Indian Statistical Institute

Indian Statistical Institute a premier research institute, initially established in the premises of presidency college, Calcutta, in 1931, and formally registered in 1932. Professor Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis and a group of young research workers who gathered round him at the Presidency College during the 1920s conceived the idea of the Institute. Returning from Cambridge in 1915 after completing a Tripos in Natural Science, Mahalanobis started to teach Physics in Presidency College, Calcutta. Just before leaving Cambridge he had been introduced to Karl Pearson's 'Biometric Tables' and 'The journal Biometrica' by his tutor, WH Macaulay. He brought back the entire set of the Biometrica with him to Calcutta. He started studying statistics from these journals.

In 1917 the university of calcutta appointed a committee to inquire into its examination system with Brajendra Nath Seal, then the University Professor of Philosophy, as the committee's chairman. Seal was conversant with recent developments in biometry. He asked Mahalanobis to help in the work of inquiry by using statistical methods. This led to Mahalanobis carrying out practical work on statistical problems.

In 1926 Mahalanobis met the renowned statistician RA Fisher in England and was introduced to the Fisherian methods of field experiments. In 1927 Mahalanobis established a Statistical Laboratory in Presidency College. His own office room in the college was partitioned to make space for the Laboratory. From 1926, the Statistical Laboratory functioned as a focal point for a decade to examine the application of statistical methods to agricultural investigations. His work was supported by a grant from the Indian Council of Agricultural Research from 1931.

In 1931 the researchers of the Laboratory decided to establish a statistical society in India. A public meeting was called on 17 December 1931 over the signatures of Pramatha Nath Banerji (Minto Professor of Economics), Nikhil Ranjan Sen (Khaira Professor of Applied Mathematics), and Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis with the renowned industrialist RN Mukherjee in the chair. This meeting adopted a unanimous resolution to establish the Indian Statistical Institute, which was registered on 28 April 1932 as a non-profit distributing learned society under the Societies Registration Act XXI of 1860. Its membership was open to all persons interested in statistics irrespective of gender, caste, creed, class or nationality.

In the early years of the Institute, 10 to 12 meetings used to be organised annually where lectures were given, or discussions held, on both theoretical and applied problems of statistics. Attending to statistical inquiries of various kinds from all over India was an important part of the Institute's work then. Up to 1942, the total number of inquiries carried out on a wide range of statistical problems was about 130. The Institute started a journal in 1933 called Sankhya for the publication of its research findings. The new technique of estimating acreage and yield of crops in a large region by random sampling was worked out and applied on the jute crop in the province of Bengal in 1937.

In January 1938 the first Indian Statistical Conference was organised in Calcutta with RA Fisher as its President. This took place immediately after the jubilee session of the Indian Science Congress. Subsequently, the Science Congress agreed to start a separate section for statistics from 1945. The Institute was moved from Presidency College to its present premises in Baranagar on the Barrackpore Trunk Road during the 1950s. [Uma Das Gupta]