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India as a Space Power

The beginnings of the Indian Space Programme resonated strongly with its founding father Dr Vikram Sarabhai’s vision, that we must be ‘second to none in the application of advanced technologies for the benefit of society.’ It was with the formation of the Indian National Committee for Space Research (INCOSPAR) in 1962, followed by the first sounding rocket launch from Thumba Equatorial Rocket Launching Station (TERLS) in 1963 that the space programme formally took off Dr Sarabhai, the architect of the Indian Space Programme, initiated the creation of dedicated clusters. So, while Trivandrum became the hub for sounding rockets, solid propellants, etc., with the setting up of Space Science & Technology Centre [SSTC, present-day VSSC (Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre)], the cornerstone for payload development and related electronics was at Ahmedabad in the form of Experimental Satellite Communication Earth Station [ESCES, present-day SAC (Space Applications Centre)]. The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) was formed in 1969, superseding INCOSPAR. Today, with a total workforce of over 18,000, ISRO’s establishments are functioning in many parts of the country with each concentrating on a specific specialised domain. The country’s public as well as private sector industries are playing a crucial role in our Space Programme. Besides, various academic institutions have also contributed to the Indian space endeavour With the establishment of the Space Commission and the Department of Space (DOS) in 1972, ISRO was brought under DOS and the structured space programme was now poised to soar under the leadership of Dr Satish Dhawan. The 70s were the learning phase during which several experimental satellites were built, including India’s first satellite Aryabhata, which was launched on 19 April 1975, from a launch centre in the former Soviet Union. Aryabhata laid a firm foundation for the later immensely successful Indian Satellite Programme. Bhaskara-I and II, the two experimental earth observation satellites, provided the rich experience and the confidence to build complex operational remote sensing satellites. Today, India is world leader in the satellite-based remote sensing area Additionally, APPLE- Ariane Passenger PayLoad Experiment, India’s first experimental communication satellite, although launched by the European Ariane rocket, reached its final geosynchronous orbital home in June 1981, with the help of a rocket motor developed in India. Aryabhata, the two Bhaskaras, as well as APPLE were launched free-of-cost, which reflects India’s successful international space cooperation policy. In the recent past, India has not only flown foreign scientific instruments on-board Indian spacecraft but has also launched them. Two further significant satellite communication experiments that deserve a mention here for their ingenuity and spirit of cooperation are SITESatellite Instructional Television Experiment (1975-76) and STEP- Satellite Telecommunication Experimental Project (1977-79), comprehensively establishing the usage of satellites for communication and broadcasting and providing hands-on experience for the same, paving the way for INSAT (Indian National SATellite) series of satellites With its humble origins in 1960s, the Indian Space programme, over the span of six decades, has grown from strength to strength. Administered by the Department of Space (DOS) and primarily executed by its R&D arm- the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), the country today is widely recognised as a global space power having developed end- to-end capabilities cutting across various domains viz. space transportation systems, space infrastructure, and space applications such as Earth Observation, Communication, Navigation, Meteorology, Space Science, and the like In the space transportation domain, it was the commissioning of the Satellite Launch Vehicle-3 (SLV-3) project in the early 1970s, the first indigenous experimental satellite launch vehicle, that served as the beginning of an enduring partnership between ISRO and Indian industries. An all solid, four-stage launch vehicle, the SLV-3 was designed for placing satellites weighing 40 kg in Low Earth Orbit. The SLV-3 had its successful launch on 18 July 1980, thrusting India into the select league of six countries with the capability to launch satellites on their own. On the heels of SLV-3, was commissioned the ASLV- Augmented Satellite Launch Vehicle project in the early 1980s, the next step of evolution in launch vehicle technology. The two launch vehicles, SLV-3 and ASLV, validated the critical launch vehicle technologies and gave ISRO the confidence to reach the next level with the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) project, commissioned in mid-1980s During the same period, INSAT-1B, India’s first multipurpose operational satellite was launched in 1983, demonstrating its ability to bring about a rapid and major revolution in India’s telecommunications, television broadcasting, and weather-forecasting domains. India’s ability to design, build, and maintain a complex remote sensing satellite was demonstrated in 1988 when IRS-1A, the first operational satellite built in India, started imaging the earth. The images sent by that satellite circling the Earth from its 900 km high polar orbit were utilised in various diverse fields such as agriculture, groundwater prospecting, mineral survey, forestry, etc. During the 1990s, ISRO began building INSAT-2 series of multipurpose satellites indigenously. At the same time, systematic usage of imagery from our remote sensing satellites for tasks like crop yield estimation, groundwater and mineral prospecting, forest survey, urban sprawl monitoring, and wasteland classification and fisheries development began. The optimal usage of onboard capabilities of INSAT and remote sensing satellites was coordinated using inter-ministerial mechanisms such as INSAT Coordination Committee (ICC) and National Natural Resources Management System (NNRMS). Today, India has a fleet of advanced remote sensing satellites equipped with high resolution and multispectral cameras dedicated to the themes of cartography, resource survey, and ocean and atmospheric applications. The INSAT system with over 300 transponders in the C-band, Extended C-band, Ku-band, Ka/Ku band, and S-band provides services to telecommunications, television broadcasting, radio networking, satellite newsgathering, societal applications, weather forecasting, disaster warning, and Search and Rescue operations. High Throughput Satellites (HTS) such as GSAT-11, GSAT-29, and GSAT-19 are supporting the Digital India campaign by boosting the broadband connectivity to the rural and inaccessible Gram Panchayats in the country. The transponders on these satellites will bridge the digital divide of users including those in Jammu & Kashmir and the North-Eastern regions of India. The space transportation domain, with the successful advent of the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) in 1994, witnessed a quantum jump in the indigenous launch capabilities. The vehicle has proven to be a workhorse of ISRO, logging over 50 successful missions, launching national as well as foreign satellites. On 15 February 2017, PSLV created a world record by successfully placing 104 satellites in orbit during a single launch. Well, as numbers go, it was undoubtedly a record at the time, but the real significance of the achievement is the immense confidence reposed by foreign countries in the capability of the Launch Vehicle With the solid and liquid propulsion technologies perfected through SLV-3, ASLV, and PSLV, the nation embarked