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For whom the MIDS bell tolls?

A R Venkatachalapathy, officiating Director of Madras Institute of Development Studies (MIDS), asked me if I was happy over presenting economist M Govinda Rao to deliver the founder’s day lecture on public finance in India. Indeed I was and I complimented him.

I have had the pleasure of a close association with MIDS ever since it was set up by Dr Malcolm Adiseshiah (MSA). I have my great admiration for MSA, one of the tallest Tamilians who served with distinction as the Deputy Director General, UNESCO, Vice Chancellor-Madras University and a Member of Rajya Sabha. He bequeathed handsomely his family property for setting up the MIDS.

I spent over a month collecting glimpses of his six

decades of evolution from his student days at Loyola College for a four-hour archives programme for All India Radio.

After my article on the decline of agriculture in Tamil Nadu in 1988, he invited me for a presentation on the subject and presided over it. The stalwarts of MIDS – S Guhan, C T Kurien and A Vaidyanathan, among others, were present when I pointed to Tamil Nadu dropping from the sixth position as a food producing state to the 12th in the two decades after the break of the Green Revolution. A major reason was the focus on water-intensive crops like rice and sugarcane even when Tamil Nadu had disputes over water with her neighbouring states.

Sadly, over these 25 years there has not been much change. Leaders from C N Annadurai to Jayalalithaa, unlike their counterparts in food producing states like Punjab, Haryana or UP, had not been hands-on agriculturists and seem to have poor grasp of farm productivity issues.

In recent years MIDS has been focusing on social issues The awards presented have also been mostly for social scientists and not economists.

I feel there are many emerging economic issues of great concern like the decline of agriculture, the chaos in urban transportation, the power crisis, poor development of minor ports, etc. I feel these deserve more attention on the part of a development institute that would attract much wider public attention.

A recent meeting organised on ‘new horizons of town planning, sustainable cities and the good life’ presented by Eugen Egermann, Architect of Auroville and Dr Christoph Woiwode, Visiting Professor Indo-German Centre for Sustainability IIT-M, had an audience of just three to start with. For whom the MIDS bell tolls?

 

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