A Note on the Background and Work of the
Centre for Policy Studies

Background 1: The PPST Effort

In 1978, a group of young Ph.d.’s in physics and different disciplines of engineering, and working in various institutions at Chennai, came together to discuss and deliberate upon the state of science and technology in India. All members of the group were motivated by a deep concern that scientific and technological activity in India was anchored in the traditions and concerns of the West and had little roots in India. After extensive discussions spread over several months, the group determined that India needed to work towards evolving a new stream of what it called ‘Patriotic and People-Oriented Science and Technology (PPST)’. This new stream would be patriotic in the sense of being rooted in and drawing sustenance and support from the Indian traditions of sciences and technologies, and people-oriented in the sense of being concerned with the needs and aspirations of the Indian people.

This group was soon able to involve in its concerns scientists and technologists from several major institutions in the country. To build the case for PPST, the group studied in depth several issues concerning the history, sociology and epistemology of sciences in India and the West, and also the current state of scientific and technological effort in core areas of Indian economy, like agriculture, animal husbandry, forestry, architecture, energy conservation and health care, etc. The work of PPST was compiled in the ‘PPST Bulletin’, which was published for about 10 years.

The work of the PPST Group is widely recognised as an unusually intense and academically rigorous intervention in the debate on the place and direction of science and technology in non-Western countries. Several papers of that period have become classics in the field; some of these have been reprinted several times in different publications and are still taught in graduate courses in sociology and history of science in several universities. Given the strength of the westernising influences in the non-Western societies, including India, the PPST work was unlikely to have a serious effect on the course of the development policies of these countries; but, it offered a strongly and rigorously argued alternate view that emphasised the strengths of the non-Western traditions and at least gave a sense of hope and pride in their own civilisations to many people.

Background II: The Work of Sri Dharampal

Dharampal is a rare historian who investigated the state of society in India in the eighteenth and nineteenth century just before the arrival of the British and their westernising influence in the country. Through his work, he was able to establish that India on the eve of the British intervention was a fairly functional and affluent society; India at that point of time was much more advanced than Britain in terms of scientific and technological competence in varied fields, in delivery of social services like education and healthcare, and in economic affluence. Dharampal also showed that this competence of Indian society was anchored in peculiarly Indian ways of comprehending reality and in organising social, economic and technological activity; and that these ways were largely contrary to the Western ways of thinking and functioning.

The work of Dharampal is widely recognised for its academic thoroughness and rigour. Some of his books, especially Science and Technology in Eighteenth Century India: Some Contemporary European Accounts and The Beautiful Tree: Indigenous Education in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century are classics in the field and are still widely read.

Part of the work of Dharampal was done in the Tamilnadu State Archives at Chennai. The PPST Group came in contact with Sri Dharampal at an early stage, and this association added depth and vigour to the PPST effort.

Centre for Policy Studies

Centre for Policy Studies was constituted in July 1990 by some of the founding members of the PPST in the background of the work of PPST and that of Sri Dharampal, with the objective of taking the PPST effort beyond the limited area of Science and Technology. The Centre envisaged a study of Indian civilisational ideas and institutions in diverse fields of public activity, and explore the potential of these ideas and institutions in alleviating the current situation of India. We hoped that such an exploration shall help India in formulating a polity that shall provide all Indians with the challenge and the opportunity to get into the task of nation building with an abiding passion.

In accordance with its stated objectives, the Centre has consistently sought to understand different aspects of the Indian situation from the twin perspectives of, one, the classical Indian ideas, institutions and practices in a particular field, and two, the current situation of India in that field. In the 20 yeas of its functioning, the Centre has done pioneering and authoritative work in several fields. Some of the more significant research activities and publications of the Centre are listed below.

1. Bharatiya Chitta Manas and Kala: This was the first book that the Centre published after its inception. It was an attempt to offer a broad outline of the structure of Indian consciousness and Indian sense of time. The booklet, based on interviews with Sri Dharampal, relies heavily on the Indian classical literature, and offers a picture of how India and ordinary Indians tend to think and believe on various issues of public polity and how theirs thoughts and beliefs seem to have no congruence with those of the educated Indians and Indian policy-makers. This booklet, published in both Hindi and English, is still read by concerned Indians with great respect. We plan to reprint this book to mark the twentieth anniversary of the founding of the Centre.

This initial compilation by Sri Dharampal was in the nature of an overview. It is part of the mandate of the Centre to explicate the structure of Indian consciousness and Indian sense of time through detailed studies of Indian ideas and institutions in different fields of human endeavour. We have done one such study in Annam Bahu Kurvita that we describe in more detail later. But, we need to undertake similar studies of other aspects the Indian civilisation experience to fill in details of the overview presented in Bharatiya Chitta Manas and Kala.

2. Ayodhya and the Future India: This was a major intervention by the Centre to comprehend the Indian situation in the context of a critical event in modern Indian history. The Centre was able to involve and obtain the reactions of a broad cross-section of Indian opinion in this comprehension. And the resultant compilation remains a significant record of the mood of the nation at that time.

The Centre has not been able to react with the same seriousness to other important events that have taken place since then. The various initiatives to gloablise the Indian economy, the initiative to make India a strategic partner of the West, the recent nuclear deal with the United States of America and several other similar events deserved to be discussed and comprehended from diverse view points, the way we tried to comprehend the Ayodhya events. The Centre needs to evolve the necessary professional competence and breadth for this purpose.

3. Chengalpattu Studies: In its search for comprehending the Indian civilisational ways of organisation and functioning, the Centre has compiled archival information on about 2000 localities of the Chengalpattu district from a British survey of 1764-1774. These archival records of the British administrators, and the corresponding village-accounts in Tamil on which the archival records are based, offer a comprehensive picture of the manner and effectiveness with which the Indians organised their society and polity before the coming of the British.