upon a highly challenging quest to master the complex cryogenic technology. The commissioning of the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) in the 1990s was a step in this direction. The launch vehicle was designed with three stages (including the cryogenic upper stage), with four liquid strap-ons. Cryogenic technology involves the storage of liquid hydrogen & liquid oxygen at very low temperatures. Materials used to operate at these very low temperatures, chilling processes, and interplay of engine parameters make the development of the cryogenic stage a very challenging and complex task. With the successful qualification of the indigenously developed Cryogenic Upper Stage (CUS) in the GSLV-D5 flight on 5 January 2014, ISRO demonstrated its mastery of cryogenic rocket propulsion. Including the one in January 2014, the vehicle has had six successful flights over the past decade. The next-generation launch vehicle of ISRO, with a capability for putting 4T payload in GTO, came in the form of GSLV-Mk III designed with two solid strap-ons, a core liquid booster, and a cryogenic upper stage. LVM3-X/ CARE Mission, the first experimental suborbital flight of GSLV Mk III, was on 18 December 2014 and launched the Crew Module Atmospheric Re- entry Experiment (CARE). The CARE module began its return journey and a little later, re- entered the earth’s atmosphere. It was successfully recovered over the Bay of Bengal about 20 minutes after its launch. Subsequently, after two successful developmental flights and with the injection of Chandrayaan-2 into Earth Parking Orbit in July 2019, GSLV Mk III successfully entered into its operational phase. Indian Space Programme has always focused on the development and utilisation of space technologies to achieve the overall development of the country. Despite its emphasis on applications, ISRO has pursued many space science projects to perform meaningful exploration of space. India’s first satellite Aryabhata was a scientific satellite. After Aryabhata, ISRO entered into the realm of science missions again with a unique mission- the Space Capsule Recovery Experiment-1 (SRE-1). Launched by PSLV in January 2007, SRE-1 with its scientific experiments, orbited the Earth for 12 days and was successfully deorbited and recovered over the Bay of Bengal. This proved several technologies necessary for reusable launch vehicles and human spaceflight. The space science missions of India- Chandrayaan-1, Mars Orbiter Mission, AstroSat, and Chandrayaan-2- have caught the attention of millions of Indians as well as the outside world. Launched by PSLV on 22 October 2008, the 1380 kg Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft was successfully navigated to the Moon in three weeks and was put into an orbit around the moon. On 14 November 2008, when a TV set sized ‘Moon Impact Probe’ separated from Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft and successfully impacted the surface of the moon, India became the fourth country to send a probe to the lunar surface after the United States, the Soviet Union, and Japan. Later, when Chandrayaan-1 conclusively discovered water molecules on the lunar surface, it was widely hailed as a path-breaking discovery. Uplifted by the success of Chandrayaan-1, ISRO embarked on the Mars Orbiter Mission, for demonstrating India’s capability to build, launch, and navigate an unmanned spacecraft to Mars. Launched by PSLV on 5 November 2013, the 1340 kg Mars Orbiter Spacecraft encountered Mars on 24 September 2014. With this, ISRO has become the fourth space agency to successfully send a spacecraft to Mars orbit. AstroSat, launched by PSLV in September 2015, is the first dedicated Indian astronomy mission aimed at studying celestial sources in X-ray, optical, and UV spectral bands simultaneously. AstroSat recently made a major breakthrough by discovering one of the earliest galaxies in extreme-Ultraviolet light. The Chandrayaan-2 Mission- India’s second mission to the moon was successfully launched on 22 July 2019. Chandrayaan-2 Orbiter spacecraft was placed in its intended orbit. The eight instruments onboard the Orbiter are continuously providing useful science data which will enrich our understanding of the moon’s evolution and mapping of the minerals and water molecules in Polar regions. ISRO has also successfully established and operationalised Navigation with Indian Constellation (NavIC) which provides highly accurate Position, Navigation, and Time information to users in India and its surroundings. The Global Standards body- 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP), which develops protocols for mobile telephony, has approved NavIC and major mobile chipset manufacturers have incorporated NavIC in their releases. Further, through GPS Aided GEO Augmented Navigation (GAGAN), ISRO is providing Satellite-based Navigation services with accuracy and integrity required for civil aviation applications and to provide better Air Traffic Management over Indian Airspace. In the recent past, the “Gaganyaan Programme” approved by the Government of India in 2018 marks a point of inflexion in the Indian space journey, marking its entry into the new age of human space exploration. The Human Space Flight Centre (HSFC) was constituted in ISRO in January 2019, for implementing the vision on the human space flight programme. HSFC is entrusted to implement the Gaganyaan Programme and to act as the lead centre for sustained and affordable human spaceflight activities. The Gaganyaan project has the stated objective of demonstrating human space flight capability to Low-Earth Orbit (LEO) for a defined duration and safe recovery after the mission ISRO successfully proved a crucial technology element of Human spaceflight in July 2018- The Pad Abort Test (PAT), which is the first in the series of tests to qualify the Crew Escape System (CES). The Pad Abort Test flight was a demonstration of the capability of CES to evacuate the Crew in case of a contingency at the launch pad. Towards capacity building in human resources and to meet the growing demands of the Indian Space Programme, the Indian Institute of Space Science and Technology (IIST), a deemed university, was established at Thiruvananthapuram in 2007. The institute offers Bachelor’s Degree in Space Technology with specialisation in Aerospace Engineering and Electronics & Communication and a Masters Programme in the areas of Space Technology Further, amidst the Covid-19 pandemic, the landmark space reforms initiated by the Government of India in June 2020 mark a significant step forward in the evolution of the Indian Space ecosystem. The creation of the Indian National Space Promotion and Authorization Center (IN-SPACe) to promote, handhold, and authorise Non-Government Private Entities (NGPEs) to undertake space activities shall unleash the next wave of advancements in the sector. This will enhance the diffusion of space technology and boost the space economy within the country. Empowering the department PSU- NewSpace India Limited (NSIL) to ‘own’ the operational launch vehicles and space assets of ISRO, opens up a new chapter in the management of space activities in the country. Further, the present supply-based model was changed to a demand-driven model, wherein NSIL shall act as an aggregator of user requirements and simultaneously obtain commitments. With these structural adjustments, ISRO shall focus on advancing the R&D endeavours such as heavier and more efficient satellites, advanced space missions such as Chandrayaan-3, Aditya-L1, and Mission to Venus to further explore the solar system and of course, the Gaganyaan Programme. The future of space activities in the country looks very promising indeed and shall cement India’s position as a 21st-century space power.

