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PK Singh – Icon of Cooperative Sector in U’khand

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Recollections in Tranquility

By Sanjeev Chopra

Just a day before the news item in the GP announcing the death of the eminent cooperator Pramod Kumar Singh, I was planning to call him to share the revival of the Centre for Cooperatives and Livelihoods at the LBSNAA, and seek his ideas on the kind of leadership seminars that we should organise for cooperative leaders in the context of the new challenges and opportunities faced by the sector.

PK and I go back to 2002 – when I was appointed the Secretary for the Cooperative Department in Uttarakhand (then Uttaranchal) and was charged with the mandate of reforming the cooperative laws of the state. Uttaranchal had inherited the rather staid cooperative laws of UP, which gave all the powers to the Registrar of Cooperative Societies and treated the cooperative not as a voluntary association of individuals working together for mutual economic gain, but as an instrument of the state. Dr RS Toliya was very keen that we amend the Act, or at least bring in a new Act which would recognise self help and mutual help on the lines of the progressive cooperative legislation in states like Andhra Pradesh.

Although PK Singh was quite comfortable in the ‘old school cooperatives’, for he had cut his teeth in the marketing federation, sugar cooperatives as well as IIFCO, he was most supportive of the new ideas of a self-reliant cooperative organisation in which members consciously decided to not accept either government equity, or any exclusive monopoly from the state government. We were together in the cooperative reform committees, and the new legislation, the Uttaranchal Self Reliant Cooperative Societies Act, was enacted under the stewardship of the then CM, ND Tiwari, who was always keen to ensure that Uttaranchal got the very best in terms of policy architecture. The Uttaranchal Services Housing Association (USHA) in which many All India and Central Services Officers of Uttaranchal now reside was the first society to be registered under the Act, and PK would have been very proud to see how this has been an exemplar for cooperative housing societies anywhere.

PK and I also had the opportunity of representing Uttaranchal in several investment meetings, especially those relating to agribusiness, and he was a keen supporter of the Agri export zones, and the need to give Uttarakhand farmers the best value for their produce.

PK was also in the forefront of the federal cooperative organisations like IFFCO and the the NCUI. In fact, when I had the privilege to take over as the managing Director of Nafed, he introduced me to most of the Directors of Nafed, and I would like to believe that he spoke so many good things about me that it was very smooth sailing for me. As the head of the Institute of Cooperative Management on Rajpur Road, he was instrumental in introducing new courses, and making it viable and self-sustaining.

The untimely death of PK Singh is a great loss to the cooperative movement not just in Uttarakhand, but to the entire country. At a time when the country is gearing up to strengthen farmers’ cooperatives, FPOs and self-help groups to access the Agri Infrastructure Fund, his loss will be felt acutely. My hope that, post the pandemic, I would work with him to support self-reliant cooperatives in Uttarakhand, especially in the housing and Agri marketing sectors, will, also, remain unfulfilled! I do however hope that the ICM on Rajpur Road will institute an annual lecture to commemorate his memory, and also to take forward some of his ideas on cooperatives as powerful instruments of self-help, mutual help and value chains for primary commodities.

(Sanjeev Chopra is a historian, public policy analyst and the Festival Director of Valley of Words, an
International Literature and Arts festival based out of
Dehradun. He was a member of the IAS, and superannuated as the Director of the LBS
National Academy of Administration).