Agriculture and Food security

Dr. Khusro,

Shri K.C. Pant,

Mrs. Khusro,

Excellencies and distinguished friends,

This is a very important occasion on which I have been fortunate to get a copy of this modern classic, I would say a classic which completes the great classic of Adam Smith's 'Wealth of Nations'. This is a very concise classic. I think Dr. Khusro has compressed into it so much of his encyclopedic knowledge and his wide experience in life, academics, diplomacy and public service as well as in the art of journalism. I want to congratulate him today for his achievement. It is an achievement to have surveyed the entire literature on economics of poverty and produce a slim volume. Though a very precious volume, I hope this will not impoverish the reading public in India.

The question of poverty has exercised the minds of men for generations and in the Bible it is said that: "The poor shall be always with us." So far developmental economics has proved that this is a very true saying. In spite of the spectacular achievements in economic progress of countries, the poor are still with us. Whether we can abolish poverty altogether is a moot question, but this has been a dream not only of great ideologues and visionaries - the Marxists dream of the kingdom of freedom in which everything is available to everyone etc.

Until now we thought that the development which has taken place in the world would somehow filter down, trickle down to the average man. This trickling down process has been rather slow or unsuccessful. I think it was Galbraith who compared the trickling down process to feeding the horses very well with oats so that the birds can get something of it on the roadside the next day. In India specially, that process, the filtering down process is even more impractical than in other societies because our society happens to be fragmented and walled in so tightly that infiltration is very difficult to take place from one layer to the other.

So I think whatever economic developments take place, together with it considerable social change has also to take place for the fruits of development to go down to the people as a whole. Today, as mentioned by both Prof. Khusro and Pantji, we in India, in spite of our immense problems, succeeded in dealing with the question of poverty, and we have reduced poverty to some significant extent.

I see it not from statistics, but from my personal, visual experience. I was born in a small, remote, highly backward, poor village and whenever I go back to that village, I am struck by the progress made in that village. Every time I go back I could visually see the change because I used to know which families were perpetually poor and starving and who were perpetually suffering from TB and other endemic diseases and how people were dressed there and what amenities were available. But when I go today, it is impossible to escape the visual image of everything having improved, except that the consciousness of the people, has risen so much so that their discontentment level is immensely greater. Thus poverty is a very relative concept. Everybody compares themselves with the rest of the people and the rest of the world, whatever they may have. It is by comparison that we feel, rich or contented or discontented.

Although all the experiments and revolutions, ideological revolutions which took place have not really succeeded in annihilating poverty, I think they cannot be dismissed as absolute failures. They contain some seeds of progressive thought and action. <

I remember, while I was in the United States, President Reagan talking about the magic of the market place. But even when he was talking about the magic of the market place, behind the White House there was a soup kitchen being run for poor people. I think that kitchen still exists. This is the situation in many countries and therefore in India, of course the problem is much more enormous. I do not know how we can deal with it. But we have justify from the beginning considered development of resources not in the technical sense but as a development of the human faculties and the creation of institutions, which would enable people's aspirations to be accommodated. That was stated in the first chapter of the First Five-Year Plan itself - thus we had this large concept of development and economic planning.

Then we resorted to direct attack on poverty itself with schemes specifically designed for the poorer sections of the people and the poorer regions of the country. If it has not succeeded, I think it is to some extent at least due to the lack of imagination and sensitivity of the people who are in charge of implementing these programmes. Here when we come to the great question of implementation, I would like to go back to Gandhiji. He used to say, "Everybody must have enough of the basic needs of life but that these cannot be given to them. They will have to earn it. They can earn it only by the sweat of their brow". People in India sweat and toil, but the results do not go to them. So institutional changes are necessary. I think that while technical methods are applied to increasing production and increasing the basic and good things of life, at the same time, we have to consider methods of giving these things to the people themselves.

I think Gandhiji had said in another place that, he believed not in mass production but production by the masses. Because ultimately it is in the interstices of the productive processes that the distribution of wealth is determined. Therefore in the method of production - who are all cooperating in it is very important. That is why small production, small cooperatives, village level enterprises etc., were considered to be most important by Gandhiji.

Now we are in the era of liberalisation and the market economy where all national and domestic barriers are being abolished by trade and technological innovations. In this situation, the question is whether it would be possible for us to maintain our self-reliant institutions. Ultimately, if people have to be involved successfully in any production, then their self-reliant work must have certain institutions and these institutions must be able to survive and that is the problem in the era of market economy and liberalisation.

Those developing countries which succeeded in the liberalisation process had somehow, attained self-reliance in certain important basic sectors. It is based on such self-reliance that we can really adopt globalisation in a manner in which it will not be self-destructive, where it will not produce more poverty but help in elevating all the sections of the people.

I think Dr. Khusro's book has thrown a wealth of ideas as well as facts before us. Also, implicit in his analysis are ways of approaching the question of poverty in our country. Human development is certainly one of the most important things. Whether in the future the State can altogether be eliminated from economic functioning is something which has to be examined clearly. My own feeling is that in every stage of economic and technological development, there are certain organisational structures which are most applicable to that stage. Therefore, ultimately, we cannot produce a dogma like free market suited for every period in world history. There may be periods in future where State may have to play a role, or even may be compelled to play a role for protecting the economic interests of the people.

History has not ended and I do not think it will ever end, as long as human minds remain creative and enterprising. We have already seen that in the realm of human development, in education, health etc., it has been well recognised by the advocates of liberalisation themselves that State has a role to play. This is a slightly different position from what it was when liberalisation started. State has to play a crucial role during the period of liberalisation in education, social services and health etc. Therefore the pattern of development whether it is marketisation or something else will be determined by the conditions of life, by the state of technology and the organisational structure most applicable to that state. I do not think we can dogmatically accept any ideology as eternal for human kind. We will have to improvise and change as time goes on.

I would like to end by thanking Dr. Khusro most sincerely for a very valuable work that he has produced. It is really a modern classic. I think it is a classic which must be read as a complement to the 'Wealth of Nations'.

Thank you.