Global Agricultural Powerhouse

In agriculture and food sector, our country has attained sustainable food security for its large population and also earned coveted tag of 'Global Agricultural Powerhouse'. Moving beyond self-sufficiency, India is now a prominent exporter of agricultural products with a sizable share in the export of rice, cotton, soybean, and meat. During the unprecedented Covid-19 pandemic, India emerged as a global supplier of food and other agricultural products. India is efficiently feeding and managing nearly 18% of the world population with only 2.4% and 4% of global land and water resources respectively. Consistent agricultural and land reforms, progressive and inclusive policies, and application of ‘Science and Technology’ at the groundlevel pushed-up productivity, production, and quality of agricultural products at a remarkable pace. Consequently, India is now the largest producer of pulses, jute, and milk, and ranks as the second-largest producer of rice, wheat, sugarcane, cotton, and groundnuts in the world. It also holds the second position in global fruit and vegetable production with a high rank in the production of mango, banana, papaya, and lemon. With many feathers in its cap, the agriculture sector is now a proud entity with global acclaim, but the situation at the time of independence was quite deplorable. In addition to recurrent famines, the country lost major wheat and ricegrowing areas to Pakistan due to partition. In 1950-51, India produced around 50 million tonnes of foodgrains, which was not enough to feed the population of 350 million. To save its growing population from hunger, India resorted to the import of foodgrains which ultimately led to ‘ship to mouth’ living. Meanwhile, Indian leadership realising the critical importance of agriculture in the National Food Security Act (NFSA), proclaimed ‘everything can wait, but not agriculture’. Hence, a slew of measures was initiated mainly to improve and extend irrigation facilities and bring in a ‘scientific temper’ in agriculture and allied sectors. Strengthening of the nationwide agricultural R&D network was fast-tracked, along with the creation of agricultural education facilities and extension services to farmers. However, in our land of traditional agriculture, it was first recognised as a ‘subject of scientific improvement’ in 1871 when British rulers established a ‘Department of Revenue and Agriculture and Commerce’. Although the Department had a mandate for agricultural development, it mainly focused on revenue. In fact, British rulers did not intend to feed the famine-afflicted India, rather desired to direct agriculture towards the production of raw materials for British industries, especially for the textile industries of Manchester. However, some research institutions were established at a very slow pace, which later emerged as the light-house of agricultural development in independent India. The Imperial Bacteriological Laboratory (1889) was the earliest institution established in Pune, which later evolved as the prestigious ICAR-Indian Veterinary Research Institute with headquarter at Izatnagar, Bareilly, UP. Similarly, the Imperial Agricultural Research Institute established in 1905 in Pusa, Samastipur, later became the distinguished ICAR-Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI) at New Delhi; and the Imperial Institute of Animal Husbandry and Dairying established in 1923 in Bangalore, later grew to become the eminent National Dairy Research Institute in Karnal, Haryana. The Royal Commission on Agriculture, appointed in 1926, recommended the setting up of an Imperial Council of Agricultural Research to endorse, direct, and organise agricultural veterinary research across the country. Thus, a central research coordination agency came up in 1929 which later evolved and was renamed the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), soon after independence. Meanwhile, basic research continued at the provincial level under the respective departments of Agriculture and Animal Husbandry through the agricultural and veterinary colleges. Notable institutions under the Provinces were the Sugarcane Breeding Station founded in 1912 in Coimbatore (which later became ICAR- Sugarcane Breeding Institute); and the Rice Research Station established in 1911. On the other hand, the Central Ministry of Food and Agriculture emphasised on commercial crops, and constituted semi-autonomous bodies or commodity committees to conduct research, specifically for improving the quality of the products. The first such committee of cotton was established in 1921, which led to the development of 70 improved varieties and considerably improved fibre quality. Subsequently, these committees were established for the overall improvement of lac, jute, sugarcane, coconut, tobacco, oilseeds, areca nut, cashew nut, and spices. They established their own specific research institutions to conduct advanced research, such as Cotton Technology Research laboratory at Bombay; Indian Lac Research Institute at Ranchi; Jute Agricultural Research Laboratory at Dhaka (later relocated to Calcutta in 1947); Central Research Station at Kayankulam and Kasargod; Indian Institute of Sugarcane Research at Lucknow; and the Central Tobacco Research Institute at Rajahmundry. On the agricultural education front, the first Agricultural School was opened at Saidapet, Chennai in 1868, which was later relocated to Coimbatore in 1906. Likewise, the Department for teaching agriculture in the College of Science at Pune (founded in 1989) was later developed into a separate college of agriculture in 1907. A series of agricultural colleges were established at Kanpur, Sabour, Nagpur, and Lyallpur (now in Pakistan) from 1901 to 1905. These colleges were mainly devoted to teaching, but research activities could not be carried out due to the lack of scientific and technical manpower and facilities.

Towards Self-Reliance

After independence, Indian policy planners accorded top priority to agricultural development with the ultimate goal to make the country self-reliant in staple foodgrains, i.e., wheat and rice. Accordingly, several specific initiatives were taken in the first Five Year Plan to uplift agricultural growth along several verticals. Major irrigation projects were launched and land titles were given to actual cultivators under land reforms. Co-operative credit institutions got a boost due to better financing and an initiative was taken up to bring institutional changes in the agriculture support system. Consequently, India harvested nearly 70 million tonnes of foodgrains (wheat, rice, coarse cereals, and pulses) during 1956-57, but due to the growing population, it could not lessen the country’s reliance on imports. In the Second Five Year Plan, agriculture was shifted downwards in the priority list to accommodate industrial development for boosting the economy. During the 1960s, India continued with the escalation of imports, mainly from the USA under the PL-480 scheme. In and around 1965, the country suffered three major setbacks on the food front- severe drought, war with Pakistan, and imposition of strict curbs by the USA on delivery of wheat. India somehow managed to avoid the severe trap of famine and hunger by importing an all-time high, 10 million tonnes of foodgrains in 1966 from various sources. In the Third Five Year Plan, the Government made a strong commitment to making the country selfreliant in foodgrains production, mainly through scientific and technological interventions, and implementation of conductive policies at farm-level. The Government of India permitted trials of Mexican wheat varieties in fields. These varieties, developed by renowned American Agronomist, Dr Norman E Borlaug (1914 to 2019), were dwarf/semi-dwarf, rust-resistant, and had already shown potential to enhance yield manifold. Over 1,000 trials/ demonstrations were conducted in farmers’ fields across the north Indian wheat belt under the mentorship of eminent Plant Geneticist Dr M S Swaminathan. Farmers successfully harvested 4-5 tonnes per hectare yield in contrast to earlier onetonne hectare with Indian varieties. This was a quantum jump never imagined earlier. The clamour for new high-yielding seeds grew rapidly across wheat-growing areas due to the excellent performance of new wheat varieties and personal motivation to farmers by the great duo- Dr Borlaug and Dr Swaminathan. Agriculture departments and R&D institutions facilitated a regular supply of quality seeds, fertilisers, machinery, irrigation facilities, and more importantly, scientific advisories. In 1968, our nation reaped a bumper harvest of nearly 17 million tonnes of wheat that was just 11 million tonnes in 1966. This was the biggest leap of wheat production ever recorded globally. This spectacular achievement was recognised as ‘Green Revolution’ over the world. Acting almost on a similar pattern, the Government of India indented seeds of dwarf and high-yielding rice variety IR-8, developed by the International Rice Research Institute at Manila, Philippines. Its seeds were distributed among farmers, mainly in the southern and eastern regions. In comparison to merely 2 tonnes per hectare yield from local varieties, farmers could reap a bumper harvest of 6-7 tonnes per hectare, and that too in a short duration of only 105 days. Farmers adopted this variety widely, and Indian rice breeders developed a series of ‘IR’ varieties with a yield potential up to 10 tonnes per hectare. Thus, an era of high-yielding varieties of crops began with new dimensions such as multiple cropping, a package of good agricultural practices, an extension of modern farm practices and irrigation facilities, and a newer approach towards post-harvest technologies. During the post-Green Revolution period, policy planners focussed more on research, extension, education, input supply, credit support, marketing, price support, and institution building. The new strategy has enabled the country to increase the production of foodgrains by 5.6 times, horticultural crops by 10.5 times, fish by 16.8 times, milk by 10.4 times, and eggs by 52.9 times from 1950 51 to 2017-18. As per fourth advance estimates, for 2020 21, total foodgrain production in the country is estimated at a record 308.65 million tonnes. Horticulture production is expected to reach a record level of 329.86 million tonnes in 2020- 21 (2nd advance estimates). Thus, India has travelled a long journey from being a famine- afflicted and food-scarce nation to a proud food- surplus nation.

