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From Tihar jail inmate to Nobel laureate: Meet Abhijit Banerjee

From Tihar jail inmate to Nobel laureate: Meet Abhijit Banerjee
Courtesy "twitter/NobelPrize"

New Delhi: Indian-origin MIT professor Abhijit Banerjee, his wife and one-time Ph.D student Esther Duflo, and Harvard professor Michael Kremer have been awarded the 2019 Nobel Prize in Economics for their work which has “dramatically improved our ability to fight poverty in practice,” it was announced on Monday.

Personal background of Banerjee

Born in Mumbai in 1961, Banerjee is one of the leading development economists and is presently working as a professor of economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

Author of a large number of articles and books, Banerjee graduated in science from the Calcutta University in 1981 before moving to the Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi from where he completed his MA in 1983. He received his PhD from the Harvard University in 1988.

Global poverty

Announcing the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said that the research conducted by this year’s laureates has considerably improved the ability to fight global poverty.

“In just two decades, their new experiment-based approach has transformed development economics, which is now a flourishing field of research,” the Academy said.

Tihar Jail

According to the report published in Economic Times, Mr. Banerjee was one of the 400 students who were arrested after protracted student agitation on the JNU campus in 1983. He was sent to Tihar jail.

Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab

In 2003, he founded the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL) along with Esther Duflo and Sendhil Mullainathan, and he remains one of the lab’s directors.

J-PAL is a global research center that is working to reduce poverty. It conducts randomized impact evaluations.

It may be mentioned that earlier, it was known by name, “Poverty Action Lab”. In 2005, the lab was renamed to honour Sheikh Abdul Latif Jameel.  

It focuses on three areas

  • Impact evaluations
  • Policy outreach
  • Capacity building

Banerjee is a past President of the Bureau for the Research in the Economic Analysis of Development, a research associate of the NBER and a CEPR research fellow, international research fellow of the Kiel Institute, a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the Econometric Society, and has been a Guggenheim Fellow and an Alfred P. Sloan Fellow and a winner of the Infosys prize.

He is the author of a large number of articles and four books, including “Poor Economics”, which won the Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year award in 2011.

He is the editor of three more books and has also directed two documentary films. He also served on the UN Secretary-General’s high-level Panel of Eminent Persons on the post-2015 Development Agenda.

In 2011, Banerjee was named one of Foreign Policy magazine’s top 100 global thinkers. His areas of research are development economics and economic theory.

Noted historian Ramachandra Guha said that Banerjee’s ground-breaking scholarship apart, he is also a superb cook and a connoisseur of Hindustani classical music.

“He represents the best of Indian culture and scholarship, while always being open to what the world has to offer,” Guha wrote on Twitter while congratulating the Nobel laureate.

Mamata congratulates Banerjee for winning Nobel

An “overjoyed” West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee congratulated Abhijit Vinayak Banerjee.

“Hearty congratulations to Abhijit Banerjee, alumnus of South Point School & Presidency College Kolkata, for winning the Nobel Prize in Economics. Another Bengali has done the nation proud. We are overjoyed,” Banerjee said in a tweet.

Sonia Gandhi congratulates Banerjee

Extending her wishes to Banerjee, Congress interim President Sonia Gandhi said in a party statement, “Apart from making the nation of his origin proud by this spectacular achievement, Prof Banerjee and his fellow recipients’ work in ‘experimental approach to alleviating global poverty’ had helped millions across the globe, including India, come out of poverty.”

Sonia Gandhi added that Banerjee’s recognition as a Nobel laureate has delighted every Indian.

Meanwhile, Rahul Gandhi tweeted, “Congratulations to #AbhijitBanerjee on winning the Nobel Prize in Economics.

Abhijit helped conceptualise NYAY that had the power to destroy poverty and boost the Indian economy.

Instead we now have Modinomics, that’s destroying the economy and boosting poverty. “.

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