Work on Chengalpattu records has been one of the major research areas of the Centre. We have published one book and several articles on the subject. The complete description of the Chengalpattu society and polity based on these records shall, however, require several volumes, which we hope to publish in the coming years.

A proper and complete presentation of the Chengalpattu material shall require very detailed statistical analysis and preparation of detailed maps showing different aspects of the economy and polity. The Centre needs to develop appropriate professional infrastructure for this purpose.

4. Annam Bahu Kurvita: Recalling the Indian Discipline of Growing and Sharing Food in Plenty: One of the striking, and perhaps defining, aspects of Indian economy of today is the extremely low level of production of food per capita leading to large-scale hunger and malnutrition throughout India. This situation seems to have come to prevail with the establishment of British administration in India, and has improved only marginally during the 60 years of our independent functioning. The Centre has been collecting extensive economic data on this issue. But, our more important work has been the compilation of the classical Indian position on the issue of food and hunger. Through this book, published in Hindi, English and Tamil, we have conclusively established that classical India looked upon ensuring an abundance of food and making it available for all as a fundamental discipline of human existence. This book has been widely acclaimed as a classic in its field.

Studies in Agriculture and Food remain one of the main areas of concern of the Centre, and we continue to compile detailed information on these issues. On the basis of the FAO statistics, we have collected long time series data running from 1965 onwards on the changing patterns of production and consumption of foodgrains in almost all countries of the world. We have also been collecting data on the area, yield and production of major crops in India and the different states. For Vidarbha region, we have collected this information up to the district level and have also carried out a survey of the region.

However, we have not been so far able to present all this data in an effective manner. The fast-deteriorating food situation of the country requires continuous compilation of production and consumption data up to the district level. The Centre needs to organise itself for such an effort.

5. Religious Demography of India: Another widely noticed research effort of the Centre has been on the changing religious demography of the Indian sub-continent and its various regions since 1881, when the first rigorous synchronous census began in India. Religious composition of the Indian population forms one of the fundamental realities of the Indian situation, which has determined the course of Indian history in the past and continues to determine social and administrative compulsions in different regions of the country. By compiling a comprehensive and long-term statistical picture of the changing religious demography of India, we have provided basic source material for thinking on these issues in a systematic fashion.

Demographic studies remain one of the major areas of concern of the Centre. Presently, we are working on extending our work to the taluk and town levels. We have compiled religious demographic data separately for urban and rural populations up to the Taluk and Town level for all states of India for 1971 to 2001. We are perhaps one of the few institutions that have systematically compiled data on the subject. The large amount of data that we have compiled can be effectively presented only through graphics and maps; we are in the process of developing GIS capabilities for this purpose.

We have been also planning to undertake detailed micro-level studies on the religious demography of certain locations in the country. Such studies can go beyond mere numbers of different religious groups and give information on the age-structure, fertility, mortality of different populations and also on their economic, social and religious status, behaviour and attitudes. We have begun some tentative steps in this direction.

The Centre also needs to collect more detailed information on the religious demography of different countries of the world. So far we have relied only on international Christian compilations for this purpose.

6. Science and Society: Study of the interaction between science and society is one of the original mandates of the Centre, which began with the PPST work. We have recently published a book on Science and Sustainability. We plan to publish several volumes of essays on this issue in the near future. But, we have done little new work in this field. We need to think about reviving this area of study.

7. Epistemology and History of Science: This is another area on which we started original work in the course of the PPST effort. Centre has not been able to pursue this work. However, Prof. M. D. Srinivas, along with several of his colleagues, has done pioneering work in history and epistemology of Indian astronomy and mathematics. The group has published several seminal books in this area.

8. Sanatana Bharat Jagrita Bharat: In this book, which was also rendered into the format of an exhibition, the Centre has presented a simple, yet comprehensive and authentic, picture of the geography, climate, culture, science and technologies, history and the current situation of India. The book and the exhibition, presented in both Hindi and English, have been widely seen and appreciated.

This work should, however, is not a matter of a single compilation. It is the mandate of the Centre to continuously collect information on the different aspects of the Indian civilisational experience and on the current situation of India. We need to evolve a system for making the Centre a repository of such information which may be accessed by all other concerned scholars and lay persons.

9. District Resource Atlases: The Centre has always sought to collect detailed information on different aspects of society and polity in India. It has been our cherished hope that we should be able to compile such information for every district of India. During the last two years, we have begun this effort in earnest. We have compiled information on the geography, geology, climate, water resources, demography, land-use, irrigation, agriculture, industry, history and culture of all districts of Madhya Pradesh. Much of this information has been compiled in long time series of four decades or more. And, we have used all available sources of information, from the remote sensing satellite data to the revenue records.

On the basis of this information, we have produced a comprehensive and extensively illustrated resource atlas of Jhabua district. We are in the process of publishing similar atlas for Sidhi. And, we hope to publish such atlases for all districts of Madhya Pradesh in the next few years.

We believe that bringing the specificities of the people and land of different areas to the attention of the people themselves and the policy makers shall be of great help in evolving development policies that are in tune with the aspirations, resources and skills of the local people, which has been the main objective of the Centre.

In the process of working on the district resource atlas project for Madhya Pradesh, we have been able to collect enormous data on various aspects of the society, economy and polity of the districts. In many cases the datasets that we have prepared are in long time series beginning from 1965 onwards. This data can be used for many other purposes besides the preparation of district resource atlases. We need to have teams of researchers working on different aspects of this data.

The experience of working on the district resource atlas programme of Madhya Pradesh indicates that it is possible and necessary to do similar work in several other states. Some other states have in fact expressed their keenness. The Centre needs to be prepared for this

October 2009
Centre for Policy Studies, Chennai