Building Networks

During the 1950s and 1960s, the Government of India decided to build a public agricultural research system with ICAR as an apex body to plan, coordinate, and undertake research across commodities. Animal husbandry, fisheries, aquaculture, and many other enterprises integral to agriculture, were also brought under the umbrella of ICAR. Now, the system has grown into one of the world’s largest networks of agricultural R&D, education, and extension institutions. Currently, ICAR is managing R&D activities in 102 institutions that include 65 research institutions, four deemed universities with research facilities, 14 National Research Centres, six National Bureaux, and 13 Project Directorates. ICAR is also playing a major role in the promotion of excellence in higher agricultural education by mentoring and providing financial support to 71 State Agricultural Universities. In addition to research and education, ICAR also supports technology assessment, demonstration, and capacity development activities through a network of 11 Agricultural Technology Application Research Institutions and 721 Krishi Vigyan Kendras (KVKs) across the country. KVKs are small entities at the district level that perform frontline extension activities and are responsible for the implementation of ‘Lab to Land’ programmes. The first KVK was opened in Pondicherry in 1974 on the recommendation of an expert committee (1973), constituted to suggest ways for the institutionalisation of agricultural extension at a national level. To strengthen the agricultural research network, it was imperative to develop a network for higher education in agriculture and allied sciences. In 1948, the country has only 17 agriculture colleges that were working under the administrative control of agriculture departments of respective States. During 1948-49, the then Chairman of the University Grants Commission Dr Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan advocated opening rural universities for scientific training and skilling of rural youth. Pandit Govind Ballabh Pant, the then Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, acted on his call and deputed an expert committee to the USA to study the working of Land-Grants Universities and recommended a model for agricultural universities in India. Subsequently, acting on the recommendations of the committee, the Government of Uttar Pradesh decided to establish a large and integrated State Agricultural University in Rudrapur. The huge campus was inaugurated on 17 November 1960, by the then Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru as ‘Uttar Pradesh Agricultural University’. This was the first agricultural university of India that laid a strong foundation of higher agricultural education with excellence. Later, it was renamed Govind Ballabh Pant University of Agriculture & Technology, and also played an important role in the success of the Green Revolution. During the Fourth Five Year Plan (1960 65), seven State Agricultural Universities (SAUs) were established in Uttar Pradesh, Orissa, Rajasthan, Punjab, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, and Karnataka. Besides higher education, the wide network of SAUs is currently addressing State-specific research and extension needs in close contact with farmer communities. Meanwhile, ICAR was also reorganised and revamped in 1966 to address emerging challenges at the national level. Administratively, it became an autonomous body under the Government of India, and all research institutions/stations under various central commodity committees were brought under its umbrella. In 1965, ICAR initiated a novel concept of ‘All India Coordinated Research Projects’ (AICRPs) with a specific mandate- ‘To conduct operational research and multi-location trials on developed technologies to identify technical, financial, managerial, and social constraints for better market acceptability to technologies’. Currently, 60 AICRPs are dedicated and functioning towards the improvement of various crops, livestock species, fisheries, and many other commodities of economic importance.

Creating Milestones

Since the post-Green Revolution period, agricultural R&D mainly focused its efforts on issues that were critical to sustaining food security and efficient use of natural resources. In attempting so, an array of improved varieties of various crops were developed with desirable characteristics, such as high-yield potential, resistance to pests and diseases, tolerance to biotic and abiotic stresses, and better nutritional qualities. Some landmark varieties with far- reaching impacts were developed under the leadership of ICAR, such as ‘HD’ series of wheat varieties developed by IARI, New Delhi. These varieties are high-yielding, rust- resistant, and scientists also added the attribute of ‘climate adaptability’ in the latest varieties. The ‘HD’ series of wheat varieties now covers nearly 140 lakh hectare area out of 317 lakh hectare of wheat growing area in the country. Per hectare productivity of wheat has now sky-rocketed to 3,424 kg, which was just 669 kg during 1946-47. The nation harvested a record 110 million tonnes of wheat during 2020-21 (4th advance estimate). In rice, other than high-yielding, specific varieties were developed to perform well under drought or water- logged conditions. However, Basmati rice varieties, developed by IARI, won worldwide acclaim and popularity due to their exquisite aroma, flavour, and texture. The Basmati variety ‘Pusa-1121’ has earned the unique distinction of being the ‘longest grain’ variety in the world with an exceptionally high cooked kernel elongation ratio of 2.5 and volume expansion more than four times. India could earn equivalent to Rs 33,000 crore of foreign exchange by exporting basmati rice during 2018-19. Backed by S&T interventions and improved varieties, India harvested a record 122.27 million tonnes of rice during 2020-21 (4th advance estimate). To attain self-reliance in oilseeds production, agricultural R&D was oriented towards increasing per hectare productivity by various S&T interventions. The recent introduction of exotic oil palm as an oilseeds crop by developing production technologies suitable to Indian conditions has shown promise. Earlier, the introduction and popularisation of soybean in suitable regions have successfully contributed to the kitty of edible oils. Due to consistent efforts, oilseed production in the country has reached a record of 36.10 million tonnes during 2020-21. (4th advance estimate). Special intervention made to raise the production and productivity of pulses has led to record production of nearly 26 million tonnes in 2020-21 (4th advance estimate). A mission mode approach was adopted to raise the production of horticultural crops mainly by the introduction of new varieties, improved package of agricultural practices, expansion of the area, and regeneration of old/unproductive orchards. Currently, India ranks number one in the productivity of banana, grapes, papaya, cassava, and green peas. Total horticultural production is estimated to be 329.86 million tonnes (highest ever) during 2020-21 (2nd advance estimate). A significant increase in production is registered over the previous year in nearly all categories of horticultural crops, such as fruits, vegetables, plantation crops, spices, and medicinal and aromatic plants. In the latest development, scientists have developed bio-fortified varieties of some major crops, which are 1.5 to 3.0 times more nutritious than the traditional varieties. Recently, the Prime Minister dedicated 17 such varieties of eight crops to the nation. During the 1950s and 1960s, just like foodgrains, India depended heavily on the import of milk to meet national demand. To attain self-reliance, an ambitious programme, called ‘Operation Flood’, was launched in 1970 that addressed production and productivity issues with major reforms in the marketing of milk and milk products. Soon, the efforts paid dividends and in 1998, India became the largest producer of milk in the world, surpassing the USA. The transformation, widely known as ‘White Revolution’, is still making waves with current milk production of nearly 200 million tonnes and per capita milk availability crossing 400 gm per day. Advances made in animal breeding, reproduction, health, and nutrition have made seminal contributions in sustaining the white revolution. Similarly, the targeted programme of ‘Blue Revolution’ transformed the fisheries sector with an all-time high production of nearly 14.16 million tonnes between 2019 and 2020. On the global map, India is the second-largest aquaculture-producing country and the third-largest fish producer.

