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A Vaidyanathan’s pioneering work on agriculture remains a reference point

Vaidyanathan will be fondly remembered by agricultural economists and policy planners for improving our understanding of agricultural development, water resources, rural labour and livestock through his scholarly works.

Written by Ramesh Chand | Updated: June 16, 2020 9:02:38 am
Vaidyanathan’s focus was on rural and agricultural economy and the grass roots-level issues that were generally neglected but were important for the development of the country. (Source: Loksatta)

A Vaidyanathan, who passed away last week, belonged to the first generation of post-Independence economists, who formulated the public policies that addressed the formidable challenges the young republic faced, including facilitating economic growth and generating employment as well as the eradication of hunger, poverty, and other deprivations. He worked with stalwarts such as B S Minhas, V M Dandekar, K N Raj, C H Hanumantha Rao and many others to realise the dreams of independent India.

Vaidyanathan’s focus was on rural and agricultural economy and the grass roots-level issues that were generally neglected but were important for the development of the country. His well-known study, Bovine Economy in India, is representative of the kind of issues he worked on. He possessed the rare ability to capture the minutest aspect of an issue in a meticulous way, and then express it in the context of macro issues while offering solutions.

After completing his PhD from Cornell University, Vaidyanathan began his professional career at the National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER) in 1956. From here, he moved to join the perspective planning division of the erstwhile Planning Commission of India and worked there from 1962 to 1972. Thereafter, he worked at the World Bank before joining the faculty of the Centre for Development Studies, Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala. He also spent a major part of his professional life at the Madras Institute of Development Studies, Chennai, where he guided and mentored a large number of students, who now play important roles in academia and economic planning. He was actively engaged with development policies both at the national and state level — besides serving as a member of the Planning Commission in Delhi, he also worked with the Tamil Nadu State Planning Commission in Chennai.

Vaidyanathan wrote extensively on all important aspects of Indian agriculture and on rural labour, water, rural credit and agri cooperatives. His pioneering work on irrigation and water resource management is a major reference point for all researchers. He was a strong supporter of the co-operative credit structure as he was concerned about the access smallholders had to institutional finance. Vaidyanathan served as member or chair of several high-level committees and task forces set up by the government of India. He was a member of the celebrated K N Raj Committee on Taxation of Agricultural Income (1969-70). He chaired the Task Force on Revival of Cooperative Credit Institutions in 2004, which still serves as a valuable guide to strengthen the cooperative credit system. The recommendations of the Vaidyanathan Committee Report on Pricing of Irrigation Water (1992), submitted to the Planning Commission, remain valuable for India to avert the looming water crisis.

I had the opportunity to work with Vaidyanathan as a member of the steering committee on agriculture for the 10th Five-Year Plan. The committee was chaired by Hanumantha Rao and I was given the responsibility of drafting the report. The main focus of the committee was to prepare a framework to achieve 4 per cent growth in agriculture. I can never forget the insights provided by Hanumantha Rao and the guidance given by Vaidyanathan in preparing a quantitative framework to achieve the goal. I also had the opportunity to review his 2010-book, Agricultural Growth: the Role of Technology, Incentives and Institutions, that addressed many issues confronting Indian agriculture, including the neglect of dryland agriculture and natural resources in agricultural research.

Vaidyanathan managed the affairs of the Indian Society of Agricultural Economics for nine years as its president. He was actively involved in developing India’s statistical system and had a strong belief in the credibility of data to arrive at any meaningful conclusion. He was feeling increasingly concerned about the decline in the quality of official data, especially on agriculture. He highlighted these concerns in the 2011 report of the Expert Committee on Agricultural Statistics that he chaired. Vaidyanathan will be fondly remembered by agricultural economists and policy planners for improving our understanding of agricultural development, water resources, rural labour and livestock through his scholarly works.

This article first appeared in the print edition on June 16 under the title “A Grassroots Economist”. The writer is member, NITI Aayog

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