Indian Statistical Institute (ISI) - Introduction

The Indian Statistical Institute (ISI) was started by Prof. Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis sometime in 1920 at the Presidency College Kolkata. Registered on 28 April 1932, as a non-profit distributing learning society under the Societies Registration Act (XXI of 1860) is now registered under the West Bengal Societies Registration Act XXVI of 1961 amended in 1964. Sir R.N. Mookerjee was the first president of the institute.

Prof. Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis was a Physicist who later became Statistician. It was Prof. Mahalanobis who undertook the entire statistical work single handedly during 1920s and 1930s in India. The early statistical studies included analyses of data on the stature of Anglo-Indians, meteorological data, rainfall data, data on soil conditions, etc. Some of the findings of these early studies were of great impact in the control of floods, development of agriculture, etc., and led to the recognition of Statistics as a key scientific discipline.

The Indian Statistical Institute (ISI) that started in a room and with a budget of Rs. 250 today has four large centers in the country in four major cities- Kolkata, New Delhi, Bangalore and Hyderabad. The institute now comprises over 250 faculty members and over 1,000 supporting staff and several modern-day gadgets like the personal computers, workstations, minicomputers, supermini computers and mainframe computers.

The institute is well equipped for imparting teaching and training of mathematics, statistics and allied disciplines.

Founder of ISI

Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis was born in 1893 in a progressive well to do family. He had gone to Cambridge University London in 1913 for pursuing higher studies and completed his Tripos in Physics in 1915.

Mahalanobis was a great learner and intellectual. His tutor at Cambridge, W.H. Macaulay once drew Mahalanobis’s attention towards a journal Biometrika. Mahalanobis found the journal so interesting that he bought the complete set of volumes of Biometrika. Later the Biometrika played key role in establishment of Indian Statistical Institute at Calcutta.

Professor Mahalanobis was offered a seat of professor in Physics at the Presidency College Kolkata. Besides teaching physics, Professor Mahalanobis carried out all the statistical work during 1930’s in India. Many other fellows followed the trend of studying physics and working as statistician in later years. Some of these were- M. Sengupta, H.C. Sinha, R.C. Bose, S.N. Roy, K.R. Nair, K. Kishen, C.R. Rao, and many other.

The first important work in Statistics in the modern sense was undertaken by Acharya B.N. Seal, who sought Mahalanobis’ help in the statistical analysis of examination results of the Calcutta University.

Professor Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis won the membership of Royal Society, London for his contribution to statistical sciences. Design and analysis of agricultural experiments also bloomed and led to some international contacts, notably with Sir Ronald A. Fisher.

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