Way Forward

Despite splendid growth, Indian agriculture is facing some major challenges such as small and fragmented land holdings, post-harvest losses, and poor market infrastructure. Recently, the Government has launched several new schemes and programmes to address such issues by adequate fund allocation and devising innovative measures that include cutting-edge S&T interventions. For example, Artificial Intelligence and Machine learning are paving the way for intelligent farming, and the use of IoT-enabled sensors to prevent excessive use of harmful chemicals. Specialised drones and robots are poised to revolutionise modern farming. Drones, aerial as well as groundbased, and satellite imagery are helping farmers to remotely monitor crops, diagnose issues, and also make informed decisions regarding crop protection and nutrition. Digital transformation is changing the face of agriculture and farmers by providing the right knowledge, resources, and technology on a real-time basis. Online marketplaces (e-Mandis) and regular market updates are empowering farmers to maximise their income. Recent thrust and support to agri-startups are helping the promotion of agriculture as an enterprise with attractive returns. However, the future of Indian agriculture lies in the development of sustainable agriculture, which means development policies related to agriculture and farmers must include conservation of natural resources and create an enabling policy environment for future agriculture. Generation and distribution of appropriate technologies, improvement in support services, and enhancement in physical infrastructure are other issues that need immediate attention. Integration of resources, technologies, knowledge, and policies is paving the way for better agriculture and a brighter tomorrow.

