Raja Chelliah was the founder-director of NIPFP. A renowned scholar and an authority on public finance, he was instrumental in designing some of the crucial fiscal reforms in India. He made remarkable contributions in the country's public policy formulation, and held a number of important positions in the government. He was the Chairman of the Tax Reforms Committee constituted by the Government of India in 1991, a member of Planning Commission, a member of the Administrative Reforms Commission and various State-level bodies on taxation-related issues. He also held the post of the Chief of the Fiscal Affairs Division of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and had been a part of the World Bank's missions to other countries on Inter-Governmental Fiscal relations. He was awarded the Padma Vibhushan in 2007. He passed away in April 2009.
To commemorate his contributions, NIPFP instituted an annual lecture series in 2009. The Memorial Lecture is delivered by an eminent expert on fiscal policy issues.