M.S. Swaminathan, eminent agricultural scientist, passes away

M.S. Swaminathan was the key architect of India’s ‘Green Revolution’

Updated - September 28, 2023 07:43 pm IST

Published - September 28, 2023 12:21 pm IST - CHENNAI

M.S. Swaminathan. File

M.S. Swaminathan. File | Photo Credit: Nagara Gopal

Mankombu Sambasivan Swaminathan, popularly known as M.S. Swaminathan, the legendary agricultural scientist and a key architect of the country’s ‘Green Revolution,’ passed away at his residence in Chennai on September 28, 2023 at 11.20 am, following age-related issues. He was 98.

He is survived by three daughters — Soumya Swaminathan, former chief scientist, World Health Organisation; Madhura Swaminathan, professor, economic analysis unit, Indian Statistical Institute, Bengaluru and former chairperson, MSSRF, and Nitya Rao, director, NISD, University of East Anglia, UK. His wife, Mina Swaminathan, who was Distinguished Chair, Gender and Development, M. S. Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF), died in March 2022.

| Video Credit: B. Velankanni Raj


Born in Kumbakonam on August 7, 1925 to M.K. Sambasivan, a surgeon, and Parvati Thangammal, Swaminathan had his schooling there. His keen interest in agricultural science coupled with his father’s participation in the freedom movement and Mahatma Gandhi’s influence inspired him to pursue higher studies in the subject. Otherwise, he would have become a police officer, for which he got qualified in the late 1940s. By then, he got two undergraduate degrees, including one from the Agricultural College, Coimbatore (now, Tamil Nadu Agricultural University).

Also read: Reactions on the death of eminent agricultural scientist M.S. Swaminathan

On obtaining a postgraduate degree in cytogenetics in 1949 from the Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI), New Delhi, he earned a Doctor of Philosophy degree from the Cambridge, where he met his wife, who was also pursuing higher studies there. He did his post-doctoral research at the University of Wisconsin. In 1954, Dr. Swaminathan joined the Central Rice Research Institute (CRRI), Cuttack and later, IARI. In July 1966, he became IARI Director, the post he held till 1972. It was during this stint in his long career that he shot to fame.

Role in ‘Green Revolution’

The back-to-back severe drought in mid-1960s compelled the political leadership and scientific fraternity to look for solutions to overcome the “ship-to-mouth” existence when the country was dependent on foodgrains imported from the U.S.

Dr. Swaminathan worked closely with two Union Agriculture Ministers, C. Subramaniam (1964-67) and Jagjivan Ram (1967-70 & 1974-77) for the success of the ‘Green Revolution,’ a programme that paved the way for quantum jump in productivity and production of wheat and rice through adaptation of chemical-biological technology. The discovery of Norman Bourlag, a celebrated American farm scientist and 1970 Nobel Laureate, on wheat had played a huge role in this regard.

Awards and recognitions

Dr. Swaminathan, who was a recipient of the Padma Shri in 1967, was chosen for the Ramon Magsaysay award for community leadership in 1971. He was awarded the Padma Bhushan in January 1972.

He became Director General of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR). In 1979, he was made the Principal Secretary, Union Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation. When Indira Gandhi became the Prime Minister again in 1980, he was appointed Member (Agriculture, Rural Development, Science and Education), Union Planning Commission, and, for a few months, he served as the Deputy Chairman of the body.

Also Read | M.S. Swaminathan recalls scene at Birla House following Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination

Between 1982 and 1988, he headed the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), Philippines. By the time he returned to India in 1988, he had received many more awards and honours, both in India and outside. In 1987, he became the first to get the World Food Prize and the first foreigner to receive the Golden Heart Presidential Award of Philippines. Two years later, he was conferred with Padma Vibushan.

Immediately after returning to India in 1988, the veteran agriculture scientist established a not-for-profit trust — MSSRF — with the proceeds he got from the Food Prize. The Foundation, which began functioning in Chennai since 1989, aims to accelerate use of modern science and technology for agricultural and rural development to improve lives and livelihoods of communities.

In November 2004, the Union government made Dr. Swaminathan chairman of the National Commission on Farmers. Popularly known as the Swaminathan Commission, the panel submitted five reports in two years to the Centre. Its main recommendation was that minimum support price should be at least 50% more than the weighted average cost of production.

Dr. Swaminathan was a nominated member of the Rajya Sabha from 2007 to 2013. The first World Agriculture Prize, instituted by the Indian Council of Food and Agriculture, was given to him in October 2018.


He had his share of controversies. As head of the ICAR, he had to bear the brunt of the attack when a senior agronomist of the IARI reportedly died by suicide following his non-selection as professor. Subsequently, the Centre set up a high-profile committee, headed by P. B. Gajendragadkar, former Chief Justice of India, to go into recruitment process of the ICAR. Later, the Agricultural Scientists Recruitment Board was constituted and Dr. Swaminathan became the prime mover behind its creation.

In March 1978, Jyotirmoy Bosu, a tall Leftist leader and a member of the governing body of the ICAR, publicly accused the Institute of having a “one-man show,” a charge promptly refuted by the Janata government. More than these instances, Dr. Swaminathan’s critics hold him responsible for certain ill effects of the “Green Revolution”, including ecological damage and benefits of high-yield technology eluding small and marginal farmers. To this, he responded with the idea of “evergreen revolution,” with emphasis on crop and livestock productivity in perpetuity without ecological or social harm.


V.L. Chopra, former ICAR DG, recipient of Padma Bhushan and a founder-trustee of the MSSRF, once told this correspondent that he began his career as a research student with Dr. Swaminathan in 1957 and had remained so till now. The veteran scientist, who was “humane and humble,” had earned leadership by setting an example of “personal involvement and commitment at all levels,” and was particular in “meeting the aspirations of the last one in the queue,” Prof. Chopra had observed then.

Also Read |Why can’t the government provide a higher income for farmers: M.S. Swaminathan

Amshan Kumar, a filmmaker, who made two documentaries — one for the MSSRF in 1998 and another on Dr. Swaminathan in 2005 — recalls that he was amazed at the scientist’s adherence to time discipline. Also, “he would pepper his speeches with data without recourse to notes.”

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