The former deputy governor of RBI, Savak Sohrab Tarapore, passed into history unobtrusively. He breathed his last at a nursing home in Mumbai on February 2. He left with quiet dignity—the way he had lived his entire life—giving instructions to his wife Farida that his last rites be observed simply and that there should be no brouhaha around his passing away. He left without a grudge, with the satisfaction of a man who had paid his debts to the world. He knew he had made his mark and that it was time to move on.
Tarapore was well-known for chairing RBI’s Committee on Capital Account Convertibility—which has now become synonymous with his name—an effort to discover fiscal and economic policies that would enable the so-called third world (developing) countries to transition seamlessly to being globalised market economies. His seminal contribution lay as a member of the Committee on Procedures and Performance Audit of Public Services (CPPAPS). He was passionate about the interests of bank depositors and strongly engaged in advocacy to uphold the rights of the common person. He fought tirelessly for this, actively engaging with the All India Bank Depositors Association.
He strongly felt there has been a total disenfranchisement of the depositor—that the depositor, the key stakeholder in the banking system, has been shorn of her rights. He called for a citizen’s charter, with the depositor as the centre-piece. He felt banks had taken depositors’ loyalty for granted. The depositor can legitimately claim a Bill of Rights, but everywhere she is in chains. He wrote, “Lip-service to the depositor has gone on for too long and there must be a time-bound roadmap to reverse the disenfranchisement of the depositor, and the start of a process of empowering of the depositor.”
In the CPPAPS report, he wrote, “The banks’ offerings are generally opaque—what is not charged is mentioned, but what is charged is not mentioned—high hidden costs appear rampant and unjustified, thus banks enjoy undue enrichment. If a small customer goes to a bank and has a technical problem, anecdotal evidence suggests that he runs into enormous difficulties. The Committee notes with some sadness that there is substance in the widespread impression among the small depositor community that one needs to know someone higher-up for getting his/her job done. Intense depositor loyalty is the only plank on which the Indian banking systems is surviving. The banks providing poor customer service have to understand that depositors are at the end of their tether.”
He recommended that the Indian Banks’ Association should launch a countrywide customer education campaign, informing customers of the difficulties arising out of single accounts, account without nomination, and jointly-operated accounts. He was of the opinion that banks should periodically place a statement before their boards analysing the complaints received. The statement of complaints and its analysis should also be disclosed by banks along with their financial results. In its evaluation of a bank’s performance, RBI should also give adequate weightage to depositor complaints.
He felt deeply for the poor pensioner whose savings are strongly eroded by the demon of inflation. He considered a relentless battle against inflation the dharma of RBI. He passionately believed that the history of RBI should be written clearly, warts and all.
Dr Tarapore did not believe in the concealment of any fact and felt that the ultimate judgement is always in the hands of the court of posterity. He was very keen that chapters such as the delay in the formation of RBI, the appointment of its first Governor, Dr Osborne Smith, and the concatenation of circumstances leading to his resignation should be researched and included in the annals of the central bank’s history. At his instance, this work was taken up by this author, and the findings were submitted to RBI. Few people would know that he had a puckish sense of humour and that he wrote short-stories in English. Dr Tarapore’s columns in popular publications were imaginatively titled Maverick View and Equity Master.
He was an indulgent father and a dedicated family man, though a very private person. His wife and children were never seen at the RBI office. Touchingly, in later years, he kept a picture of his grandchildren on his table. He was more a Platonist than an Aristotelian—a Weberian in his grand vision. His blessing always was, “May God hold you in the palm of his hand.” On his passing away, several of us bereaved, having lost a friend, mentor and father-figure.
The author is executive director, RBI