In the passing away of Professor Yoginder K Alagh, Jawaharlal Nehru University has lost a long-standing friend, supporter and a pillar of strength to large numbers of JNU faculty and students. Prof Alagh died on 6th December 2022 after a brief illness. Although Prof Alagh held many positions both within and outside the government, for JNU he was one of their own, as a teacher and as Vice-Chancellor from 1992 to 1996. He maintained his links with JNU even after the end of his formal links with the university. While he always cherished his association with JNU and considered his stint at JNU as the most engaging and fruitful period of his career, he was a quintessential institution-builder. He was the Chair of the Institute of Rural Management Anand, Giri Institute of Development Studies, Institute of Human Development, Institute of Development Communication, and several others. He was emeritus professor at the Sardar Patel Institute of Economic and Social Research, Ahmedabad, where he continued to remain active in research and through his columns until his untimely death.
Prof Alagh studied at Rajasthan University and then at the University of Pennsylvania, where he obtained his PhD. After a brief teaching stint at Indian Institute of Management, Kolkata he joined the Planning Commission where he played an important role in several areas. He was primarily an agricultural economist with several notable contributions in the field. He closely collaborated with faculty in CSRD (with Prof G S Bhalla) and CESP (with Prof Amit Bhaduri) in bringing out the regional nature of Indian agriculture. Together, their work on inter-district variation in agricultural productivity remains a reference book for anyone working on regional aspects of Indian agriculture. He is also known for his work on poverty with the 1979 committee that he headed on “Projection of Minimum Needs and Effective Consumption Demand in India” being the authoritative work on minimum calorie requirement on which the poverty lines were based. he was closely associated with several of the five-year plans in the 1970s and 1980s, where his contribution ranged from providing the theoretical perspective to actual working of the plans. He was also the chairperson of the Agricultural Prices Commission during 1982-83, where he established the econometrics research cell to better understand the trend and determinants of agricultural costs and prices.
Among his major contributions was his role in the development of the Sardar Sarover Dam, first as executive Vice-Chairman of the Narmada Planning Group during 1980-82, and later as part of the Planning Commission. He saw the dam as essential in improving productivity in Gujarat but was also conscious of the need for effective rehabilitation policies for the families displaced due to the dam. As Chair of the expert group on Cauvery water dispute, he emphasized the need of using water equitably and judiciously. His involvement with agriculture was not limited to his research and support for decentralised agro-climatic planning but also on effectively using the cooperatives as an instrument for better and efficient organisation of agricultural resources. The recommendations of the high-powered committee that he chaired and submitted its report in 2000 paved the way for the formalisation of the Farmer Producer Organisations.
While he held several important posts in the government, including as Member, Planning Commission and as Minister in the union government, he always considered his stint as Vice Chancellor of JNU as the most satisfying period. He was the Vice Chancellor of JNU between 1992 and 1996 and this was a period which witnessed significant changes in the University, both in physical infrastructure and in academics. A true believer in freedom of expression, respect for dissent and student activism, the lingering memory of him sitting on strike in response to protests by the student union defined his relationship with the university community. He was instrumental in meeting the JNUSU’s demands for a resumption of the deprivation points system in university admissions. As a result, JNU became the first university which provided affirmative action in higher education through deprivation points to Other Backward category students, much before it was implemented throughout the country through reservations. He believed in the role that JNU should play as a public institution, both as an intellectual leader and as a role model for inclusion and excellence.
He remained a champion of the JNU model and was vocal in strongly resisting the attempts in recent years to vilify the institution. Through his columns in Indian Express and interventions in other fora, he defended JNU as an inclusive institution and a symbol of excellence. In his passing, JNU has not only lost an excellent academic, able policy maker but a friend who strongly believed in the ideals for which JNU was built and continues to remain a model.