A model for a production economy | Sunday Observer
In keeping with the Tripitaka

A model for a production economy

7 August, 2022

Relishing on the liberal electoral process and propaganda machinery, political parties of the country over the years have been painting a promising picture of the prosperity to the voter to capture their vote. Once secured power, the promises were easily forgotten. Decades of experience with different regimes have more than demonstrated the appalling gap between promise and performance- unfortunately never as at present.

The widespread excruciating misery before our very eyes bears witness. Had a people-centred development program been effectively implemented, the country would have been spared the humility being thrust on her even with a minimum essentials becoming so hard to come by. While a struggle by some frustrated youth has been going on for some time, the county is being pushed into a state of severe economic hardship.

A well-articulated development program with a clear national vision is a sine quo non, to qualify for bi-lateral and international financial support to address pressing needs on financial, and economic fronts.

People-centred governance

In this backdrop, it is opportune to examine wisdom contained in the Tripitaka, wherein a similar situation is reported, which points a formulae for people centred governance. Kūtadanta sutta in the Digha Nikaya illustrates a past story where the life of the masses was strained due to economic hardships.

The ruler of the land being unaware of the people’s difficulty, used to carry on with the affairs of the state unperturbed, later changed the course, adopting a people friendly vision and a development strategy that found to be beneficial to society.

The incident referred to in this discourse is a birth story where the Bodhisattva was born as the Chief Minister of King Mahavijitha.

It happened that once in a frontier region of the kingdom, there erupted a mass agitation. The cause was hunger due to shortage of basic necessities. The masses lost all forms of livelihood - their crops failed, animals famished, those engaged in self occupations had no access to raw materials.

The masses were idling with no productive work, so that they resorted to stealing, robbing from those who have excess food and supplies. Those traders passing through their territory with loads of food were looted and harassed. This caused fear, anxiety among the people and that led to a breakdown of peace and harmony in the society.

This state of affairs is named dassu khīla, a piercing peg, which caused disruption of peaceful living in the region.

The king and the council of ministers were unaware of the struggle. Their priority was conducting the annual event – a sacrificial ceremony involving hundreds of animals and a variety of rich food items for the occasion. The king was praised by the ministers of the likely gains from the sacrificial ceremony - fame and prosperity to the kingdom, in particular.


The Chief Minister, who is the Bodhisattva, took a different view. He drew the king’s attention to the Dassu khīla, (an agitation by the irritated masses). The Chief Minister while praising the concept of a sacrificial ceremony proposed that it would be most productive if it be carried out as a means of appeasing the agitating masses in the frontier region. The chief minister suggested an alternative, a clearly spelt out vision and plan of action, which covers three areas:

1. Food production

This strategy aims at increased food production by making available the inputs such as seed, planting material, tools and implements for those who engaged in farming

For those engaged in animal farming to be buttressed by providing basic inputs like gracing

fields and captive areas for animal breeding.

Both these groups of farmers must also be given support until such time that their activities are accomplished and yield is ready for harvesting. The farmers must be ensured that they get their daily bread until they reap their harvest. The Pali phrase used to stress the importance of this aspect is “bijabhattam anuppadetu”.

2. Market place for produce

The next important action in the program deals with the yield. Here, the “role of the buyer/purchaser” is crucial. It is the responsibility of the state to facilitate with funds/resources. The harvest goes through a series of stages involving post-harvest preparation/processing/preserving, facilitating a variety of labour intensive activities where women, children and elderly could be engaged as part time occupation. This activity is

mentioned in the discourse by the Pali term sakamma pasutā which means avenues of opportunities for self-employed. Those engaged in trading plays a central role in moving the stuff from the sweatshop to the market place. The Pali phrase used in the text is pābhatam anuppadetu, which means the traders be given choice to take action at will, so that no hurdles will be there to sell the produce.

3. Role of the state official

The third most important area is the role of the state official. They are accountable for the final outcome of the production process while personally attending to see to the success. Their role entails supervision, review/evaluation and adjustment as necessary, as it is put in the modern planning jargon. The services of the state official are so crucial that they are to be paid additional allowance to meet the expenses to be incurred visiting outstation. Pali phrase used in the text read as the bhattavetanam anuppadetu.

