and political and economic statesman who contributed enormously to Nepal’s stature in the world”.
Nepal lacked an academic or professional economist until Dr Pant completed his Ph.D. in economics from Banaras Hindu University in 1952. In 1953, he joined the Faculty of Economics at Tri-Chandra College as a Professor of Economics where he labored until he was appointed as the Chief Economic Advisor to His Majesty’s Government of Nepal in 1956. After serving in this capacity for five years he was appointed as the Secretary of Finance in the Ministry of Finance and Economic Affairs in 1961. During his tenure as Secretary of Finance – which lasted six years – he literally transformed the fiscal system of Nepal. Before Dr Pant, the fiscal system of Nepal was primitive, to put it kindly. Once he became the Secretary of Finance, he streamlined the fiscal apparatus with various budgetary innovations. In essence, Dr Pant deserves credit for establishing the foundation of the modern planning and budgeting system in Nepal. Nepal started its planned development process in 1954 with its first five year plan. Dr Pant served as a member and a senior member of the National Planning Commission.
From 1968 to 1973, he served as the Governor of the Central Bank of Nepal (Nepal Rastra Bank). Until Dr Pant became the Governor of NRB, its role was very limited. Banking services were limited to a few urban areas. As an economist, Dr Pant knew the significance of a sound financial system in an economy. To ensure the availability of financial services to majority of the population, he expanded the scope of banking services throughout the nation. In addition, Dr. Pant also streamlined national monetary policy as well as international financial policy. Under Dr Pant’s leadership, the NRB was transformed from a simple currency circulating agency to a very effective, sophisticated central bank. That is why sometime during the 1970s, in an interview with the The Times of India, Pierre Paul Schweitzer, the then managing director of the International Monetary Fund, indicated that NRB was “one of the best central banks in the world”.
From 1974 to 1979, Dr Pant served as the Nepali Ambassador to Japan, Australia, Philippines, New Zealand and the Republic of Korea. As an Ambassador, he was very successful in promoting and enhancing bilateral relationship with all the aforesaid countries. In recognition of his contribution to furthering the relationship between Japan and Nepal, the Japanese government decorated him with “The Order of the Rising Sun”.
Dr Pant was an academician at heart. That is why, despite his busy life as an administrator, he was able to produce many significant works in economics. Most of his writings served as required readings in colleges and universities, not only in Nepal, but also in other countries. When I was in college, one of the required readings in economics was Economic Development of Nepal written by Dr Pant. This was the first ever published material that evaluated Nepal’s various economic planning and policies; policies that were formulated and implemented to achieve faster economic growth. Another required reading was Problems of Development of Smaller Countries. In this book, Dr Pant discusses the general problems faced by people in small, landlocked countries like Nepal. Another one of his books Problems of Monetary and Fiscal Policy; A Case Study of Nepal was probably the first treatise to discuss the monetary policy and fiscal policy problems of Nepal where the central bank is not independent and, furthermore, government revenue is always less than its expenditure due to a very small tax base. The entire list of his works on development and Nepali economy is very long. Most of his works has served as important resource materials for my own research both in Nepal as well as in the United States. I believe that his works will serve as important resource materials for researchers for many years to come. His works on economic development, the Nepali economy, economic planning, and banking and finance remain landmark treatises on the subject.
Dr Pant introduced Nepal and its economy to the world. Through his writings, he established a systematic, monetary and fiscal system in the country. He mentored a generation of economists and administrators who successfully served or are presently serving the country. He truly served his country to the fullest. Therefore, it could never be an exaggeration to consider him a great Nepali hero.
Writer is Professor and Chair, Department of Economics and Finance, University of New Haven, US