The episode of ‘Green Revolution’ has often been identified with the ‘New Agricultural Strategy’, extended under the premiership of the then Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri, Mrs. Indira Gandhi, and Food Minister C. Subramanyam, particularly from the mid 1960s, which highly elevated
the ‘begging bowl’ image of India and transformed the import-dependent country to one which is self-reliant and self-sufficient with surplus food. The Green Revolution has been regarded as a political and technological achievement; unprecedented in the human history, since the output generated by these strategically programmed reforms was remarkable leading to the overall economic and agricultural
growth. The salient features of these newborn systematic efforts and developments included the introduction of High Yielding Variety seeds (HYVs), use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, use of agricultural machineries such as tractors, pump-sets, etc, introduction of soil testing facilities, provisions
of institutional credit to be advanced to the small-farmers for assistance and initiation of Agricultural Education Programs to make the farmers aware of the modern techniques and its efficient utilization. All these reconstructive measures, arising out of the wedlock of scientific and technological advancement
with that of the contemporary political and economic necessities, culminated into extraordinary results and an extensive economic growth.
Although, these new strategic remodeling measures contributed to the economic advancement of India – at a critical juncture when prolonged economic stagnation had compelled the nation to become dependent on imports of food grains – their impact and long-term consequences on the nature of agricultural growth, rural society, marginal and small-farmers, and the environment and ecology have generated heated debates and controversies. This article attempts to present an in-depth and comprehensive evaluation of these revolutionary measures along with its impressions and repercussions on Indian economy, rural-social scenario, and ecology. In order to investigate the advantages and judge the hidden and hitherto unknown socio-economic and ecological costs of the ‘Green Revolution’, it is necessary to attain an insight of the contemporary Indian politico-economic scenario.
India was in the ‘throes of a crisis’ during the mid-1960s, facing acute food shortages along with stagnant agricultural growth. On one hand, the population growth rates increased from about 1% to about 2.2% after independence, on the other hand, growing approach towards planned industrialization had put enormous pressures on Indian agriculture. The stagnant growth in per capita income and agricultural production consequently resulted in the price rise of food grains. India was forced to import increasing amounts of food in order to meet the crisis. Nearly 4.5 million tons of food grains were imported under
the PL-480 scheme from The United States in 1963. In addition to these came the two wars with China (1962) and Pakistan (1965) and the two successive drought years in 1965-66 leading to a fall in agricultural output by 17%. Food prices shot up, rising at the rate of nearly 20% per annum between 1965 and 1968. India had to import more than 10 million tons of food grains in 1966. With famine conditions emerging in various parts of the country, the US threatened to repudiate commitments of food exports to India. Therefore, it was in this background that economic self-reliance and food self- sufficiency were of the utmost priority in the Indian Economic Policies, which brought about the extensive implementation of the new strategy throughout the country.
Initially these were introduced in particularly selected areas where supplies of assured water created “fair prospects of achieving rapid increases in production”. A total of about 32 million acres of land, nearly 10% of the total cultivable area, was chosen for the distribution of this package. By 1965, the
Food Ministry was ready with a full-fledged version of the ‘New Strategy’, which called for the implementation of a High Yielding Varieties Program in districts that had already been selected for intensive development under the Intensive Agricultural Areas Program (I.A.A.P) and Intensive Agricultural Development Program (I.A.D.P). The New Strategy attained spectacular economic gains and assumed crucial importance in the Planning Commission’s agricultural development strategy. With the introduction of the strategy, production reached a record high of 16.6 million tons in 1967-68, Government investment in agriculture rose significantly and Institutional finance to agriculture doubled between 1968 and 1973. Prospects for such a breakthrough seemed even brighter in 1969-70, when estimates of total food grains output indicated an achievement of nearly 100 million tons. The Agricultural Prices Commission was set up in 1965 and efforts were made to ensure that farmers were assured a profitable market. Even the new technology was attempted to be made available at low prices which raised the profitability of private investment by farmers and as a result of all these factors, the Total Gross Capital Formation in Agriculture increased profoundly.
Thus in the realm of economy, the “major impact of the Green Revolution strategy was that through increases in agricultural yields India was able to maintain, once again, the high rate of agricultural growth achieved since independence.” Food availability kept increasing sharply to 110.25 million tons in 1978 and 128.8 million tons in 1984, putting an end to India’s ‘begging bowl’ image, making the country self-sufficient in food with buffer stocks of over 30 million tons and even capable of exporting food to pay back its earlier loans and advance food loans to other food-deficit countries.5 Apart from increasing agricultural output, the Green Revolution generated a rapid increase in the marketable surplus of food grains. “It was the marketed surpluses as a result of the Green Revolution…which
enabled internal procurement of food by the government and the building up of large food stocks.” Thus, the food requirements could now be met internally and India was finally liberated from its dependence on PL-480 or other imports inaugurating a self-reliant development.
