Updated on 6 December, 2019
Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar is celebrated for his immense vision and contributions to the legal and social framework of our Republic, but many forget that he was, by training, one of the foremost Indian economists of his time.
- Armed with a double PhD from Columbia University in New York, and the London School of Economics, he first set his mind to the emancipation of smallholder farmers, who were trapped in cycles of debt, with access to inputs restricted to those of privileged castes.
- As a result, marginal farmers were destined to stay marginalised.
- Babasaheb was in favour of pooling of land among small farmers with cooperative management of land. However, he was more concerned with the factors of production and productivity.
- His solution was for the state to attempt to control farm input prices.
- The idea was central to the planned agricultural growth of the first 50 years of free India.
- However, the problem today for marginal farmers is not much different than it was in 1918, with input costs still prohibitively high for smaller farmers.
- The M.S. Swaminathan National Commission on Farmers identified the same truths that Ambedkar had, and suggested a solution of setting an MSP at least 50% higher than the cost of production, as opposed to market-linked mechanisms.
The financial relationship between the Centre and States
- His next goal was to break open the obscure financial relationship between the Centre and States (imperial versus provincial governments).
- He concluded that a system where fiscal powers were shared between the two entities would be the most stable, an idea which is enshrined in the Constitution.
- His key finding was that leaving all fiscal powers with either entity had led to more corruption and weaker linkages between revenue and development of a province.
- This finding is relevant even today, as the Centre with a new tax regime tries to influence the polity of States and territories like Delhi.
- Babasaheb revealed that London was constantly out to loot the various provincial governments of the British Raj, centralising funds and changing monetary policy to suit its ends.
Labour Reforms and Women’s Rights
- Babasaheb was also instrumental in introducing major labour reforms, making the case for state intervention in labour relations in his writings as “what is called liberty from the control of the state is another name for the dictatorship of the private employer”.
- More significantly, the idea of women as a potent force for economic change owes its legal existence in India solely to Ambedkar.
- He was instrumental in drafting specific laws to protect the rights of women in mines and factories, as well as recognising maternity in the law. Maternity rights in modern India owe their existence to Babasaheb.
- He was also the driving force behind Employees’ State Insurance and the collection of industrial and labour statistics to track the progress of labour.
- Ambedkar used his status as the Viceroy’s Cabinet Minister on Water and Power to provide a vision for the nation’s path to modernity, predicated on free access to utilities without discrimination.
- Under his leadership, the Central Water Commission and the Central Electricity Authority were convened, and until this day ensures that large-scale water and power management projects account for the needs of all Indians.