Nehru and his Legacy of Indian Agriculture
Agriculture in History

How Nehruvian era shaped the future of Indian Agriculture ?

“Peasants took away the shyness from me and taught me to speak in public. Till then I hardly spoke at a public gathering. I did not know the art of oratory and so I spoke to them man to man and told them what I had in my mind and in my heart’’.

These words are uttered by a man who orated one of the best speech ‘Tryst with destiny’. He is the First Prime Minister of India and architect of modern India, Jawaharlal Nehru. His above mentioned words depict the bondage between Jawaharlal Nehru and Agrarian community.

When Nehru assumed office, India was reeling under  India-Pakistan partition, influx of refugees, severe food shortage, mounting inflation and economic hardship. George Blyne in his work Agricultural trends in India 1891 -1947: Output availability and productivity mentions that before Nehru’s tenure as PM, aggregate grain output was growing at an average rate of 0.11% per year & Price output decreased at 0.09%. After Nehru’s ascendency, food grain production increased from 55MT to 108.4MT (i.e. annual growth rate of 2.7%) during the period between 1951 -1971. Such achievement in production w ias possible with effective implementation of land reforms and 5-year plans.

Nehru and his Legacy of Indian Agriculture

In order to change the skewed and under productive agrarian structure and to promote agricultural growth with social justice, agrarian reforms were planned in-accordance with land reforms. Nehru strongly asserted the implementation of land reforms in his statement – “this was the inner urge of our people because we heard the cry of millions of people and sometimes deep murmurs and rumblings which, if not listened to and if not answered , can create big revolutions and changes in the country’’. His view on land reforms propounded social equity and economic development.

 J. C. Kumarappa agrarian reform committee was constituted by the Indian National Congress to study agrarian status of the country. He submitted report in 1949 and recommended that all intermediaries between state and tiller should be eliminated and tillers should posses land with limited holdings (Land Ceiling Act enacted later).

First five year plan declared that the future of land and cultivation is perhaps the most fundamental issue in the national development.

Conceding the importance of land reforms, the Planning Commission (Established 1951) in its first five year plan declared that the future of land and cultivation is perhaps the most fundamental issue in the national development. As per Indian Constitution, agriculture and land are the subjects of states in which role of central Government is minimal. Nehru wrote a letter to chief minister of states in 1954 stressed upon land reforms that, “The whole policy of  land reforms apart from moving the burden of the actual tiller was to spread the income from the land more evenly among the peasantry and thus give them the purchasing power’’.

However, Land policies were dynamic in nature as per the priorities directed by Planning commission. And Land Reforms were successful only in few states like Kerala, west Bengal, and Tamil Nadu.

When the first five year plan (1951-56) was presented in parliament by Nehru, T .T. Krishnamachari, the then finance minister of India remarked, “The first five year plan was little more than a five year budget on a five year programme of  government expenditure – it was a plan of preparation and as such it succeeded in a large measure”. Nearly 44.6% of fund was allocated to agriculture & community development, irrigation and energy. Many Multipurpose Irrigation projects was initiated during this period including the Bhakra nangal dam, Hirakud dam, Mettur dam, Damodar valley dam which were termed by Nehru as Temples of Modern India.

The outcome of the first five year plan was astounding that overall agriculture production went up by 17%. The output of food grains increased by 20%, Cotton seeds by 45%, Oilseeds by 8% and raw jute by 27%. The Irrigated area was increased to 31%. National Extension Services and Community Projects (1952) were extended to cover about 25% of nation’s area by 1955-56.

After satisfactory results of First five year plan, The Planning Commission launched second five year plan on April 1, 1956 which prioritised industry more than agriculture. However, production of wheat increased by 30.1%, rice by 34.4%, oilseeds by 32.3%, sugarcane by 27.4% and cotton by 32.6%. Overall increase in agricultural production amounted to 16%. Consumption of nitrogenous fertilizers doubled and number of primary agricultural credit societies also doubled. The index of agricultural production (which was 100 in 1948-49) had risen from 117 in 1955-56 to 135 in 1960-61.

But, India faced acute shortage of food grains towards the late days of Nehru’s regime due to monsoon failures which necessiated Green revolution later. In spite of trivial snags, Nehru’s policies were stanchion of Indian economy especially of primary sector. It was not a cakewalk for a newborn pluralistic nation to lay down long term policies whose population (nearly 85%) was greatly dependent on Agriculture and were also extremely poor. But he managed it as an able administrator and visionary.

Thus, Nehru’s socialist policies especially in Agriculture sector laid a foundation stone for Newly born India. But now Agricultural reforms has been shifted from socialist-welfare model to commercial-open market model benefiting only big farmers and rich states. Now it’s high time to reconsider Agricultural policy in lines of Nehruvian era to uplift landless peasants, women farmers, agricultural labourers and small-marginal farmers.

Author, Mohamed Jayalani, graduate of Sericulture and History is writing about Historical perspectives of Indian Agriculture here.

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