Harshita Bhasin is a third year PhD scholar at the Faculty of Economics, South Asian University in New Delhi, India. Her research interests include agrarian political economy and development economics. Her dissertation work focusses on understanding the processes of agrarian change that characterise the Indian state of Punjab in the context of stagnant productivity and ecological crisis which have gripped the state over the last few decades. Her dissertation work is motivated by a curiosity around various puzzling phenomena at work in Punjab agriculture such as reverse tenancy, interlinked credit markets, and petty rentierism.
Living beyond means in the Indian Punjab: Addressing the question of ecology in an agriculture led development strategy
The question of ecological limits continues to remain a blind spot within development economics. With a view to correct this lacuna in a small way, this paper undertakes an analytical review of the agriculture led development strategy pursued in the Indian state of Punjab. In doing so, it unravels the extractivist logic that is rooted in the productivity fetish of mainstream development economics and policy frameworks informed by it. The paper draws on qualitative findings from the field in Punjab as well as analysis of scholarly works and empirical evidence on the condition of natural resources and agrarian livelihoods in Punjab to deconstruct the complex interaction between agriculture, natural resources and inequality in the state. The Indian state of Punjab has been widely regarded historically as a rare success story of an agriculture-led development process on the basis of its dynamic agricultural sector. While evidence from various national databases reveals that Punjab continues to be the most agriculturally prosperous state in the country, academic research draws attention towards a situation of widespread distress amongst the small and marginal farmers of the state over past few decades. In fact, five decades of resource and input intensive farming has created a situation of an ecological as well as an economic crisis which jeopardizes the future viability of farming in the state even as the structural transformation of the state continues to be elusive. A retrospective look at the Punjab case reveals how a quick turnaround of the fortunes of the state through a rural development strategy premised on an appropriation of nature has given way to a disequalising and exclusionary growth process. The paper argues that mainstream as well as heterodox approaches to development fail to adequately address the question of ecology but a political economy approach holds the promise of helping us understand through what processes a society continues to prioritise the prosperity of the few over crucial ecological thresholds. Ultimately, a case is made for reformulating our conception of development to adequately address the missing link of ecological limits.
Affiliation: South Asian University