Of models and economists

Updated: May 15 2014, 02:09am hrs
As I drink chai after taking a walk and read the daily news in my small garden in Thaltej, I see that my article on models and postures in the Indian Express, May 7 (http://goo.gl/L9kA6D), seems to have led to a lot of excitement. But, in all the excitement on account of the elections, the two points I made in the article remain untouched. I had said that poverty in Gujarat is falling but it is very high at 60% in the Adivasi belt, which we call the Poorvi Patti. I had also said that the growth rate in agriculture in Gujarat in FY12 over FY11 was 4.8%, which worried me. Like all the debates in Delhi, no one answered, advised or commented on these facts. Instead, I got abused, putting it more politely, questioned. Typical.

Surjit Bhalla, in his article on May 10 (http://goo.gl/IKPj3X), questions me for saying that generally poverty levels are negatively associated with income levels and so a low poverty level in Gujarat is a no-brainer. He then goes on to say that 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 Bhalla. When you say per capita income is important, you are kosher, when I say that, I am to be questioned. Bhalla goes on to say that I dont present any evidence but my article says Gujarats problem is not all this old hat stuff that the corridor between Palanpur and Vapi is growing and poverty levels there are lower. As we have pointed out time and again, its problem is what is called the Poorvi Patti. These are the districts where the Adivasi population lives in larger numbers when it is not migrating for work. This is a highly researched area, shown by research studies in Gujarat, and an excellent summary piece at the NSS region level, by Srijit Mishra at the Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research in Mumbai. In this NSS region, which is the Adivasi belt, poverty levels amongst Adivasis, at around 60%, are higher than what the late Asis Bose used to call the BIMARU states. I am citing the study which gives the evidence I am using, but to Bhalla, I dont present any evidence. Incidentally, Srijit Mishra, one of the more careful scholars on poverty estimation in India, is back from an academic invitation from London and has an appreciative word on the article. Should I clutter up my articles with tables My reader of the Express is a harried (wo)man, who in between breakfast and a lecture by the better half on rising prices is reading a copy of the Express on the way to office, in the contract bus or suburban train. The reference is there for those who want detail. But Bhalla, spending a lot of print on questioning, has nothing to say on poverty in the Adivasi beltthe main point I had made.

On poverty, while questioning me, Bhalla, since he constantly harps on technical jargon in a newspaper article, may know that what is called the Official Poverty Line came from a task-force I chaired and is also called the Alagh Poverty Line. I have been wanting it to be replaced and, as member, Planning Commission, set up the Lakdawala Committee. It still kept the old line and then Tendulkar made the urban line of the Alagh Poverty Line the national line. I showed in the technical literature that this will not hold and I am glad that now the Rangarajan Committee will be looking into that. I guess the new government will have its own say. My last paper on that is published.

Ashok Gulati also questions me in his article on May 9 (http://goo.gl/rMyIe9). He says, There may be some lessons from Gujarats agriculture. If not, so be it. My only objective is to get 5% growth in Indian agriculture. But in the original article his version of the Gujarat story was the model, for there is an interesting debate on development models with the Gujarat model under intense scrutiny. So it is fair for me to place him in that debate. Let me first clarify that I have always maintained in this column and in the technical literature that Gujarats agriculture growth rate, at around 6%, is a great achievement, since such growth is seldom seen. I had processed country-wise growth in the FAO project on A Global Agricultural Model and this is so.

More generally, as a Gujarati, I am very bullish on Gujarat and its economic performance, doubling manufacturing every six years and now fast agricultural growth. I had also planned Sardar Sarovar Project. Planning for Prosperity, its 500-page plan, is my baby, and its details saved the project from its critics. We are a very business-like people and soon work out solutions to our problems. Of course, this means that problems are also foreseen.

Gulati held earlier, and again now, that Gujarats agricultural growth rate is 10% (now 9.8%). I think he is making a mistake but the technical debate can be settled since he is most welcome to come to Ahmedabad, as he has offered, and we can sort that matter on spread sheets. In the earlier debates, he was taking the position that farm ponds were the source of growth and I said that Sardar Sarovar was a major source. Gujarats agriculture was always commercial and Sardar Sarovar, in its present form, meant a reversal to wheat and paddy, since the flow was unregulated. Gulati disagreed then but now lists canal irrigation as a source of growth. That reversal is good. That Bt cotton is a major success in Gujarat has been extensively argued in my columns a decade and half ago, while presenting a case that Navbharat Seeds should not have been penalised for promoting its seeds at the beginning of this century. Our suggestion then that they should be networked with a large supplier is now being done with their connection with Monsanto.

At the time of the earlier discussion, there was a huge hoarding saying an American institute claims farm ponds source our growth. This was a reference to an IFPRI study. I was led to believe that this was from a study sponsored by the state government. Gulati says, not so. I stand corrected and apologise on attributing to that source. I have known IFPRI from the time it was following Indian agriculture at the hands of our friend John Mellors, their director, and while we had debates with them at the time when planning still mattered, we regarded each other as good friends. The sponsors may be different, but the comments on the study remain.

Gulati avoids the fact that Gujarats growth in agriculture was 4.8% in 2011. Is it weather But rainfall was okay that year. Is Sardar Sarovar tapering out at the present stage of technology and needs to move to its original plan Do we need a technology and market push Tell us something apart from questioning Alagh and the mantra of 10%.

As a 28-year old, with a University of Pennsylvania degree, I was selected by some of the countrys top economists as a full professor and the late JJ Anjaria told me, Yoginder, for you, careerism has ended, for there is nothing more. But career development will continue. I never forget that. Yes, I went to Delhi occasionally. The first time as an official heading the prestigious PPD, while Dr Manmohan Singh, my senior, was an official in the finance ministry. I was later member, Planning Commission, with the rank of a minister of state and later VC, JNU, and a minister of state. But I never forgot Anjaria saheb and went back happily to my professorship, even now as a Professor Emeritus. Nothing more. But also, nothing less.

Yoginder K Alagh

The author is a former Union minister