Even though the new strategy proved to be profitable at the economic front, many arguments regarding its impact on society and ecology are extensively debated. In the words of Vandana Shiva, “Instead of stabilizing and pacifying the countryside, it [Green Revolution] fueled a new pattern of conflict and violence.” It is generally held that the strategy was “accentuating regional inequality”, where the gains of these new techniques have been very unevenly distributed. In Ludhiana, the majorities of cultivators have economic holdings of 15 or 20 acres or more, and could accumulate surpluses, the benefits of the new technology have been most widely unevenly shared, while presumably only the farmers, with holdings of 10 acres or less, have experienced a serious deterioration in their economic position. In the case of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, where over 80 percent of cultivating households operate farms of less than 8 acres or are pure tenants, have actually led to an absolute deterioration in the economic condition. As an opponent of this view, G.S Bhalla has shown that instead of promoting regional inequalities, the Green Revolution has over time actually spread to large parts of the country bringing prosperity to these regions. In the first stage (1962-65 to 1970-73) of the Green Revolution, the North-Western region of Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh achieved the increase in yields. In the second phase (1970-73 to 1980-83), the Green Revolution spread to the other parts of the country such as eastern Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, etc. The third phase of Green Revolution showed very significant results and spread to the eastern regions of West Bengal, Bihar, Assam, etc. “This period saw not only a marked overall (all-India) acceleration of the growth of agricultural output…but also witnessed a much more diversified growth pattern, considerably reducing regional inequality by increasing the spread of rural prosperity.”
Another view is that the Green Revolution was leading to “class polarization” in the countryside. It is said that the Green Revolution encouraged and strengthened the large farmers who could afford the capital intensive techniques and the small farmers and the tenants were left alienated as they were unable to access modern inputs and were consequently unable to retain their lands. “The Green Revolution thus started the process of depeasantization of peasantry, through increasing cost of cultivation”. Further, the mechanization of agriculture was displacing labour leading to increasing unemployment and a fall in wages of agricultural labour, which ultimately gave way to rural-social conflicts throughout the country. The destabilizing impact of rapid modernization within an agro-economic context that favors the large farmers was highlighted by the Home Ministry’s 1969 report on “The Causes and Nature of the Current Agrarian Tension.” Justifying an increase from 19 to 43 reported cases of agrarian conflict in one year; it found that over 80 % of the agitations were led by the landless against landowners. The “predisposing” factors responsible for these agrarian tensions were the failure of land reforms to provide tenants with security of tenure or fair rents, or to correct inequalities in landownership through redistribution of surplus land. However, the “proximate” causes which converted discontent into open conflict were rooted in the new agricultural strategy and Green Revolution.
However, the classic work, ‘India since Independence’, has put forward that from the very beginning of the New Agricultural Strategy, there was an awareness in regards to ensure that the poor farmers could access the new technology and the agricultural labourers’ interests were protected. Efforts were made in the late sixties and seventies as a part of ‘garibi hatao’ campaign launched by Mrs. Indira Gandhi. A series of programs such as Rural Works Programme (RWP), SFDA, Crash Scheme for Rural Employment (CSRE), etc. were launched to assist small-farmers. Regarding the fall of the small farmers to the ranks of the landless, it depicts that with the adoption of the new technology, improved seeds and other agricultural inputs, the small farmers became more feasible and were not compelled to sell their land. This view is confirmed by the studies of G.S Bhalla and G.K Chadha. The rise in rural
unemployment because of labour-displacing mechanization has been rather said as, “The net impact of tractorization, taking into account increase in cropping intensity etc., was an increased demand for labour.” However, all the employment generated were not sufficient to meet the employment
requirements of the growing population and that the programs initiated for the assistance of the small farmers were very slow in their progress for which, Vandana Shiva commented, the “…experiment of Green Revolution…have pushed society to the verge of social breakdown.”
At the ecological level, the question of environmental degradation and its sustainability has become a hard pressed issue. The advancement of the technology and the Revolution had a negative impact on the already depleting natural resources and the environment. The excessive use of fertilizers and pesticides, the large scale deforestation in order to increase land under cultivation and the withdrawal of ground-water without adequate recharge of the same have contributed to the loss of fertility of the land, breed new pests and diseases and hampered the ecological balance at a great height. The transformation from multiple cropping patterns to monoculture has significantly deprived the soil from its fertility. The ‘miracle’ seeds, as the high yielding seeds were labeled, have put new demands on scarce resources, generated severe ecological destruction and created new kinds of scarcity and vulnerability. Vandana Shiva has thus pointed out that, “Instead of transcending the limits put by natural endowments of land and water, the Green Revolution introduced new constraints on agriculture by wasting and destroying land, water resources, and crop diversity.”
Thus in order to conclude, it can be said that the Green Revolution had a great impact on rural India with the gains of food availability, decline in relative prices of food, generating of agricultural and non-agricultural employment, rise in wage, most importantly the economic and agrarian growth at a critical period. The ‘miracle’ seeds have handsomely contributed to the rural and agricultural development of India making it self-reliant and self-sufficient in regards to food. In spite of the direct criticism of Vandana Shiva that “the experiment [Green Revolution] has failed”, the contribution of the Revolution to make India independent from the shackles of dependency on other countries for food, should not be neglected. Therefore, even though the Green Revolution generated conflicts and instability at the political level; rural disparities and inequalities at the social level; and scarcity and vulnerability of resources at the ecological level, the economic gains of this new strategy of Green Revolution should not be overlooked.