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Dr Gopal Kadekodi
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Anantaraman Vaidyanathan (1931–2020) left behind a rich body of scholarly work and an indelible imprint on public policy that will guide generations of social scientists to come. His impact was immeasurable and expansive in scope, ranging from agricultural development and water resource management to rural development and participatory institutions, poverty and hunger, livestock economy, and economic reforms. Prof. Vaidyanathan advanced solid economic theories backed by reliable statistics, and these informed instrumental policies. He possessed the rare ability to capture all aspects of an issue in a meticulous way and then express it in the context of macroeconomic perspectives while offering solutions. Prof. Vaidyanathan evaluated SANDEE in its early days and supported SANDEE as a resource person
Prof. Vaidyanathan belonged to the first generation of post-independence academic stalwarts, which included the likes of T N Srinivasan, B S Minhas, K N Raj, G S Bhalla, CH Hanumanatha Rao, V M Dandekar, C Rangarajan, and A Sen, among others. He served as a member of the Indian Planning Commission and chaired a number of policy commissions and committees. He was the President of Indian Society of Agricultural Economics for nine long years.
With a PhD from Cornell University in 1955, Prof. Vaidyanathan served several leading institutions and organization in India and abroad, notably the National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER), Planning Commission, Centre for Development Studies in Thiruvananthapuram, Madras Institute of Development Studies, World Bank, Food and Agriculture Organization, and Reserve Bank of India.
Starting his academic career as the Chief of the Perspective Planning Division in the Planning Commission in the early 1960s under the late Pitambar Pant, he contributed enormously to the economic thought of planning and development, agriculture, water resources, livestock economy, poverty and inequality, health, education, employment, and statistical system. Through his research on agriculture, he proposed a strong link between the agricultural credit system and participatory rural development. He always treated water resource problems in India as one of balancing the surface and ground water resources very judiciously, and advised against interlinking rivers systems. He always emphasized on creating good statistical databases on water and agriculture to provide day-to-day policy guidelines on their development based on principles of sustainability.
Prof. Vaidyanathan wrote about 15 books on different aspects of agriculture, water resources, rural development, bovine culture, economic reforms, education, and economic databases. In India’s Evolving Economy, he warned Indian planners about the growing divergence between agriculture and the rest of the economy. In The Indian Economy: Crises, Response and Prospects, another book along the same lines, he cautioned that “planners are not omniscient; that there are vast gaps in our knowledge of facts and that considerable amount of judgment is inevitable in making policy; the implication is that one has to keep learning from experience”.
Given his longstanding involvement as an economist in India’s planning process and having also witnessed the transition to the reform period, he penned down India’s Economic Reforms and Development, wherein he critically assesses the rationale, implementation, and impacts of economic reforms from the political economy perspective. His books on agriculture stand out as classics for any student of agricultural economists. In Agricultural Growth in India, Prof. Vaidyanathan points to the need to tackle a persistently slow and uneven growth in Indian agriculture and suggests caution in assessing future growth prospects in the light of the slowing down in domestic demand and the risks of trade liberalization. He argues that agriculture cannot be jacked up to a higher growth trajectory without a significant shift in strategies, priorities, and major institutional reforms.
The issue of water resource management in India was close to his heart. In India’s Water Resources, he highlights the different aspects of water resources and the need for a dynamic management approach that makes historical considerations. He was always concerned about the institutional management of water resources. In Water Resource Management, he presented a participatory framework as the most suitable institution for India, arguing that rural institutions need to be created outside of the government, such as community-based water and forest user associations or self-help groups, equipped with appropriate irrigation technology. His very first book – Bovine Economy in India – is perhaps still the very first and best written on the real issues of the livestock economy in India.
Prof. Vaidyanathan was a pioneering social scientist who stressed on creating databases for the studies on agriculture and water resources management. He always emphasized that data generation should be independent of government agencies, and he discussed this in an article he wrote in The Hindu questioning the government’s wisdom in shelving NSSO under CSO as a department.
While we pray for peace to his departed soul, it is no hyperbole that the field of social sciences will dearly miss him. Prof. Anantaraman Vaidyanathan leaves behind a wonderful legacy of scholarly work and an enormous void that generations to come will struggle to fill. Future social scientists will undoubtedly realize how timely and profound his contributions to economic theory and public policy were.
Dr Gopal Kadekodi is a Professor at the Institute for Social and Economic Change, Bangalore, and Honorary Professor at the Centre for Multi-Disciplinary Development Research, Dharwad.
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Amina Maharjan & Surendra Raj Joshi