Economic Transformation

India gained independence in 1947 under the tumultuous economic and political conditions. First, the treasury was bankrupt with little or no foreign exchange reserves. Second, the immediate need was to obtain political consensus on inter-state disputes, a new constitution, and a plan for economic development. Third, there was the issue of how to engage in international economic relations with the dominant western powers from which India had just gained independence. India’s international relations with the west determined the initial plan of economic development. The bankruptcy of the treasury implied that any development programme initiated could not be foreign exchange intensive. India’s political relations with economic powers like the US and UK were not very good. This led to closer economic and political relations with the then USSR, helped by the rupee-ruble exchange programme with the Soviet Union where exports of Indian products like tea were exchanged for imports of essential items like crude oil. All payments were to be in national currencies so that this was equivalent to barter trade. Close relations with the Soviet Union also led to the adoption of the Feldman model of economic development based on a planned expansion of State-led heavy industries. However, the strategy of adding to the production capacity of the capital goods sector was ill-conceived as these capital goods were themselves import-dependent and needed scarce foreign exchange. In addition, the strategy required strict control on imports of consumption goods to conserve foreign exchange. While this model of planned development worked for a while, the inefficiency of the Feldman model became apparent when the production of capital goods became constrained by the need for imported components. In addition, the wars of 1962 and 1965 further stretched resources so that it became apparent that the Five Year Plan models had an inherent economic inconsistency. Parallelly, the growing population created a shortage of basic foodstuffs culminating in India and it was being forced to import wheat from the US under the PL480 programme. Excessive concentration on the industrial sector producing capital goods and neglect of the agricultural sector implied a development model constrained by the availability of consumer goods. While this may have worked in communist countries like the Soviet Union, in a political democracy like India it was not sustainable. The Five Year Plan model itself hinted that the state would direct production in the private sector. The need to limit consumption and conserve foreign exchange implied that production by the private sector had to be limited by an industrial licensing system where all imports requiring scarce foreign exchange were prohibited. In other words, the industrial licensing regime soon implied the discretionary issue of industrial licenses, crony capitalism, and ad hocism in the planning process. It may, however, not be unreasonable to infer that the model adopted was probably directed by the political difficulty of dealing with aggressive dominant western powers hence, leading to closer relations with the Soviet Union. At the same time, increasing demand for consumer goods by a growing domestic population led to an era of domestic shortages. In the decade of the 1970s, two major socialist initiatives were undertaken: one, the complete takeover of the wholesale trade in foodgrains and, two, nationalisation of the major banks. The first measure was a complete failure and had to be repealed quickly. It was expectedly followed by a period of shortage of foodgrains leading to inflation as domestic agricultural production remained stagnant. At the same time, the war for independence of Bangladesh led to additional shortages, followed by the extreme political instability of the late 1970s. Simultaneously, the shortage of foreign exchange reserves was exacerbated by the dramatic increase in the price of oil in the world market. It was during this period, coinciding with the end of the Third Year Plan and three years of Annual Plans, that it became clear that the Feldman model of planned industrialisation was a failure. Subsequently, starting with the Technology Policy Statement of 1982, production liberalisation and easing of imports of technology were initiated. The internal inconsistency of the planning model leading to foreign exchange shortages reached its peak in the 1980s so that by the end of the decade, India was in danger of reneging on its external liability and being unable to pay for more than one month of imports. The reforms of 1991 were a consequence of this, leading to both domestic and external economic liberalisation and abandonment of the Feldman model of economic development. To that extent, the period of real economic growth began after 1991 when domestic production was opened up completely and foreign exchange controls were also lifted, while the rupee was allowed to devalue to control imports via a market mechanism. In other words, most of the decade of the 1990s went into dismantling the complex domestic production and external import control regimes. It took at least the decade of the 1990s to open up markets and replace bureaucratic controls by a system of independent market regulators in areas like stock markets, competition policy, power distribution, etc. The gains of the shift of strategy showed up immediately so that by the end of the 1990s, India’s foreign exchange reserves increased from USD 5.8 billion to USD 38 billion and foreign exchange ceased to be a constraint on industrial development. In other words, by the end of the 1990s, a completely new economic paradigm was established where the state started withdrawing from direct production in the areas where the markets efficiently delivered goods and services. The extent of the shift in the economic paradigm can be appreciated by a number of policy shifts that are continuing till date. First, while the Foreign Exchange Regulation Act (FERA) was being strictly applied to limit the nature of foreign producers in the 1970s, today there is little political opposition to the need for foreign participation, especially in the area of technology via Foreign Direct Investments (FDI). The change in fact began in 1993 when the Industrial Policy Resolution stated that the country needed to engage FDI in all areas. It is worth noting that liberalisation of foreign investment policy in terms of both sectors and extent of foreign equity ownership has continued since 1991 with almost no policy reversals in policies despite two or three major political changes in the centre. Today, the issue has changed from discouraging foreign investments to actively encouraging FDI with almost no restrictions. Second, for those who have lived in India through the 1960s and 1970s, there is no greater testimony to the success of the new economic paradigm than the fact that in areas like communications, automobiles, and other consumer goods, the private sector is not only the dominant producer but also an efficient producer. The era of endemic shortages in most consumer goods has now evolved into one where the constraints on production are demand and not supply. Third, the other aspect of the new economic paradigm has been the developments in agriculture. Once again, while India in the 1960s was faced with an extreme shortage of foodgrains like wheat and rice, today foodgrains production has increased exponentially with larger stocks of grains. In fact, it emerged as a dominant exporter of these items in the 1990s. Presently, agricultural production is also no longer a constraint on development. To take one example, production has increased from about 90 million tonnes in the 1960s to almost 200 million tonnes. In other words, in the 1980s, a change in the paradigm has implied that the major constraints to economic development, namely, foreign exchange and foodgrain production, have been eliminated. In current times, the issue is not so much about external debt and shortage of basic foodgrains but one of aggressive participation in the world market and structural change in agriculture The switch to an open economy after 1991 had implied that India was able to lock into world trade. Since 1980, global trade has been growing at about 8 per cent in real terms up till 2008. India participated in this growth as well, with the share of total trade in GDP increased from around 15 per cent in the early 1990s to between 45 to 50 per cent today. To put it in another prospective, one out of every two rupees of GDP is generated by an exported or imported commodity. It is also well known that compared to the 2 to 3 per cent growth rate of GDP in the second half of the last century, a growth rate of 4 to 5 per cent is considered below par today. At the same time, present-day India has moved away from being an agricultural dominated economy where the share of GDP originating in agriculture has declined from about 40 to 50 per cent in the 1960s to less than 15 per cent today. However, some experts have argued that India has become a ‘crisis-driven’ economy so that with the external crisis averted, domestic constraints have emerged. First, while economic theory is clear that the government has “no business being in business”, yet attempts to reduce the government participation in areas like civil aviation, hospitality, etc., have faced strong political opposition: what happens to the security of those employed in public sector vital focus? The main issue of political democracy is who pays for “structural adjustment” as economic change takes place? Second, the declining share in agricultural production in GDP is actually an indication of economic development and operation of the socalled Engel’s Law. It is, however, a failure of structural adjustments and the strategy of industrial growth that a similar decline in the number of those whose primary livelihood originates in the agricultural sector is not observed. More to the point, while India has effectively engaged with the world economy, the required structural adjustment from an agrarian economy to modern industrial society is still incomplete. To a certain extent, the last few decades have seen this ‘structural adjustment’ taking place in the Indian economy. This is particularly true in the industrial sector and the manufacturing economy which now accounts for about 25 per cent of the GDP. More importantly, sectors that were forced to remain small because of reservations and quotas have either closed down or linked to the growth of the large-scale industries. A typical example is a textile sector in which MSME firms did not grow due to limited competition from imports and/or large-scale firms. Most such firms, including the areas like leather garments, engineering, etc., have now learned to link up as suppliers to the large manufacturing firms or have gradually closed down. Such supply chain linkages have also enabled India to integrate with the global economy. Over the last few decades, the government has played an important role in easing the difficulty of this structural adjustment for MSMEs. This process will need to continue. However, the greatest failure to bring out structural adjustment has been in the agricultural sector. While we have already noted that the share of agricultural production in GDP is now down to about 15 per cent, it is still worrying that for 50 to 60 per cent of the population in rural areas, agriculture is still a fallback option. It is not surprising that agriculture today is not a profitable option mainly because of the failure of labour to migrate to the more productive industrial and service sectors. This constitutes a failure of agriculture policy which has not been able to induce farmers to diversify into high valueadded production, both in farm products and in related areas like dairy farming. It is this last structural adjustment that must take place given the issues of political economy. It is clear that in trade or in industrial/service sector policy, future reforms must relate to the required structural adjustment in the agricultural sector. As Aldous Huxley famously said, “you cannot prevent an idea whose time has come”. The newage economy of “fintech” and “startups” must also engage with this question.

Infrastructure: History & Challenges

India's independence was in itself a turning point in its economic history. The country was poor as a result of steady deindustrialisation by the British. Less than a sixth of Indians were literate. The abject poverty and sharp social differences had cast doubts on India's survival as one nation. Cambridge historian Angus Maddison's work shows that India's share of world income shrank from 22.6% in 1700 (almost equal to Europe's share of 23.3%) to 3.8% in 1952. The country that owned the brightest jewel in the British Crown lagged behind in the world in terms of per capita income at the beginning of the 20th century.

