Social Scientist. v 15, no. 161 (Oct 1986) p. 27.


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ABHUIT SEN*

Shocks and Instabilities in an Agriculture-Constrained Economy : India 1964-1985

BASED on long run considerations, it has been argued by many that agriculture was the constraining sector in the Indian economy during the period 1953-1976. However, this paper, attempts to argue a less popular case : that the subsequent events are consistent with the continued operation of the same constraint. The paper is organised as follows : Section 2, reviews the performance of the Indian economy, paying particular attention to three major periods of shock, identifying the stabilisation policies followed in each case. Section 3, examines changes in income shares with a view to characterising the major processes at work. In Section 4, I first summarise certain conclusions from my previous work dealing with the 1953-1976 period, and then argue that not only are demand problems and foodgrain stocks consistent with the operation of an agriculture constraint—they are implied by the latter in a market economy. Section 5, concludes with a policy proposal.

Economic Performance and Stabilisation Efforts

In Table 1 are set out some key indicators of the performance of the Indian economy over the entire post-independence period. The periodisa-tion chosen in this table has been done with a view to present a roughly quinquennial comparison but one based on growth rates calculated between similar 'peak5 agricultural years. This is necessary because any other basis of comparison tends to give a distorted picture of underlying trends in an economy so sensitive to whether fluctuations as the Indian one is.

The most important conclusion which can be reached from this table is that, with the exception of export growth, Indian economic performance in the two decades since the mid-sixties has been worse than in the decade preceding that point. This is so with respect to growth in national income and in the indices of production in agriculture and industry ; in the growth of investment and of the per-capita consumption of food and clothing ;

and also with respect to the rate of inflation. This is an important obser-

* Centre for Economic Studies and Planning, Jawaharlal Nehrn University, New Delhi.



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