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March 11, 1999


Kumarappa was a greater economist than Dr Sen: Dr Lindley

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J J Innes in Vijayawada

Dr Mark Lindley of Columbia University, author of outstanding works on Mahatma Gandhi, has criticised Nobel laureate Amartya Sen for 'ignoring' vital ecological aspects in his economic theory and called for a reappraisal of J C Kumarappa's developmental model, saying the latter was a greater economist than Dr Sen.

In an interview, he said, ''The late Kumarappa, who was Mahatma's economist and the first organising secretary of All India Village Industries Association, had properly assessed and grasped the risk of ecological factors in technology and development.''

He said anyone concerned over human welfare ought to give due attention to the appalling risks of global warming, sinking water tables, threat of extinction of 10 per cent species of birds and 15 per cent of reptiles due to macro-ecological degradation. Having surveyed hundreds of villages in the 1930s and early 40s, Kumarappa had grasped the issue a little 50 years ago and knew more than anyone else about rural Indian economy, he observed.

Hence, Kumarappa occupied an important place in the history of appropriate technology for development, though his concept was rudimentary by today's standards, he added.

Dr Lindley said Kumarappa was more concerned than the Marxists were at that time about the problem of alienation -- how factory workers, for instance, have no power to determine whether the factory produces something that nourishes or poisons people.

What was the solution proffered by him? To this, Dr Lindley said that the late Gandhian's answer was 'small is beautiful,' as it would give people more control over what they produce (and over what they buy). Then he went on to say that "nature will retaliate if we do not show due regard in our economic activities to our mute brethren, the animals, birds etc., and to the land we draw our sustenance from, water, sunlight, air and the rest of the physical world".

How prophetic it was to include 'sunlight' even before the ozone hole was discovered, said Dr Lindley.

Was Kumarappa a greater economist than Dr Sen? In some ways, yes, but less refined as his use of mathematics was less sophisticated, said Dr Lindley.

For, Kumarappa was an academic economist for only a short time (as an MA student in the US) and those were the days of anti-colonial struggle and infancy of the world's greatest democracy. Kumarappa's faults should be understood in that context, he pointed out.

On Dr Sen, he said the Nobel laureate was more reliable with providing a plenty of documentary evidence to substantiate a conclusion. On the contrary, Kumarappa would often overstate his case. Also, his idea of appropriate technology was to take the techniques already known in the village and make each one a little more efficient. That's a very inadequate approach today, he admitted.

Though Dr Sen was conscientious, mathematically solid, well versed in Indian and western philosophy, besides being fully free of dogmatism and deeply concerned over the welfare of all sections of the society, he had not seemed to have noticed the unprecedented damage which modern industry and agriculture were doing to the ecology.

He recalled having said that even Marx had not foreseen it because macro-ecological degradation was not a problem in his days.

But even so, Kumarappa was richer in basic new ideas -- for instance his distinction between renewables and non-renewables -- than Dr Sen is. "And I think we need urgently to take to heart his point about collateral ecological degradation," felt Dr Lindley.


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