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Mainstream, VOL LVI No 17 New Delhi April 14, 2018

Exploring the Ideas of J.C. Kumarappa: The ‘Unsung Hero’ of Green Economy and Alternative Development in India

Saturday 14 April 2018

by K. Gireesan, D. Jeevan Kumar, M. Lingaraju and Jos Chathukulam

This is a brief report on a national seminar held at the Institute for Social and Economic Change (ISEC), Bengaluru on December 29-30, 2017 to explore the ideas of J.C. Kumarappa on the occasion of his 125th birth anniversary. The seminar sought to take stock of the implications of his ideas for contemporary India, especially in relation to decentralisation and sustainable development.

The seminar was organised jointly by Sri Ramakrishna Hegde Chair on Decentralisation and Development, Institute for Social and Economic Change (ISEC), Bangalore and the Karnataka Regional Branch of the Indian Institute of Public Administration, Bangalore. The theme of the seminar was ‘Decentralisation and Alternative Development: Exploring the Ideas of Gandhi and J.C. Kumarapa’. The seminar was organised primarily to revisit the ideas of Gandhi and Kumarappa. Kumarappa (1892-1960) was regarded as a great philosopher and advocate of Gandhian economics, planning and ecological development. Incidentally, this was also the first attempt of its kind by an ICSSR- recognised institute in India to explore his ideas seriously.

During the freedom struggle and in the formative years of independent India, a group of philosophers and practitioners who adhered to the ‘Gandhian school of thought’ engaged themselves in socio-economic-political progra-mmes with the task of charting out an ‘alternate development agenda’ for the country. Kumarappa was a flag-bearer of the ‘Gandhian mould of alternative development’ who worked for realising that agenda in his own way, though not with much success. He firmly believed that Gandhi’s socio-economic-political programmes would be the most ideal one to achieve development in India suited to the country’s needs and culture.

He was known as the ‘Captain as well as the foot soldier’ of Gandhi’s economic ideas as Gandhi himself acknowledged this on a number of occasions. However, mainstream economics in India has largely ignored his ideas, ostensibly due to his refusal to see economics as an autonomous subject governed by its own rules.

Kumarappa was thinking in terms of an economy of permanence for India drawing on the spirit of cooperation, service and solidarity that prevails in the ‘natural economy’. He sought to link economy with sustainability, harmony and peace. He came to the conclusion that only decentralised production will improve the situation of people on a permanent basis. Although Kumarappa was not against industrialisation, he insisted that its pursuit should not lead to the creation of an economy of violence. The capital-intensive economy of capitalism was highly wasteful of natural resources upon which large capital stocks were created during the period of colonialism, wiping out the indigenous people and their ways of life. India had to do justice to its large pool of human resources. This called for prudent use of natural resources, best accomplished by empowering local communities to safeguard and nurture them, and creation of productive employment on a massive scale. He also believed in land reforms through decentralisation. For Kumarappa, decentralisation and decentralised planning were associated with non-violence, spirituality, ecology, sustainability, peace and generational justice. By infusing these elements, Gandhi and Kumarappa created a new rationality for decentralisation.

The seminar started with a brief inaugural address by S. Ramanathan, Chairperson, Indian Institute of Public Administration, Karnataka Regional Branch, Bengaluru. The keynote address was made by Mark Lindley, Visiting Professor, Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar Marathwada University, Aurangabad, Maharashtra and a noted scholar from the United States of America, who worked extensively on Kumarappa. According to him, Kumarappa wrote extensively about resources which are transient and permanent. Kumarappa was looking forward to lead a life-pattern based on an ‘economy of permanence’ which results in peace rather than disharmony, unhealthy competition, enmity and world wars. He ilustrated Kumarappa’s five types of economy, namely, predatory, parasitic, enterprising, community-oriented and purely service-oriented. He remarked that ‘a smart city’ is a nice idea but ‘smart agriculture’ is far more important as there are billions of people to be fed. Narendar Pani of the School of Social Sciences, National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS), Bengaluru made a critical appraisal of the keynote, and highlighted the pertinent matters to be taken up during discussions in the seminar.

