John Matthai birthday – all you need to know about India’s Prime Minister of Finance and Railways


Challiyal John Matthai, better known in India and abroad as Dr John Matthai, was an economist who served as India’s first Minister of Railways and then India’s Minister of Finance, taking office shortly thereafter the presentation of India’s first budget in 1948.

He was born on January 10, 1886, as the son of Challiyal Thomas Matthai and Anna Thayyil in an Anglican Christian Syrian family.

After graduating in Art and Law from the University of Madras, he practiced as a lawyer for about 4 years. He later left for England for higher education, obtaining a D.Litt from Oxford and a D.Sc. From the London School of Economics.

After returning to India, Dr Matthai joined the Madras government in 1918 as a special duty officer in the cooperative department for two years. He later taught economics at the Presidential College until 1925 and was a member of the Legislative Council for a time. Having worked in government service until 1940 in various capacities as a member and chairman of the Tariff Commission and later as director general of business intelligence and statistics.

In 1946, Dr. Matthai joined the Executive Council of the Viceroy. Later, after working as a member of industry and supply in the interim government, he became Minister of Railways and later of Commerce and Industry. His last portfolio in the Nehru ministry was Minister of Finance, after which he resigned and joined Tatas in 1950.

In 1953, he took over the chairmanship of the Commission of Inquiry on Taxation. He later became the chairman of the newly incorporated State Bank of India (resigned as administrator of the sons of Tata in 1955). He was vice-chancellor of the University of Bombay between 1955 and 1957 and later of the University of Kerala for two years until his death in 1959.

A distinguished economist. Dr Matthai was one of the authors of the Bombay Plan, had several publications to his credit, and was a great speaker.

Dr Matthai joined Tatas as a director in 1940 and worked as a director in charge of Tata Chemicals for two years.

He resigned and joined Tatas in 1950. During the second term at Tatas, Dr Matthai became the managing director and vice president of TISCO and TELCO. He has also served as Director of ACC and Indian Hotels, Chairman of the Sir Dorabji Tata Trust and Chairman of the Court of the Indian Institute of Science.

In 1953, Dr Matthai resigned from the post of director of some Tata companies, but continued to be the director of Tata sons Limited.


  • Dr John Matthai was the first chairman of the National Council for Applied Economic Research (NCAER)

  • First President of the Court of Governors of Administrative Staff College, India, Hyderabad

  • First President of the National Book Trust of India

  • He actively participated in the World Conference of Christian Youth held in Kottayam, Kerala in December 1952

  • President of Fertilizers And Chemicals Travancore Ltd (FACT) From July 1957 to July 31, 1959.


  • The first set of RBI Currency banknotes issued in 1949, serial number 000003 of Rupee 1, 5 and 10 was given to Dr John Matthai.

  • The British government conferred on him the Companion of the Order of the Indian Empire (CIE) in 1934 for his contribution to the Tariff Board.

  • The Miller Gold Medal was awarded by Madras Christian College from 1903 to 1904.

  • The Indian government conferred on him the Padma Vibhushan for his contribution to education and public service in 1959.

(with source inputs)

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Posted on: Sunday January 09, 2022 5:25 PM IST


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