I had attended Prof Utsa Patnaik’s lecture on the agrarian sector’s travails during the times of economic reforms from the early 90s to the present, almost 4 months ago. She had then eloquently talked about how, poverty measures, based on per capita calorie intake of the populace, had shown that, owing to less purchasing power in the rural areas, there was a severe drop in calorie intake. This had resulted in a situation which entailed wide spread hunger and hence the entire episode of widespread farmer suicides in various rural areas in the country. At that time, I wasn’t good enough to understand the linkages between economic reforms, structural macroeconomic policies and spending in the social sector by government. Thankfully, some kind of sporadic but dedicated reading the past few months have educated me to a decent extent and to confirm my understanding, Prof Patnaik herself came up with a well written passionate essay, "Its time for Kumbakarna to wake up", elucidating the exact point mentioned above and exhorting the existing UPA dispensation to work toward ameliorating the fast deteriorating economic conditions of the rural poor.
Prof Zoya Hasan, who teaches Political Science and the erstwhile Chairperson of our department, was also cogent in her exposition of the repercussions of the economic reforms of 1991 in our country. While alluding to the fact that despite some economists saying that the economic reforms of 1991 were inevitable, there existed others who doubted whether we required such measures of opening up the floodgates of the erstwhile semi-closed economy; she also explained how concomitantly the economic reforms brought in dichotomous results: High Growth Rates ranging from 6 to 7% while at the same time exacerbating the disparities in our society.
She went on to quote the Prof Utsa Patnaik findings on the effects on the rural sector; asserted how economic problems faced by the rural poor were one particular reason apart from the Gujarat Riots for the fall of the NDA Government and also talked about in length about the political economy of the 1990s in India. Particular notice was mentioned on the astonishing finding that there was a stockpile of food grains in government godowns despite fall in food grain productivity (for the first time since 1962) during the NDA regime; yet millions of people were starving due to lack of purchasing power (because of the State’s withdrawal from managing the agrarian sector; this in turn being so due to the increased marketization of India’s economy).
She then hopped on to the current hot topic, National Rural Employee Guarantee Act, as to how this act is seen widely as a panacea to the problems of Rural India and how it could act as a much needed tonic to the unemployment problems of our country. Universal NREGA, as opposed to Targetted NREGA, with its side-by-side existence with the Right to Information Act and implementation by Panchayats constituted by the Panchayati Raj doctrine (Third Governance) was what was the need of the hour, several economists concurred, she said. She also mentioned about how certain newspapers took it their brief to scuttle this ambitious plan (the first of its kind in India to serve the interests of its own suffering citizens) by alluding that it was a fiscally imprudent exercise, despite assurance by several eminent economists about its overwhelming feasibility; its clone’s (in Maharashtra) successes, etc.