There were eight technical sessions. The themes of the sessions included Search for New Perspectives from Gandhi and Kumarappa; Decentralisation and Alternative Development; Decentralisation and Ecology; Decentralisation and Economy of Permanence; Decentralisation and Rural Economy; Decentralised Democracy in India—Gandhi’s Vision and Reality; Agrarian Reforms and J.C. Kumarappa; and Decentra-lisation, Peace and Justice. In addition, there was a panel discussion on ‘Decentralisation and Alternative Development: Exploring the Ideas of Gandhi and Kumarappa’. As a part of the seminar, several papers on various themes were presented. Some of the presentations made are highlighted here.

In the Technical session titled as ‘Search for New Perspectives from Gandhi and Kumarappa’, there were presentations on: An Alternative Holistic Paradigm of Development in Gandhi and Kumarappa Perspectives; Relevance of Kumarappa’s Concept of Decentralisation to Modern India; Influence of Gandhi in My Life and My Island; and, Revolutionary Ideas of Kumarappa on Decentralised Economy and Decentralised Planning. The session brought in new dimensions to the perspectives of Gandhiji and Kumarappa highlighting their views on ‘Alternative Development’, which are even more relevant in the present time.

In the Technical session, Decentralisation and Ecology, papers on Contemporary Discourse on Sustainable Development—Revisiting the Perspective of Kumarappa; Eco-feminism as Alternative Development; Revisiting the Discourse of Protection of Western Ghats from Gandhi and Kumarappa Perspectives; and A Decentralised Pathway for Energy Security in Developing Nations were the notable ones. During the presentations and discussions, the ‘Oceanic circles/Spherical autonomy of Governments’ with its unique space for non-hierarchical and comprehensive system of decentralisation were emphasised. Green thoughts, Green economy, Green energy, Eco-ethics, etc. were discussed at length during this session. These concepts, highlighted by Kumarappa several decades back, assumes great significance in the present context of climate change and global warming. A Gandhi-Kumarappa perspective on the issue of protection of Western Ghats was also introduced bringing out the strengths of the Gadgil Committee Report.

In the session titled ‘Decentralisation and Economy of Permanence’, presentations on the relevance of the economy of permanence; Rural Development initiatives with its thrust on RUDSETI approach to develop rural entrepreneur-ship; and, United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and Kumarappa’s Economy of Permanence were the significant ones. The session highlighted the significance of a cyclical approach in decentralised planning; importance of initiatives and interventions for boosting village economy; balancing act of economy, ecology and protection of human values; and, renewed approach towards bringing a decentralised approach to the waste management system.

In the Technical session titled ‘Decentralisation and Rural Economy’, presentations on Kumarappa as the Educational and Cultural Ambassador on Gandhian Model of Development; Farmer Producer Companies with the support of Panchayats—A Model for Alternative Rural Development; and Kumarappa as a futuristic economist deserve special mention. Kumarappa was known to contribute significantly towards institutionalising of village industries and stabilising of rural economy in a great way. Efforts of farmers in organic farming, processing raw materials for value addition and marketing through farmer producer cooperatives in jackfruits and other products, thereby highlighting their impact on employment generation and enhancement of supplementary income by the youth, were also highlighted in this session. Increasing role of political parties in the governance of such co-operative bodies was also highlighted. The dichotomy over the creation and maintenance of large industrial houses versus micro level rural initiatives too was discussed at length.

During the session titled “Agrarian Reforms and Kumarappa”, there were presentations on the Kumarappa Committee on Agrarian Reforms; Agrarian crisis and the relevance of Kumarappa’s life and writings; and, Mechanisation of Indian agriculture and its resultant consequences. Plight of farmers in different parts of the country owing to climate change, loss of soil fertility, increasing input cost for farming, lack of support from the State and non-State actors at different stages of the process, inadequacy of requisite efforts to strengthen the agrarian economy, etc. were highlighted during the discussions.