Infrastructure Development Model

The model envisaged a dominant role of the state as an all-pervasive entrepreneur and financier of private businesses. The Industrial Policy Resolution (IPR) of 1948 proposed a mixed economy. Earlier, the ‘Bombay Plan’, proposed by eight influential industrialists envisaged a substantial public sector with State interventions and regulations in order to protect indigenous industries. The political leadership believed that since planning was not possible in a market economy, the state and public sector would inevitably play a leading role in economic progress. India set up the Planning Commission in 1950 to oversee the entire range of planning, including resource allocation, implementation, and appraisal of five-year plans. These Plans were centralised economic and social growth programmes modelled after those prevalent in the USSR. India’s first Five-Year Plan, launched in 1951, focused on agriculture and irrigation to boost farm output as India was losing precious foreign reserves on foodgrain imports. The First Five-Year Plan was based on the Harrod-Domar model with few modifications. By the end of the Plan in 1956, five Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) were started as major technical institutions. The University Grants Commission (UGC) was set up to take care of funding and take measures to strengthen higher education in the country. Contracts were signed to start five steel plants, which came into existence in the middle of the Second Five-Year Plan. The Second Five-Year Plan and the Industrial Policy Resolution 1956 (long considered the economic constitution of India) paved the way for the development of the public sector and ushered in the License Raj. The Second Plan focused on the development of the public sector and ‘rapid Industrialisation’. The Plan followed the Mahalanobis model, an economic development model developed by the Indian statistician Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis in 1953. From the Second Five-Year Plan, there was a determined thrust towards substitution of basic and capital good industries. Hydroelectric power projects and five steel plants at Bhilai, Durgapur, and Rourkela were established with the help of the Soviet Union, Britain (the UK), and West Germany respectively. Coal production was increased enormously. More railway lines were added in North East. The Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) and the Atomic Energy Commission of India were established as research institutes. In 1957, a talent search and scholarship programme was begun to find talented students to train for work in nuclear power. Power and steel were identified as the key bases for planning. The 680ft Bhakra multi- purpose project on the Sutlej river in Himachal Pradesh was considered a new landmark of a resurgent India. The huge Bhakra-Nangal dams are among several hydel projects India built to light up homes, run factories, and irrigate crops. The second plan set a target to produce 6 million tonnes of steel. Germany was contracted to build a steel plant in Rourkela, while Russia and Britain would build one each in Bhilai and Durgapur, respectively. Nationalisation of 14 public sector banks was a major event during the Fourth Plan (1969 74) which had a huge impact on the Indian economy & infrastructure. The Indian National Highway System was introduced and many roads were widened to accommodate the increasing traffic during the Fifth Plan (1974-78). Infrastructure provisioning requires massive investments, often over a prolonged duration of time, coupled with procedural delays and returns expected after a long period of investment. Consequently, given the high fiscal requirements, particularly of large-scale infrastructure development projects, public investments alone may not be sufficient to fund infrastructure development in India. Consequently, time and again there have been recommendations to encourage private participation in infrastructure development through various forms of Public private Partnerships (PPPs). Recent Milestones India is heralding in an era of new transformation, which has an enormous prospect for growth. We are expected to become a USD5 trillion economy by 2024 and aspire to become a USD10 trillion economy by 2030. There is a huge potential for entities to play a transformational role in the upcoming time. There are opportunities for large-scale development to meet the aspirations of the ‘Young India.’ Between the present and 2030, approximately 700 to 900 million square metres of urban space every year will be constructed. India is witnessing rapid urbanisation. According to Census 2011, India’s urban population was 37.7 crore, which is projected to grow to about 60 crore by 2030. Urbanisation in India has become an important and irreversible process, and it is an important determinant of national economic growth and poverty reduction. In order to promote affordable housing, the Government has made several efforts to create an enabling environment. Infrastructure status has been granted to affordable housing which will enable these projects to avail the associated benefits such as lower borrowing rates, tax concessions, and increased flow of foreign and private capital.

Real Estate (Regulation and Development Act) [RERA]

Proactive measures, such as the Real Estate (Regulation and Development) Act, 2016 (RERA), Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs), the Benami Transactions (Prohibition) Amendment Act 2016, higher tax breaks on home loans, the Goods and Services Tax (GST), land-related reforms, optimising development control rules, rationalising of the stamp duty and registration charges, digitalisation, etc., have also been introduced by the Government. Before RERA, the Indian Real Estate sector was largely unregulated till 2016, which led to many anomalies resulting in various unfair practices, ultimately affecting the homebuyers adversely. Therefore, a need was being felt for a long time to regulate the sector in such a way so as to ensure transparency and accountability. RERA marked the beginning of a new era in the Indian Real Estate sector. Responding to the demand and supply gap in affordable housing, the Government of India launched Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY)- Urban in 2015. The larger goal is to fulfill the housing needs of homeless urban poor and enable them to own decent pucca houses with basic infrastructure facilities by 2022. Based on demand assessment at the State level, the nation has the mammoth task of constructing about 12 million houses under EWS/LIG segment of the society in order to achieve the goal of Housing for All

Affordable Rental Housing Complexes (ARHCs)

In the wake of Covid-19 pandemic, aligning to the vision of Atmanirbhar Bharat, the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs (MoHUA), has initiated Affordable Rental Housing Complexes (ARHCs) for urban migrants/ poor. A first of its kind in the country, this initiative will not only improve the living conditions of urban migrants from EWS/ LIG categories including labour, urban poor but also obviate the need for staying in slums/informal settlements/ peri-urban areas, etc. ARHCs will play a vital role in wealth creation, development of infrastructure, and providing dignified living will all basic amenities to the urban poor/ migrants. These initiatives will be effective in spurring housing and construction activities, providing huge relief to real estate developers. Also, these would attract private and foreign investments in the housing sector, having a positive multiplier effect on GDP and labour market. The availability of encumbrance-free land within existing municipal areas for urban housing schemes is not an easy task. Therefore, provision has been made to include rural areas falling within the notified Planning/Development areas, under the ambit of PMAY (U). It would leverage the availability of additional land at a cheaper cost for the construction of affordable houses. Bharatmala Pariyojana is a new umbrella programme for the highways sector that focuses on optimising the efficiency of freight and passenger movement across the country by bridging critical infrastructural gaps through effective interventions like the development of Economic Corridors, Inter Corridors, and Feeder Routes, National Corridor Efficiency Improvement, Border and International connectivity roads, Coastal and Port connectivity roads, and Green-field expressways. A total 24,800 kms are being considered in Phase I of Bharatmala project. Improvement in the efficiency of existing corridors through the development of Multi-Modal Logistics Parks (MMLPs)

Urban Mass Rapid Transport

The concept of mass rapid transit for New Delhi first emerged from a traffic and travel characteristics study which was carried out in the city in 1969. While extensive technical studies and the raising of finance for the project were in progress, the city expanded significantly, resulting in a two-fold rise in population, and a five-fold rise in the number of vehicles between 1981 and 1998. To rectify the situation, the Government of India and the Government of Delhi jointly set up a company called the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) on 3 May 1995, with E Sreedharan as the Managing Director. DMRC, a special-purpose organisation, is vested with great autonomy and powers to execute this gigantic project involving many technical complexities, under a difficult urban environment, and within a very limited time frame. DMRC was given full powers to hire people, decide on tenders, and control funds. The first line of the Delhi Metro, the Red Line, was inaugurated on 24 December 2002. The Delhi Metro became the second underground rapid transit system in India, after the Kolkata Metro, when the Vishwa Vidyalaya-Kashmere Gate section of the Yellow Line opened on 20 December 2004.

