Dr. Mahinder Singh Randhawa was one of the most remarkable individual that I had the privilege of working with during my service career in India and abroad. He made tremendous contribution to the agro-economic development of Punjab, which ought to be known more widely among the present educated elite of the state.
Son of a small farmer of Hoshiarpur district, young Mahinder Singh worked on the family farm during his school days. He was trained as an agricultural scientist, specializing in Botany, but decided to compete for the Indian Civil Service in 1930ís. He was selected in 1933 and, after various postings in Punjab, appointed Deputy Commissioner of Delhi during 1947-48 when the Hindu-Muslim riots were at their peak. But for his firm and fair administrative ability, the causalities in the riots would have been much higher than the actual figure of more than 100,000 killed or wounded. Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel, Indiaís Home Minister, who was in charge of law and order in Delhi, had complete confidence in him. He used to tell me about his briefing the Minister about the situation in Delhi every evening. Sardar Patel lived very simply and was very precise in his instructions.
Dr. Randhawa too was a man of few words but plenty of action. He had an uncanny ability of picking up the best man for the job. He controlled the riots by recruiting as magistrates a number of young men who had worked as magistrates in Punjab and N.W.F.P. before migration.
His next posting was as Commissioner for Rehabilitation in Punjab. In his tenure of about two years, he distributed all the farm lands left behind by the Moslem cultivators in present Punjab and Haryana to incoming refugee farmers. This was an enormous and complex job because 400,000 - 500,000 incoming farmers had to be settled on lands which were much smaller in size and much less productive than those that they had left behind in Pakistan. However, he did the job with such aplomb that there were few complaints. He ordered that consolidation of land holdings should be carried out at the same time so that every farmer got a compact piece of land.
When the community development programme - a programme of integrated rural development - was started in 1952, he was appointed development commissioner of Punjab and he held this post for several years. In this capacity, he ensured that every village (except very small ones) had paved streets and drains on the sides, so that there was a major improvement in sanitation within the villages. Furthermore, when large supplies of electricity began to be available from the Nangal part of the Bhakra-Nangal project, he persuaded farmers to install electric motors in their wells. Even farmers with holdings as small as 5 acres were encouraged to install motors in their wells. They were assisted by medium term loans for buying and installing electric motors and for improved implements, including power driven shellers (of maize) and huskers (of wheat) and improved ploughs.
He can also be regarded as the father of the Green Revolution in Punjab. When new, very high yielding dwarf varieties of seed, developed in Mexico and modified by Indian research scientists to suit Indian conditions, became available they found in Punjab, all the conditions needed for their use. There was assured and adequate irrigation, hard working farmers and readily available supplies of the needed organic manure, and/or chemical fertilizers and pesticides, on credit from cooperative societies. The use of these varieties spread like wild fire because they gave 2-3 times the yield that the old varieties did.
As a result, production of wheat increased very rapidly in Punjab and Haryana because all the conditions needed for their success were met. Punjab and Haryana have remained the highest producers of wheat (and also rice in Punjab) and have - literally - become the bread basket of India.
The level of living of the farmers also improved rapidly, as a result of increased income. Thus they began to use cooking gas, instead of cow-dung as fuel, in their homes and installed fans and electric coolers in them. Punjab still remains the state with the highest level of per capita income and standard of living in India.
Dr. Randhawa was a lover of beauty, and a respected critic of paintings done in the 18th and 19th centuries in the courts of the princes of states which now form Himachal Pradesh. When we were working together in the Planning Commission during 1962-65, he was writing a book on Indian art in collaboration with the American Ambassador to India, Dr. John K. Galbraith. When I mentioned his work, he gave me a copy of the typescript and asked me to comment on it. When I protested that I knew nothing about art, he said, "You are an intelligent man and that is all that is required for making worthwhile comments". I made a few minor comments which he incorporated in the typescript. When I mentioned to him about his work on Himalayan art, he gave me a copy of his book on Basohli paintings, which is still a prized possession of mine.
His last job in the I.C.S. was as Chief Commissioner of Chandigarh. In this job, which he held for 3 years, he made a major contribution to making Chandigarh a beautiful city and one in which there were frequent concerts and plays by Punjabi singers and dancers. The rose garden, that is the pride of Chandigarh, was built by him, in collaboration with the Director of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research, and a lover of roses. He planted in it an enormous variety of Indian and foreign roses.
He was very proud of his creation. My wife and I were visiting an ailing relative in Chandigarh in the winter of 1965. We called on him one afternoon. He put aside whatever he was doing, and spent the next 1 1/2 hours taking us round the garden and explaining to us the characteristics of very rose, its varieties and the best conditions for its flowering. We were taken aback by his enthusiasm.
Dr. Randhawa had among his admirers a number of young people who made documentary films. He encouraged them to make documentaries on various subjects, including one on flowering trees of India.After he retired from service, Dr. Randhawa was appointed Vice Chancellor of the Punjab Agricultural University in Ludhiana. In this post, which he held for three years, he contributed to making it one of the best centres of training and research in agriculture in India.
The last time I saw him was in the early 1970ís when I was in India on home leave from my job in the United Nations. He was basking in the sun in his home in Mohali, located about 12 km from Chandigarh. When I asked him what was his current interest, he mentioned that he was writing on the intricately carved wooden door frames that adorn the houses of the rich and palaces of princes in Punjab. I as astounded by the variety of his interests.
Dr. Randhawa could have become a millionaire by allotting to himself a choice piece of land in Chandigarh. But, honest to a fault, he chose not to live in Chandigarh. He built his house amid 8 acres of farmland exactly the same size on which had grown up.
Dr. Randhawa is no more. I had the privilege of working with him and write this paper so that his contribution to the economic development of Punjab is known to your readers, young and old.