In the Technical session titled ‘Decentralisa-tion, Peace and Justice’, there were presentations on Decentralisation and Inter-generational Justice of Kumarappa; and, Centrality of peace and non-violence in Kumarappa’s thought. Contrasting portrayals of capitalistic economy vis-à-vis rural economy initiatives promoted and sustained based on Kumarappa’s views on futuristic economy; and, Gandhi’s and Kumarappa’s views on violence in terms of civilisation and rural-centric model of development were the major highlights of the session. There was some debate as to whether Kumarappa had the wherewithal to look at questions related to peace, nonviolence and conflict resolution in a more rounded and nuanced way as Gandhi had. One scholar felt that Kumarappa was more more consistent and firm in his views than Gandhi who was alleged to have vacillated on a number of occasions and had no qualms of working with capitalists, a proposition which was challenged by a couple of other scholars.

During the panel discussion on Decentralisation and Alternative Development—Exploring the Ideas of Gandhi and Kumarappa, it was highlighted that though we use the word ‘decentralisation’ as an approach and instrument, for Gandhi and Kumarappa, it was a matter of faith. It was discussed that the ongoing conflict between the Union Government and the State governments as well as between the State governments and the Local governments are a sign of progress. There was some discussion on the need for universal basic income accepting the fact that moneyless economy is not possible, but the effects of money in the economy could be minimised. The concept of ‘de-growth economy’ was also deliberated during the session. It was reiterated that development cannot be viewed in terms of growth in gross domestic product, market economy and foreign direct investment only, but also revolves around fostering creativity in the community, empowering the citizens and engaging them in the decision-making process.

The valedictory address was delivered by T. Karunakaran, Director, Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Rural Industrialisation, Wardha. He elaborated the ‘Agrindus’ model which blends agriculture with industry. While referring to farmers’ suicides in different parts of India with thrust on the Vidharbha region, he emphasised that rather than the suicide of farmers, we need to analyse closely the ‘suicide of farming’. According to him, the significance of sustainable farming alongwith self-sufficient industry could be a viable solution.

Kumarappa could be regarded as a ‘perfect student’ and exponent belonging to the ‘Gandhian school of alternative development’ that was founded on the principles of Satya (Truth) and Ahimsa (Non-violence). Kumarappa is also known for his advocacy for realising ‘an economy based on natural order’. By highligh-ting the economy based on natural order, he reiterates the moral and ethical values and obligations one has to contribute towards the society at large. As a visionary, Kumarappa highlighted the significance of renewable sources of energy over non-renewable sources. In the speeches, writings and works of Kumarappa, we could find traces of green thought, green democracy and green economy, with varying levels of intensity, pace and scale, though he never used the words ‘sustainable development’.

The seminar acknowledged that Kumarappa’s perspectives on sustainable development are even more significant in the present time, when the whole universe is at the receiving end, owing to the ‘mushrooming’ of urban centres, surge in industrialisation and unregulated approach with regard to the extent and scale of development, even disregarding their implications on future generations. The national seminar resulted in prompting the delegates to take up micro-level initiatives and interventions towards realising alternative development through sustainable models, drawing on the works of J.C. Kumarappa.

K. Gireesan (gireesankollengode[at] is an Associate Professor, Department of Local Governance, Rajiv Gandhi National Institute of Youth Development, Sriperumbudur; D. Jeevan Kumar (jeeves0607[at] is a Consultant, IIPA, Karnataka Regional Branch, Bengaluru; Dr M. Lingaraju is an Assistant Professor, Sri Ramakrishna Hegde Chair on Decentralisation and Development, Institute for Social and Economic Change (ISEC), Bengaluru. E-mail: lingaraju[at] and Jos Chathukulam(chathukulam[at] is a Professor, Sri Ramakrishna Hegde Chair on Decentralisation and Development, Institute for Social and Economic Change (ISEC), Bengaluru.

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