The idea of village was one of the core categories through which India was imagined by the British colonial rulers and the nationalist leadership during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Andre Beteille, an Indian sociologist, aptly remarked, “… the village was not merely a place where people lived; it had a design in which were reflected the basic value of Indian civilization.” So, after Independence from colonial rule in 1947, it was in the rural setting that programmes for development were initiated by the Indian state.
Though the initial programmes of rural development initiated by the Government of India did not succeed as expected, they created conditions for social and economic change, which came in some parts of the country with the Green revolution. The term ‘Green revolution’ was deliberately coined to contrast it with the phrase ‘red revolution’. During the period of World War II itself, and although the British were ruling India, the government became conscious of the need to grow more food. The famines in many places wrought havoc, particularly in Bengal.
The official Famine Inquiry Commission reporting on the Bengal famine of 1943 put its death toll at “about 1.5 million”. This made the government conscious of growing more food within the country through the Grow More Food (GMF) campaign which was launched in the year 1943- 44. Although the British initiated the programme, it was actually executed in a planned manner from 1947-48, despite disturbances such as the partition of India and the issues of setting up new central and state governments.
The first Five-Year Plan (1951-1956) document made it explicitly clear it would be impossible to sustain a higher tempo of industrial growth without substantial increase in production of food. The review of the achievements of the GMF campaign revealed its poor performance; most importantly, only a small fraction of big farmers benefited from the campaign. The GMF campaign lost its importance. Alternately, the Community Development (CD) programme was adopted and implemented through planning process with special emphasis on diverse rural works including minor irrigation and land reclamation, which benefitted agriculture to a certain extent.
Agriculture was not given due importance in the principal objectives of the Second FiveYear Plan (1956-1961). The steady rate of growth of population necessitated import of food grains from 0.5 million tonnes (Mt) in 1955 to 3.7 Mt. in 1957. Further, a steep fall in production was witnessed during 1957-58 due to severe drought. The Government of India invited the Ford Foundation for appropriate suggestions on how to improve agriculture.
It was under the direct supervision of the Ford Foundation that the Intensive Agricultural District Programme (IADP) was started in 1961, initially in 14 districts on an experimental basis and was later extended to 114 districts (out of a total of 325 districts) under the name of the Intensive Agricultural Area Programme (IAAP) in 1965. The situation did not improve appreciably. The enthusiasm with which the programmes were started could not be sustained for very long.
Most of the benefits were cornered by a small section of the rural elite. In 1950-51 area under food grain cultivation was 97.2 million hectares (Mha) of which only 18 per cent was irrigated, the productivity and production stood at 522 kg/ha and 51 Mt respectively and the population was 361 million with a modest growth rate of 1.25 per cent. In 1961, the population touched 439.2 million at a growth rate of 1.96 per cent, while food grain production increased only to about 82 Mt. Famine and droughts in 1964-65 and 1965-66, military conflicts in 1947, 1962 and 1965, and increasing population resulted in the dependence on food aid from the US under Public Law (PL)-480.
Despite receiving food aid under the US’s Agricultural Trade Development and Assistance Act (1954), India fell short of the target requirement of 90 Mt of food grain by 20 per cent. The Indian geneticist, Dr M S Swaminathan, who handled the technical part of the Green revolution, described the crisis that prevailed in India in the mid-1960s: “During … that critical period of drought (1965-67), President Johnson, because of certain policies he had adopted, was releasing wheat only in driblets.
At one point, we reached a stage where there were stocks for only two weeks and nothing else in the pipeline.” A helpless Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri even called upon all Indians to skip one meal each Monday. He offered the agriculture ministership to several stalwarts who politely declined, knowing the Himalayan task ahead of them. Ultimately he called on Chidambaram Subramaniam (commonly known as CS) and gave him the charge of overhauling the agro scenario. CS as usual planned to change the very base of agriculture of India and procure highyielding variety (HYV) seeds of food grains.
He reached out to leading agro scientists worldwide, including (later Nobel Laureate) Norman Borlaug, an American agronomist who had developed semi-dwarf, high-yield, disease-resistant wheat varieties. He was convinced and nothing could stop him. He was so enthusiastic that he even tilled the fiveacre garden he was entitled to as a minister and sowed the wheat seeds.
However, as Minister for Food and Agriculture (1964- 1966), amid tough opposition and hue and cry from capitalists to communists, he, along with M S Swaminathan and civil servant B Sivaraman, introduced HYV seeds and more intensive application of fertilizers which paved the way for increased output of cereals and attainment of selfsufficiency in food grains in the country.
The nation finally remembered him as the Father of the Green Revolution. He was also given the highest civilian award, the Bharat Ratna. The novel policy of agricultural development based on a “technological solution to the country’s chronic food shortages” is known as the green revolution. The Green Revolution was indeed a package deal, a combination of radical changes in the political economy of Indian agriculture, with several path-breaking interventions.
The technology of the Green Revolution involved bio-engineered seeds that worked in conjunction with chemical fertilizers and heavy irrigation to increase crop yields. It also produced significant social and political changes in Indian villages. It is also argued that without the intensification that occurred under the Green Revolution, the degradation of common lands and forests could have advanced at an even more rapid rate than it has done during the period.
During the Green Revolution, gross area increased steadily from 115.6 mha in 1960-61 to 127.8 mha in 1990-91 ~ a rise of 11 per cent over the 1960-61 level ~ dropped a little to 121 mha ~ a 5 per cent increase over the 1960- 61 level ~ in 2000-01 and then it has stabilized marginally at over 120 mha. The high production acclaimed to have been achieved under the Green Revolution is not due to the extension of area. It appears to be due to high productivity per hectare, as also increase in areas sown more than once in the same net sown area.
Owing to the Green Revolution, the production of food grains, mainly rice and wheat, steadily increased from 82 Mt in 1960- 61 to 212.8 Mt in 2001-02. In terms of percentage level, the production has progressively risen by 160 per cent. However, between 2000 and 2005 it averaged at 200 Mt. per annum or a 143 per cent increase over the 1960-61 level. Likewise, productivity has also steadily increased from 710 kgs per Ha in 1960-61 to 1734 kgs per Ha in 2001-02.
Thereafter, expect for 2002-03 (drought year), productivity has also stabilized at over 1666 kgs per Ha per year in 2005-06. The enhancement of both product and productivity may be attributed to HYV seeds. In addition, fertilizer, irrigation and effective extension service have been additional contributory factors. However, this revolutionary effect appears now to have reached a plateau.
(To Be Concluded)
(The writer is a retired IAS officer)