The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) is nearly eight decades old and was one of the first central banks in the developing world. While a lot has been written about this institution, little is known outside the RBI about the meritorious service by Parsis to India’s central bank. Over the years, a number of illustrious Parsis have served on the central board of the RBI. These include F. E. Dinshaw, Sir Homi Mody, N. A. Palkhivala, Jehangir P. Patel, Ratan N. Tata, J. J. Irani and Y. H. Malegam. The last three served simultaneously on the RBI board. Malegam, a current director, has completed 20 years on the board and is one of the longest serving directors in the annals of the RBI. The RBI has drawn on Malegam’s services for numerous boards, committees and groups and he is virtually a resident external adviser.
Savak Tarapore was executive director of the RBI at the time of India’s economic crisis in 1991-92 and was deputy governor between 1992-96. He assisted RBI Governor Dr. C Rangarajan through the balance of payments crisis and the financial reforms thereafter. The Rangarajan-Tarapore combine is considered to be the prime architects of initiatives in financial sector reforms.
P. N. Damry was the first Parsi deputy governor (1967-73). B. B. Paymaster, chief secretary, government of Maharashtra, served as chairman of the RBI Services Board. A. D. Shroff headed vital committees of the RBI and in fact was RBI governor Sir Osborne Smith’s first choice for the post of deputy governor. However, the British India establishment in New Delhi rejected his name as it was felt that Shroff was too close to the Indian nationalists and was a “Congress economist.”
One of the most highly regarded officers was P. J. Jeejeebhoy, head of the exchange control department, who set exacting standards of transparency in handling the rationing of scarce foreign exchange during World War II. He was an important, indeed indispensable, member of the Indian delegation on the sterling balances, a delegation which included the finance minister and the RBI governor. He was instrumental in negotiating the intricate arrangements on the drawdown of the large sterling balances built up during World War II as also the exchange rate arrangements for the rupee.
K. M. Mehta served the RBI from the 1940s to the 1970s and was eventually appointed executive director. There could not have been a more humane and soft spoken person than K.M.Mehta. True to his nature he would seek out RBI staff and endeavor to alleviate their problems. Similarly, persons from the public who came to him with a problem found a powerful ally. An oft quoted case was of a person trying to retrieve his late father’s equity shares in the then privately owned RBI; Mehta offered his personal surety to enable the person to retrieve his father’s shareholding. A. Thanawalla headed the department of banking operations and his prompt disposal of cases was legendary.
Another leading light is Chandi J. Batliwalla, who for long was the public face of the Parsis in the RBI. Her career straddled the RBI and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Her outstanding work received encomiums from a number of RBI governors as well as managing directors of the IMF. She had not one, but two five-year stints with the IMF, and also wrote the history of the RBI’s role in managing India’s external sector for the the RBI’s official history. But all the achievements of her career in the RBI and IMF pale into insignificance when one considers her outstanding work with the Red Cross over the last three decades. Even now this octogenarian (she is in her late eighties) thinks nothing of venturing into remote areas to help the disadvantaged segments of society.
Pilloo Mirza (the aunt of KekiMistry, vice chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Housing Development Finance Corporation), was the first Parsi to work in the IMF (on deputation from the RB I). She was one of the most painstaking and reliable workers in the RBI and her seniors would often say that once Mirza had processed a case no further examination was necessary. Kara Patel who was a junior officer in the RBI was famous as a reputed homeopath and had his clinic on Princess Street. Top officials of the RBI were his patients.