The last non-economist RBI governor was S Venkitaraman, who was appointed to the office in 1990.
14 of 25 RBI governors have been bureaucrats including 12 coming from IAS/ICS
Immediate predecessors of Shaktikanta Das were economists
Shaktikanta Das has got tenure as RBI governor till 2023
There are no fixed eligibility criteria for appointment of a person as the RBI governor. According to the RBI Act, appointment of governor is approved by the PMO on the recommendation of the finance minister. Shaktikanta Das is the 25th RBI governor and 14th career bureaucrat including 12 IAS/ICS officers to hold the position.
With the appointment of Shaktikanta Das as RBI governor, the position has gone back to an IAS officer after two economist incumbents. The last IAS officer to hold the office of RBI governor was D Subbarao, who was also an economist like his predecessor YV Reddy.
However, Shaktikanta Das holds degrees of graduation and post-graduation in History from Delhi University. He later pursued a financial management course from IIM Bangalore. His predecessors Urjit Patel and Raghuram Rajan were economists of repute.
Both Raghuram Rajan and Urjit Patel earned their reputation as top economists during their association with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Incidentally, Shaktikanta Das is the first RBI governor since 1990, when S Venkitaraman was appointed to the office.
Venkitaraman was an IAS officer and like Shaktikanta Das had served as a secretary in the finance ministry. Venkitaraman was the finance secretary. Shaktikanta Das was first the revenue secretary and then the economic affairs secretary when he oversaw demonetisation drive of the Narendra Modi government.
Osborne Smith was the first RBI governor, appointed in 1935. He was a professional banker. His successors were all bureaucrats drawn mainly from ICS (Indian Civil Services) till BN Adarkar in 1970.
Adarkar was an economist but his stint was a stop-gap arrangement for 42 days. But his appointment was in sync with the growing realisation that the RBI governor had much more to do than just put signatures on various currency denominations.
The big shift came in 1977, when M Narasimham became the first RBI cadre officer to head the central bank of the country. All his successors before Shaktikanta Das were established economists except Venkitaraman. The list includes IG Patel, Manmohan Singh, C Rangarajan and Bimal Jalan.
Four retired IAS officers were also appointed as the RBI governor during this period – RN Malhotra, Venkitaraman, Reddy and Subbarao. Of them Malhotra, Reddy and Subbarao were also economists.
Shaktikanta Das was a Tamil Nadu cadre IAS officer. In 2016, when Shaktikanta Das was the economic affairs secretary, a controversy from the past cropped up. It was related to land allotment to a US company in Tamil Nadu. The US company had got 100 acres of land about 50 km from Chennai in 2007 at a price that allegedly existed in 1970.
BJP leader Subramanian Swamy brought out the charge of irregularities in the concessional land allotment. Swamy also accused Shaktikanta Das of illegally favouring P Chidambaram, the Congress leader and former Union finance minister.
The Narendra Modi government has appointed Shaktikanta Das for a tenure of five years. Both his predecessors, Urjit Patel and Raghuram Rajan were appointed for three years. While Rajan decided not to seek an extension Urjit Patel became the first RBI governor since 1990 to resign before end of the tenure.
If Shaktikanta Das serves his full tenure as the RBI governor, he would be in office almost the full tenure of the next government at the Centre. The term of the NDA government ends in May, when fresh election to the Lok Sabha is scheduled to take place.