MS Swaminathan: A Bharat Ratna in every sense - Hindustan Times
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MS Swaminathan: A Bharat Ratna in every sense

ByBaldev Singh Dhillon
Feb 18, 2024 08:16 AM IST

Despite having a busy schedule, his adherence to time discipline was awe inspiring. He would always arrive on the dot at 8 am

​A multifaceted individual, MS Swaminathan, has been honoured with the prestigious Bharat Ratna. The world remembers him as the Father of Green Revolution, but I had the privilege of calling him my teacher (1969-70) and mentor.

A multifaceted individual, MS Swaminathan, has been honoured with the prestigious Bharat Ratna. The world remembers him as the Father of Green Revolution, but I had the privilege of calling him my teacher (1969-70) and mentor. (HT File)
A multifaceted individual, MS Swaminathan, has been honoured with the prestigious Bharat Ratna. The world remembers him as the Father of Green Revolution, but I had the privilege of calling him my teacher (1969-70) and mentor. (HT File)

Despite having a busy schedule, his adherence to time discipline was awe inspiring. He would always arrive on the dot at 8 am. He was a passionate teacher with amazing clarity of expression. Later when I met him in 2000, he recollected my name despite nearly 30 years having elapsed! I had many opportunities to interact with him and had many agreements and disagreements, but he never made a me feel small. I will always cherish those memories.

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He wore several hats as a teacher, mentor and orator, visionary scientist and leader, dynamic administrator and above all a human being par excellence with exceptional humility. He will be always remembered for bringing respect to the nation, its agriculture and scientists, and above all farmers.

Norman Borlaug, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate in 1970, wrote in a letter “...to you, Dr Swaminathan, a great deal of the credit must go for first recognizing the potential value of the Mexican dwarfs. Had this not occurred, it is quite possible that there would not have been a Green Revolution in Asia!”

In 1968, before the term “Green Revolution” was coined, Dr Swaminathan began advocating for sustainable practices such as responsible fertilizer and water usage, as well as diversifying crops. He proposed the concept of the “Evergreen Revolution,” an eco-friendly approach that prioritises the ecological foundations of agriculture, aiming for perpetual productivity enhancement without causing harm to the environment or society.

With the attainment of food security, he shifted his focus to nutrition. Besides calorie and protein malnutrition, he identified ‘hidden hunger’ (deficiency of minerals and vitamins). He emphasised on focusing on nutrition-sensitive agriculture and proposed a ‘Farming system for nutrition’ in 2014 to attain nutritional security.

Recognizing the rapid erosion of biodiversity due to monocropping, Dr. Swaminathan advocated for global efforts in biodiversity conservation. In 1976, he established the National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources and played a key role in drafting the Biological Diversity Act of 2002, which led to the establishment of the National Biodiversity Authority in 2003.

Dr. Swaminathan’s influence extended beyond India’s borders. He served as the Independent Chairman of the UN FAO Council from 1981 to 1985 and as the President of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources from 1984 to 1990. He received numerous awards, including the UNEP Sasakawa Environment Prize (1994), the Global Environmental Leadership Award (USA, 1995), and the World Food Prize (1987), being its first recipient.

MS Swaminathan Research Foundation

In 1988, Dr Swaminathan established the MS Swaminathan Research Foundation, focusing on sustainable agriculture and rural development. By blending scientific advancements with traditional knowledge and ecological wisdom of rural and tribal communities, the foundation formulated eco-technologies. Field stations were established in Tamil Nadu, Odisha, and Kerala to conserve on-farm biodiversity.

He helped getting recognition for the contribution of farmers including tribal folks as conservators and enhancers of biodiversity and associated knowledge. The tribal women group in Koraput, Odisha(conserver of land races of rice) was bestowed upon the ‘Equator Initiative Award’ at the UN Conference on Sustainable Development, Johannesburg, South Africa (2002).

Institution Builder

As an institution builder, Dr. Swaminathan made significant contributions to agricultural research in India. During his tenure as the Director General of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) from 1972 to 1979, he spearheaded the expansion of research institutes and initiated transformative programs. Notably, he played a key role in the establishment of the Agricultural Scientists Recruitment Board, All-India Agriculture Research Services, Krishi Vigyan Kendra, and the “Lab-to-Land” program.

In 1990,the National Academy of Agricultural Sciences was established with Dr Swaminathan as its founder president. Its objectives include providing a forum for national and international deliberations and recognising outstanding scientists.

Dr Swaminathan’s impact was not limited to India. He played a crucial role in establishing international organizations such as the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics in Hyderabad, the International Board for Plant Genetic Resources in Rome (now Biodiversity International), the International Council for Research on Agro-Forestry in Nairobi, and the International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology in New Delhi.

Before his focus on applied research for food security, Dr. Swaminathan conducted pioneering studies on radiation biology, chemical mutagenesis, and mutation breeding at the Indian Agricultural Research Institute. His exceptional research in induced mutations for crop improvement earned global recognition for the institute and established Dr. Swaminathan as a leading figure in the field.

Kisanan da Masiha

From 2004 to 2006, Dr. Swaminathan chaired the National Commission on Farmers, which submitted six reports and made recommendations on various aspects of agriculture. His most well-known recommendation was the implementation of the Minimum Support Price (MSP) at least 50% higher than the weighted average cost of production, known as the “C2+50%” formula. This recommendation showcased his exceptional concern for rural development and the farming community.

In fact, Dr Swaminathan was a great admirer of farmers since 1960s. In 1969, he wrote in The Illustrated Weekly of India: “Brimming with enthusiasm, hard-working, skilled and determined, the Punjab farmer has been the backbone of the revolution…..”

In Ghal-Kalan village in Moga district, a farmer has installed his statue. In fact, Dr Swaminathan is aptly known as a “Kisanan da Masiha”.

It is a matter of great pride for the agricultural fraternity that the Government of India has bestowed upon Dr Swaminathan the Bharat Ratna, the highest civilian award.

(The writer is the former vice-chancellor of Punjab Agricultural University, Ludhiana)

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