Bhavaraju Sarveswara Rao – Teacher, Economist, Humanist (b 1915 Godavari)
Compiled By – Sri Ramakrishna Prasad – Chennai
Value-based economics and humanist economics that is being talked about today was advocated by Bhavaraju Sarveswara Rao way back in 1982, when he was the president of Indian Economic Association. Age has not dimmed the sharpness of his mind and the quest for intellectual excellence. Physical pain and nagging infirmities of advancing years could not shake his adherence to Gandhian ideals and commitment to the path of simple living and high thinking.
Bhavaraju Sarveswara Rao, a doyen among social scientists and an economist of national renown. At a time when globalisation has unleashed such fashionable terms as information technology and high-tech culture with many questioning the relevance of social sciences, his life and work provide an appropriate answer, and even a solution to some of the problems of today.
Affectionately called BSR in academic circles, Prof. Sarveswara Rao is undoubtedly the best example of an ideal social scientist for the modern times. He has been a great teacher explaining the most intricate aspects of the complex subject, economics, with remarkable clarity and simplicity with empirical orientation. In his long and distinguished career, he played many roles – teacher, scholar, administrator, policy maker and social activist. The most lasting and outstanding aspect of his many splendoured career is his ability to inspire his students and colleagues with infectious enthusiasm for intellectual integrity. He has not only kindled academic interest but more importantly sustained intense humane attitude towards study of society and economy among hundreds of his students.
Born on 22nd Nov. 1915, at Peddapuram in East Godavary District, Prof Sarveswara Rao was a student of ULCM High School, Peddapuram and Government College of Arts at Rajahmundry. His mother, Lakshmamma passed away when he was two, and his father, Parabrahma Murty passed away when he was 13. His childhood was with his step mother, Janakamma, his mother’s younger sister. His academic background and achievements are excellent and extremely relevant to the time and place of his work. After taking his B.A.(Hons.)/M.A. economics degree in Andhra University with a first rank during 1935-39, he began his career as a researcher and teacher on the same campus under the tutelage of his mentor, V.S. Krishna (who later became the Vice-Chancellor). During 1950-53, he worked on the subject of India’s balance of payments, under the guidance of Austin Robins in Cambridge for his doctoral degree. Prof. Sarveswara Rao was made Head of the AU Department of Economics, soon after his return from England, which position he held till retirement in 1975.
As a young researcher he was very academic, analytical, and innovative. His early significant works were on the socio economic consequences of Nagarjunasagar hydro electric irrigation project (1961), Farm Management studies in West Godavary District (1957-61), Rural Development and Water Resource Management.
He was the first Principal of the AU College of Arts, Commerce and Law during 1966-69 and for varying periods a member of the Syndicate, Academic Council, Senate and arts faculty chairman. Being the founder-director of the Agro-Economic Research Centre on the campus, established by the Union Government, the reports brought out by the centre under his guidance were adjudged the best in the country. He was also instrumental in starting and sustaining academic activity in most of the social science departments of AU.
His dynamic and able stewardship helped AU to create a strong and vibrant Economics Department which has produced many a scholar of national and international repute. His visionary perception on both contemporary problems and future concerns resulted in the development of new areas like welfare economics, economics of education and poverty studies much before they were considered as important aspects of the discipline in other universities and centres.
He laid the foundation for the mathematical stream of study and the link he established with the Statistics Department under the equally benevolent academic visionary, the late K. Nagabhushanam, culminated in an integrated three-year programme called M.A.M.Sc. This has produced outstanding scholars and some of them continue to occupy very crucial positions in the national and international universities and institutions, both government and private.
After his retirement, Prof. Sarveswara Rao worked as a senior ICSSR Fellow at the Madras Institute of Development Studies (MIDS) in 1976-78 and as Vice-Chancellor of Nagarjuna University in 1979-81. For over a decade from 1983, he worked as the founder-director of the Institute of Development and Planning Studies (IDPS) and chaired IDPS from 1983 to 1996. He has been the president of the Gayatri Vidya Parishad since its inception in 1989 providing value-based and quality education in the City of Destiny (Visakhapatnam).
His contributions outside the country, though for short spans of time, were equally rewarding to the countries and institutions he served. He worked in 1964 as a senior general economist at the UN Asian Institute for Economic Development and Planning at Bangkok and as economic adviser to the Government of East Nigeria for two years, at the instance of the Ministry of External Affairs.
He has also been closely associated with a number of non-government, development and service organisations like Gandhi Peace Centre, Bhagavathula Charitable Trust, Visakhapatnam Consumer Council and Mahila Vikasa Samstha. He is currently the chairman of theVisakhapatnam Public Library Society. Prof. Sarveswara Rao was elected president of the Indian Economic Association in 1982 and was the founder-president of the AP Economic Association in 1982-83.
An outstanding academician, administrator and institution builder, he is indeed a `Karma Yogi’. His academic and research career was an amalgam of “deep theoretical understanding and extensive empirical studies, always anchored in his concern for alleviation of human suffering through state and social policies”. His contributions to both inter-disciplinary and action research have helped agencies like Visakhapatnam Municipal Corporation, Visakhapatnam Urban Development Authority and the district administration to get correct inputs at the right time to resolve crucial problems like slums, illiteracy, urbanisation, etc.
A Gandhian and a liberal in economic philosophy and institution management, he is a rare combination of tradition and modernity in both thought and action. His intellectual inspiration drawn from Dr. Krishna, combined with a legacy of institution building he inherited from his teacher, V.K.R.V. Rao, ably supported by the multi-disciplinary approach that he has cultivated through a very deep intellectual association with MIDS and in particular with Malcom Adiseshaiah made Prof. Sarveswara Rao not only an outstanding economist but a social scientist of extreme concern for contemporary society and people.
In the course of his long journey for nine decades (1915-2010) through chartered and unchartered paths of Academia, Research and Social Welfare, he lit up new vistas and left us seeking the much needed eternal rest.