Reading through RBI archives

RBI Governor inaugrated Museum of RBI Archives recently. He gave remarks on the occassion. He shares some fascinating stories from the archives.

Here is a take on how RBI seal was formed:

Come to think of it, “it is surprising how much of memory is built around things unnoticed at the time”. Every document, every object, every artifact here records or refers to an event that may just have been an unnoticed part of contemporary setting in real time. But looking back at them from this distance of time, we get a treasure trove of stories about the Reserve Bank that are diverse and fascinating. There is, for example, the share issue of the Reserve Bank, the largest in the country, the apprehension that it may  get into the hands of ‘an exploiting group or caucus’; and the attempt to prevent that. Then there is the story about the first advertisement by the Bank for staff recruitment that caused a traffic jam on the streets of what was then Calcutta.

6. Or take the story of the RBI Seal. The seal was approved by the RBI Board. Even so, Sir James Taylor, the then Deputy Governor of the Bank, was disappointed with it. He ordered preparation of fresh sketches by the Government of India Mint and the Security Printing Press at Nasik. His dissatisfaction was with the image of the tiger on the seal, presumably because it did not quite look like a tiger.

7. Sir James could not find anyone to photograph a live tiger. So he did the next best thing, and ordered the photographing of the statue of the tiger on the entrance gate at the Belvedere in Calcutta. Sir James was clearly a man hard to please; he was not happy with those sketches either.

8. “The tiger”, wrote Sir James, apparently inclined to be a bit ribald, “looks too like some species of dog, and I am afraid that a design of a dog under a tree would arouse derision among the irreverent”.

9. A second effort produced better results with the tiger. But the palm tree went wrong. The fastidious Sir James wrote again, “The tiger is distinctly good, but the tree has spoiled it. The stem is too long and the branches too spidery, but I should have thought that by putting a firm line under the feet of the tiger and making the tree stronger and lower, we could get quite a good result from the design”.

10. The Security Printing Press at Nasik had to go to work again until it could get better results that eventually passed muster with Sir James.

And what are Subbarao’s lessons from the same?

I have recounted this story here not only because it is part of our history preserved in these Archives, not only because it is interesting and funny, but also because many of our staff, especially those from the Central Office who observe me closely, find that I am fastidious about small things such as margins, formats, line spacing etc.

Many of them feel, perhaps rightly, that the Governor should be spending his time and effort on more weighty concerns such as, for example, the menu of the staff cafeteria. The story of Sir James and the seal is therefore a matter of comfort for me. It shows that some of my illustrious predecessors were equally fastidious, admittedly about more important things. Hopefully, future generations will appreciate my fastidiousness even if the current staff think I am a nuisance.

🙂 How many central bankers can pick on themselves? Further,

The history of RBI over the past 75 years is indeed replete with such interesting events and developments. These archives tell many of those stories and they include extracts from the Report of the Edward Young Commission recommending the establishment of a central bank for India to be named Reserve Bank of India, the congratulatory telegram dated 1st April 1935 from the Viceroy of India to the RBI Governor on the commencement of operations of the Reserve Bank of India, the draft of RBI Bill 1934, the minutes and photograph of the first meeting of the Central Board of Directors, the design of currency notes and the weights earlier used for weighing coins and gold, a letter from our first Prime Minister Pandit Nehru to Sir C.D. Deshmukh, the first Indian Governor of the Reserve Bank, requesting him to send an analytical report on the deteriorating economic condition and suggest remedial measures, a letter from Prime Minister Indira Gandhi requesting release of foreign exchange for her son Rajiv’s studies abroad, the reasons for closure of the RBI office in London and the devaluation of the rupee in 1966.

In the end he says archives will be very useful for research:

In order to encourage historical research using original records as source material, the RBI Archives allows access to all non-current permanent records which are more than 30 years old. Such access is available to post-graduate students, research scholars, and members of the staff of the Reserve Bank and other banks as well as students from other institutions. As economists tell us, supply does not always generate its own demand. The reason I am saying that is it is one thing for the RBI Archives to have a liberal policy towards providing access to records to encourage research. It is another matter to generate the demand for the study of the records for research purposes. Only then can we have a situation where demand meets supply. I would, therefore, urge the managers of the RBI Archives to go beyond supply side responses and to launch a campaign to disseminate information about the records they hold in a way that will whet the appetite of potential scholars.

Hope we get to read more of research based on RBI and Indian economic history from these archives. Going to Pune is becoming a must now. It could soon be a hub for economists and historians.

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