Professor Nurul Islam, who headed the country's first Planning Commission as its first deputy chairman (the head of government was the chairman), passed away this week. Aged 94, he died of a heart attack on May 8 in Washington, DC. With him, Bangladesh lost one of its greatest economists, whose contributions to the subject and in the matter of reducing poverty in the country predated the country's birth in 1971.

Bangladesh's status as a development laboratory of sorts, also predates the birth of the nation, and Prof. Islam rose to become director of the Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (later Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies). As a teacher at Dhaka University, he was part of a group of economists who had worked to craft Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman's Six Point Programme, highlighting the disparity between the erstwhile East Pakistan and West Pakistan. As early as 1961, Islam, Rehman Sobhan and Habibur Rehman organised a seminar on the economic disparities between West and East Pakistan, which was instrumental in stirring up support for independence ('The Two Nation Theory'). After independence, Bangabandhu made him deputy chairman of Bangladesh's first Planning Commission.

At the time of his death, Professor Islam was serving as an Emeritus Fellow of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), having joined the organisation as Senior Policy Adviser to the Director General in 1987.

In his autobiography, 'An Odyssey: The Journey of My Life', he said he had never gone to a primary school, but was admitted to a high school directly after homeschooling by his father.

After clearing intermediate exams from Chattogram College, he did his Bachelor's and Master's in economics from Dhaka University. He did his PhD from Harvard in 1955.

After playing a key role in making the Six Point Programme, he worked in the US to rally international support for Bangladesh's independence during the 1971 Liberation War.

After independence, he returned home and became deputy chairman of the Planning Commission, with Bangabandhu being the chairman.

During his long career, Prof. Nurul Islam served as Assistant Director-General of the Economic and Social Policy Division of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Apart from this, he was the chairman of the Bangladesh Institute of Development Research and a professor at the Economics Department of Dhaka University.

After Bangabandhu's assassination in 1975, Prof Nurul left Bangladesh. From 1975 onwards he was a Fellow at St. Antony's College at Oxford University, Assistant Director General of the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization, and Advisor and later Emeritus Fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute. He held several visiting academic appointments at Yale and Cambridge Universities and both the London and the Netherlands School of Economics. He was a member and later the Chairman of the UN Committee of Development Planning Policy.

He penned some 29 books, including Development Planning in Bangladesh: A Study in Political Economy (UPL, 1979, reprint 1993), Development Strategy of Bangladesh (Pergamon, 1978), Foodgrain Price Stabilization in Developing Countries: Issues and Experiences in Asia (IFPRI, 1996), Exploration in Development Issues: Selected Articles of Nurul Islam (Ashgate, 2003), 'Corruption, Its Control and Drivers of Change', and 'India, Pakistan, Bangladesh: A Primer on Political History'.

Islam resided with his wife Rowshan in Potomac, Maryland and Washington, DC - where he passed away- and is survived by her, a son, and a daughter. With him, some are of the view that Bangladesh has lost its greatest economist.

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