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Models and realities

That poverty in Gujarat’s Adivasi belt has not come down is uncontested.

My piece on economic models and posturing (‘Posture-nomics’, iexp.in/ vBc88240, IE, May 7) seems to have generated a lot of excitement. But in all the agitation, the two points I had made in the article remain untouched. I had said that while poverty in Gujarat is falling, it is very high in the Adivasi belt (60 per cent), which we call the poorvi patti. I had also said the growth rate in agriculture in Gujarat in 2011-12 was 4.8 per cent, which worried me. Like most debates in Delhi, no one rebutted my main arguments. Instead, I was abused. Typical.

Surjit Bhalla questioned me for saying poverty levels are generally negatively associated with income levels and that a low level of poverty in Gujarat is a no-brainer (‘The

slur and troll campaign’, iexp.in/ MYD88247, IE, May 10). He went on to say “poverty levels are a function of several initial conditions, among which per capita income or consumption and its distribution are two of the more important.” Oh, come on. When you say per capita income is important, it is kosher, but not when I say it. Bhalla goes on to say I don’t present any evidence. But in my article, I cited the excellent work of Srijit Mishra of the Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research, Mumbai, and asserted that in the poorvi patti, “the Adivasi poverty rate, at around 60 per cent, is higher than in the states that the late Ashish Bose used to call BIMARU states.” I prefer not to clutter my articles with tables. For those who want more detail, the reference was provided. While Bhalla spent a lot of print questioning me, he had nothing to say about the poverty in the Adivasi belt — my chief point.

Bhalla may know that the official poverty line, also called the Alagh poverty line, was the result of the work of a task force that I chaired. I have been wanting it to be replaced and as member, Planning Commission, I even set up the Lakdawala committee. But the committee retained the old line. Subsequently, Suresh Tendulkar made the urban Alagh poverty line the national line — I have shown in the technical literature that this will not hold. I’m glad that the Rangarajan committee has been tasked with looking into this. I guess the new government will also have its say. My papers on the matter are all published and are in the public domain.

Ashok Gulati also questioned my article in ‘A field of disagreement’ (iexp.in/JCm88262, IE, May 9). He said “there may be some lessons from Gujarat’s agriculture. If not, so be it. My only objective is to get 5 per cent growth in Indian agriculture”. But previously, he had projected his version of the Gujarat story as the model. So it is fair for me to place him in that debate. Let me first clarify that I have always maintained that Gujarat’s agriculture growth rate of around 6 per cent is a great achievement. Such growth is seldom seen. More generally, as a Gujarati, I am bullish on Gujarat and its economic performance. Also, I was part of the planning of the Sardar Sarovar project. In fact, my 500-page plan helped save the project from its critics.

Gulati asserted — earlier, and again in the article — that Gujarat’s agricultural growth rate is approximately 10 per cent. I think he is wrong. But this technical debate can be settled — he is most welcome to come to Ahmedabad, as he offered to, and we can sort out our disagreement over spreadsheets. In earlier debates, Gulati also asserted that farm ponds were the reason behind Gujarat’s agriculture growth and I had maintained that Sardar Sarovar was the major source of growth. At the time, Gulati disagreed with me, but now lists canal irrigation as a source of growth.

At the time of the earlier discussion, there were huge hoardings claiming an American institute found that farm ponds are the source of our growth. This was a reference to an International Food Policy Research Institute (Ifpri) study. I was led to believe that this study was sponsored by the state government. Gulati says this is not so. I stand corrected and apologise for this. I have known Ifpri since the days it was headed by John Mellor, and while we’ve had disagreements, we regard each other as good friends. While the sponsors of the study may be different, the comments on the study remain.

Gulati avoids the fact that Gujarat’s agriculture growth was 4.8 per cent in 2011. The weather can’t be blamed, because the rainfall that year was normal. Perhaps the benefits from Sardar Sarovar are tapering off and the project needs to be taken to the next stage, as per the original plan. Or perhaps we need a technology and market push. Rather than questioning me and chanting the mantra of 10 per cent growth, tell us something that explains this.

The writer is chancellor, Central University of Gujarat

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