Way Forward

The Introduction of ‘MetroLite’ or ‘MetroNeo’, as recommended by the Government, is mandated in cities with lower capacity requirements. This is considering the significantly less capital cost which has a bearing on the overall funding requirement and commercial sustainability. Over the short term, unbundled private participation for all new/expansions of existing metro systems may be taken up. Herein, various high capital expenditure components such as stations, rolling stock, maintenance facilities, etc., should be undertaken through long-term contract/concession for private investment. Also, securitisation of operational assets should be tested in the market. Innovative financing mechanisms to fund metro projects are required to be explored and Non-Fare Box revenue streams are to be augmented. Provisions have been made in Metro Bill to attract private investment. The quality of infrastructure development in India needs urgent attention if the country intends to realise its economic and growth potential. Infrastructure development remains a key constraint in India’s economic development. Although investments in infrastructure alone do not guarantee growth, in general, scholarly studies estimate that a strong association exists between the availability of infrastructure provisions and economic growth measured in terms of gross domestic product (GDP). In other words, industrial growth is contingent upon the development of other infrastructural facilities such as transportation, energy, and electricity, and communications However, infrastructure development in itself remains both a financial and a regulatory challenge. In order to do so, in addition to the available provisions for public investments, efforts must be made to adequately channelise the opportunities for private participation in the real estate/housing sector.

Reforming Caste in New India

In pre-independence India, caste was seen as a ‘social’ question; it was a subject of social reform which necessitated the creation of more universal opportunities in sectors such as education and jobs (by the government), deliberate efforts for inclusion through actions of voluntary organisations, by several social reformers, and efforts by activists and advocates to open previously denied spaces such as drinking water commons and access of temples to castes which were denied the same. It was a period where there was some cognition of issues linked to discrimination and exploitation on basis of caste, and on the other hand, caste continued to be the basis of the organisation of communities at large. Caste has been a subject of considerable debate and reform in Indian society, predating the struggles for independence and a constant accompaniment to the same as well. The debate is tumultuous, often embroiled in pitched political battles and not lending itself to rational policy decisions. And yet, it is also very evident that the contours of the caste equations have been ‘reformed, changed in several positive ways in the past seventy-five years. This article traces some of the contours of these changes while also articulating some of the contemporary complex challenges in relation to caste.

Caste: Subject of State Policy and Reform

Caste discrimination was a subject of considerable debate in the Constituent Assembly and the adoption of specific provisions for prevention of discrimination as well as the adoption of principles of affirmative action, especially for the Scheduled Castes, was a significant and foundational reform. With these moves, the postindependence state took on the mantle of transformative action, heralding a shift of domain of caste reform to the political and economic sphere and not just restricted to the ‘social’ sphere as in the pre-independence era. The other significant shift is seen in terms of the transformation in the ‘agency’ of the castes who were previously labelled only as victims, depressed, and lacking a voice. The shift to the state as an institution that has the onus of transformative action in relation to caste has not been easy and is highly uneven. Institutionalisation of practices such as reservations in education, jobs, and election of people’s representatives has been much easier than the transformations in the structure of these institutions and the texture of actual governance. The adequacy of transformations initiated by reservation, and their outcomes are a subject of more substantive debate. However, it is undeniable that they have enabled the organisation of the Dalit castes, given an impetus to mobilisation and organisation of other castes in subsequent years, and more importantly, created a critical space and voice within State organisations that can speak for the excluded. While stories of extreme oppression, crime, and denial of opportunity to those who are highly vulnerable abound even now; the fact that State agencies including police are constitutionally bound to investigate and deliver justice is not a small matter. The second shift, i.e. the transformation of the agency is perhaps even more significant as it has been responsible for expanding the opening given by the constitutional commitment. Several examples can be given of this change - the articulation of action against atrocities as a crime, demands for effective budgetary allocation for the Dalits, the exposition of how practices of exclusion and discrimination are embedded in systems and institutions, the evolution of an entire discipline of Dalit Studies that takes inspiration from racial studies, the rising associationism among Dalit businesses, the increase in several Dalit castes articulating and visualising themselves in a disaggregated way, the emerging genre of films and other cultural forms that give an expression to the hitherto faceless and amorphous Dalits, all illustrate the emerging power of the Dalit voice, and perhaps point the attention of society to more critical voices and concerns that have been invisibilised. A Dalit is no longer content to be a passive victim but seeks to be an active interlocutor in events. Moreover, this is seen as a matter of right and not as a favour to be granted by the authorities.

Existing Challenges

What is outlined here is not meant as a celebratory record, for one needs to recognise that we are far from an equal society. It should be recognised that the lower castes and several sections of Dalits bear the unfair burden of these inequalities. Within this structure, Dalit women bear these burdens even more. Furthermore, some of the dreams as articulated at the time of independence are turning out to be sour. For example, Dr Ambedkar viewed cities and urbanisation as possible sites of liberation for Dalits from tradition and suffering- bound villages and rural societies. As urbanisation becomes a significant phenomenon, it is seen that cities only shift the domains of caste expression. Thus, certain ‘unclean, insanitary’ occupations are considered to be exclusively practiced by Dalits, thereby perpetuating the tradition. Similarly, the predominance of Dalits in slums in the cities can be seen as an expression of their legacy of spatial exclusion from the villages. The dream that cities are a force of liberation by their very nature is proving to be wrong. We also need to be aware that while some of the meanings of what caste means in social discourse have blurred and transformed, there are ways in which the imagination of caste has become even more entrenched. To illustrate, some studies show that the digital space is highly casteist. Elections at all levels of the government accept and build on caste equations and mobilisations. Caste is ever-present and visibilised in even more domains of our everyday life but what needs to be noted is that visibilisation is a progression over invisibility, perpetuated neglect, and systematised exclusion. We may be very far from a casteless society but we have definitely moved the needle from a society in which caste was an accepted dispenser of privilege to one where such dispensation of privilege on the basis of birth is contested and challenged.


The question of caste is an extremely complex one, given its deep embeddedness in our society. A review of our efforts in the last seventy-five years indicates that we have been successful in changing the contours of the caste question. We have not been as successful in creating effective alternate principles for inclusion and in the distribution of opportunities. However, the track for a positive change has certainly been set in motion.