Aditya Balasubramanian (University of Cambridge)

The Reserve Bank of India Archives, Poona

The Archives of the Reserve Bank of India are a treasure trove for the history of economic life in South Asia. The collections boast over 23,000 files, 2700 books, and 74 oral history tapes. Beyond having exhaustive data on macroeconomic indicators, these archives offer rich evidence about how the state regulated economic life and attempted to improve the financial well-being of Indians. Material available includes files on currency and foreign exchange, credit creation and financial inclusion, financial literacy and educational initiatives, fundraising by the state, and cases of financial crime. Committee reports related to banking and credit provide wonderful chronological views of financial inclusion and the broader commercial life of India. Among the more intriguing contents available include a journal of defective notes, papers regarding the Small Savings Movement, exchange permits, remittances and exchange control files, and material related to the Bombay Shops and Establishments Act of 1939. To get a better sense about some of the holdings at the Reserve Bank, I would strongly suggest that readers have a look at the History of the Reserve Bank of India, particularly volumes 1-3, which span the period between 1935 and 1981. The Reserve Bank holds documents not merely from the headquarters in Bombay, but also from Regional Reserve Banks all around the country. This presents an interesting opportunity to see how savings patterns and administrative practices different in local environments.

In the same building where the archives are housed, there is a small Reserve Bank Museum that contains some information about the various governors and major initiatives in the Bank’s history. It also has a collection of various objects, such as old Rupee notes, applications for foreign exchange from prominent people like Indira Gandhi, and correspondences between prominent RBI personalities and politicians, such as C.D. Deshmukh and Jawaharlal Nehru. The Archives are housed in the Campus of the College of Agricultural Banking in the city of Poona, which trains Reserve Bank officers. Although accommodation is not available on-campus for researchers, Poona itself has no shortage of affordable lodging close to the archive. The Director of the Archives is the ever-resourceful Dr. Rajib Lochan Sahoo, an economic historian, who manages the archives with helpful archivist Ravi Kiran Pala. The recently digitised finding aids are easily searchable and there is a quick turnaround time for the receipt of files.

These archives are located near another archive important in the history of economic life in South Asia, the Tata Central Archives. Several Bombay industrialists influential in the early life of the Reserve Bank also had connections to Tata Sons, such A.D. Shroff.

May 2017