Glaring drawbacks

Sri Lanka has over the past four decades resorted to the adoption of numerous development strategies and programs. However, when evaluating and analysing the outcomes of these planning efforts, many glaring drawbacks are visible and a few critical ones can be listed as follows:

1. Lack of a clear and well-articulated national vision for social and economic development for the country.

2. Lack of carefully selected strategies to correspond with the national vision.

3. No consensus on the criteria to be applied in the screening of projects to be carried out to contribute to the national goals and objectives.

4. Development performance is measured on individual project basis.

5. Expenditure is used as a measurement of performance evaluation.

6. No emphasis given to prioritise value addition options, especially in agriculture and plantation sectors having a greater potential in foreign exchange earnings.

7. No recognition of area-wise spread of development benefits, streamed in the national strategic plans.

8. Allocation of funds for priority projects does not correlate with the national priority sectors.

Sri Lanka has missed the opportunity to bring prosperity to her people over the past several decades, where her neighbours in the South Asian region have bypassed her in leaps and bounds. We can take a leaf from their experience where the strategy of medium to long term plans are adopted to guide their national development planning process over several decades.

The learning experience to be drawn from the Kūtadanta sutta is crucial in several fronts: first and foremost, it emphasises clear assessment of the problem at hand, like what, where, how while clearly articulating the root causes. When the basic characteristics of the causes are known, the solutions become evident. It is a matter of their ranking based on the implementation feasibility and availability resources: committing the local resources before searching for the avenues for foreign or otherwise.

Home grown solution

Sri Lanka’s success in adopting a home grown solution for a production economy, in the construction of Gal Oya Irrigation Development Scheme is a case in point. This kind of development strategies should be seriously studied by the Sri Lankan professionals and guide our political masters.

The masses of the Kingdom of Mahavijitha faced a similar hardship. They overcame the issues as a result of the well-articulated action plan of the Chief Minister. This kind of approach goes well along with the current popular jargon “an inclusive development strategy”.

The outcome of implementing such a plan is addressing a problem in a holistic way; covering both material and emotional aspects. The indicators listed in the Kūtadanta sutta vividly elucidate several Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) which are currently being accepted by project evaluation specialists. The indicators mentioned in this discourse are unique. They are people focused, expressed in terms of family response and societal harmony.

The Pali phrases with their content read as follows: khematthitā janapadā – non-agitating and peaceful community

akantakā, anuppīlā manussā – a community not distressful, and not harassing themselves or others modamānā (manussā ) ureputte naccantā - contented family where the parents enjoying company of children apāruta gharā – living with no fear and suspicion in the neighbourhood manne viharissanti – living at peace free of both mental and physical distress

The overall benefits of implementing a strategy focused on production economy can be enumerated as follows:

1. Production process strengthened

2. Economic prosperity restored

3. People’s livelihood secured

4. Food shortage mitigated

5. Mental fear and suspicion removed

6. Happy family environment assured

7. Contented society envisioned

What can we learn from this analysis?

Kūtadanta sutta adopts a people-friendly development approach where people of the land are the direct beneficiaries. The development benefits spilled over to the rest of the areas, thriving trade and self-employment opportunities for people. · State officials are made accountable by giving them a freehand to see to the success and the delivery of the expected output. Overall development impact is measured by using the criterion of “contented society”.

Happiness of all

Historical evidence can be traced to the fact that the formulae cited in Kūtadanta sutta had been adopted by Emperor Asoka who ruled India 250 years after the passing away of the Buddha.

The rock edicts XV and XVI state that the intention of King Asoka was to see to that his efforts are meant for the happiness of all people. These rock edits point to the vision of the King Asoka that his intention is to see that all the subjects are prospered. Save munisa mama paja, “ all subjects must be treated as his own children”. Similarly, it has become customary in our society that people in turn shower their humble wishes on the ruler of the land. The Buddhist dictum says, rājā bhavatu dhammiko (May the ruler be just).

It is the responsibility of the ruler and the state officials to ensure that efficient systems are put in place to ensure the delivery of due services to enable people to have smooth access to the means of production and livelihood. For this, it is crucial that the national planning process of the country be strengthened with staff capacity to shoulder this lofty task, which has been eroded over the past several years. The Kūtadanta sutta offers legitimacy for a timely intervention.

The writer is a Member of the Sri Lanka Planning Service and Retired Ministry Secretary.