Prof. A.D.V. de S. Indraratna, a national icon who passed away peacefully on January 18 was a person known to have unflinching courage, especially when dealing with matters pertaining to his profession or proposals for national economic development. So much so in 2007 he wrote with three other colleagues in the Sri Lanka Economic Association [...]

The Sunday Times Sri Lanka

Appreciation: Life and times of Prof. A.D.V. de S. Indraratna


Prof. A.D.V. de S. Indraratna

Prof. A.D.V. de S. Indraratna, a national icon who passed away peacefully on January 18 was a person known to have unflinching courage, especially when dealing with matters pertaining to his profession or proposals for national economic development.

So much so in 2007 he wrote with three other colleagues in the Sri Lanka Economic Association (SLEA), the only publication on corruption in Sri Lanka titled ‘The Impact of Corruption on Poverty and economic Growth’. The report estimated that public sector corruption was approximately 9 per cent of GDP at the time and warned that it would clip economic growth by about 2 per cent per year.

Although heavily criticised during 2010 presidential election, it was proved to be right on the dot when the COPE report of 2007 indicated that corruption in 2006 amounted to Rs. 300 billion and two veteran parliamentarians confirmed that 40-45 per cent of annual government budgetary allocations was siphoned off annually by corruption.

He was also the lead author of a document titled Proposals for National Economic Development prepared in 2010; a revised version was made available in 2012. Both were presented to the government and made public through a website. They ushered in the changes that are being discussed currently to improve the enabling environment for attracting investment especially by way of constitutional reforms and by formulating policies for enhancing the global competitiveness of export production, ultimately to alleviate poverty in this country.

Humble beginnings

Young Indraratna, who excelled in studies at a village school in Hikkaduwa, entered Dharmashoka College, Ambalangoda in 1943, after obtaining his SSC. At Dharmashoka too he was deemed the best all- rounder and after passing the HSC, entered the university in 1948 where he graduated in 1951 with Honours in Economics.

Indraratna did his postgraduate studies at the University of Birmingham in England and was awarded the AE Hills Award for the best performance in the Graduates’ Diploma Examination in Commerce in 1956. He wrote a thesis on ‘Economic Development of a Primary Producing Export Economy’ in 1957 for his M.Comm. Degree in the same university. He joined the staff of the university as an Assistant Lecturer in economics the next year. In 1968 he was offered the Professorship in Economics in two universities; he accepted that of the University of Colombo where he had spent his student days. So began the career of a remarkable Sri Lankan economist, teacher and leader.

Teaching experience

It was he who founded the Economics Faculty in the University of Colombo in the face of much opposition and he was the Founder Professor of Economics (1967-1980), Founder Dean, Faculty of Social Sciences (1968-1978) of the University of Colombo. In addition he had held Visiting Professorships at several foreign universities such as the University of Keio, Tokyo, Japan and the University of Sierra Leone as well as the University of Western Sydney, Australia. Like so many others who had been fortunate enough to obtain foreign qualifications in this manner, he could have easily migrated and secured a highly paid job and amass wealth. But he opted to come back to serve his country. He had in this manner acquired more than 40 years of teaching and research experience at university level in this country, where he was credited with teaching economics to more than 20,000 students.

Administration and leadership

He left the teaching profession in 1980 only to serve the system in a different capacity. He was appointed the Director of Planning and Research of the University Grants Commission where he prepared the first Corporate Plan and Annual Statistical Handbook to enable the administration to conceptualise the key result areas of administering the university system and monitor performance to prevent any slippage. After a 12 year-stint at the Grants Commission he was called upon to serve the country in various high level capacities, such as a Member of the National Planning Services Board, Director of the National Savings Bank and of the Marketing Federation of Sri Lanka, Chairman of the Fair Trading Commission, member of the National Education Commission and many more.

In addition he was ‘pushed’ into leadership positions in other fields by general acclaim; he was elected the President of the Sri Lanka Association for the Advancement of Sciences (1998) and of the Organisation of Professional Associations (OPA) of Sri Lanka (2009-2010).


Despite a busy schedule of work as a teacher and an administrator he undertook a number of heavy duty consultancies including those on Plantation Reform, Phase I and II of the Secondary Education Modernisation, Development and Management of Regional Plantation Companies, in addition to various other missions/assignments for local and international organisations.

Prolific writing

He, in a sense, never left the teaching profession. He had been writing extensively on his favourite subject economics and had published more than 35 books or as chapters in books, in excess of 35 periodical /journal articles and 6 encyclopedia articles. He pioneered the teaching of the subject in Sinhala at university level when everybody thought that economics could not be taught in this language. He went further by publishing the first book on economics in Sinhala, titled ‘Mila Niyaya’ (Price Theory).

The Sri Lanka Economic Association

Indraratna never retired. He, together with Gamani Corea, Jayantha Kelegama, H.N.S.Karunatilake, Prof. Buddhadasa Hewavithara and others formed the Sri Lanka Economic Association (SLEA) in 1985 by reviving the then defunct Ceylon Economic Association. He served as the first Secretary of the association and thereafter, served in various capacities and was elected the President of the Association in 2003, a position that he held until the end of last year. He had rendered yeoman service to the association by bringing out conference volumes, journals, promoting economic policy discussions over the years, in particular, the last decade. In addition he got the association registered under an Act of Parliament and initiated plans to build its own head office.

He had also widened the scope of activities of the SLEA by creating a new website (, to enable it to reach out to its membership of more than 400 economists and to serve the public more effectively.

Scholarship fund

He went further than was expected of a teacher and administrator by creating the Professor Indraratna Scholarship Fund in 2010 from his own earnings. The fund gives 10 scholarships every year to university students qualifying for the special degrees in economics. In addition a gold medal is presented annually to a best performing university student at the final examination in economics, (special) degree.

Awards/national icon

His enormous contribution to teaching, university administration, policy formulation and intellectual leadership had been formally recognised on several occasions; examples being the Sarvodaya National Award for Advancement of Development through Economics and Education (1995) and National Apex Award for Excellence in the Field of Economics by the OPA.

Zest and energy

He was noted for his enormous zest and energy for work even in his old age, having maintained good health and good looks. He spent several hours every day attending seminars and meetings and at the office of the SLEA (even while at home), managing its affairs and commenting on PhD theses and books/documents on economics submitted by students, fellow workers and friends.

In the minds of 20,000 and more of his students, fellow workers and admirers he was no less a figure than a national icon who will be badly missed by them. May he attain Nibbana!

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