Social Scientist. v 17, no. 188-89 (Jan-Feb 1989) p. 13.

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Rural Non-Agricultural Activities in India:

A Review of Available Evidence

In India, as in most parts of the developing world, labour absorption in agriculture and in the urban industrial and service sectors has not been fast enough to absorb the growing labour force. Consequently, despite rural-urban migration, the problems of poverty, unemployment and underemployment have persisted in both rural and urban areas. Under these circumstances, diversification of the rural economy is seen as an important element of the development strategy. However, very little is known about the nature, extent and determinants of rural non-agricultural activities.

Recently, three studies have reviewed the available literature on the rural non-agricultural activities in the Third World countries (World Bank, 1978; Liedholm and Chuta, 1979; and ILO, 1983). These studies provide an excellent summary of the issues raised in the literature, but the data analysed by them are rudimentary and in many cases dated. This was partly unavoidable because the studies covered many countries. Since these studies were published, more recent data and other material have become available. It is, therefore, worthwhile to attempt another analytical review of the available data on rural non-agricultural activities in India.

This paper mainly explores the nature of rural non-agricultural employment in India and the characteristics of the rural non-agricultural workers. This objective is sought to be achieved by reviewing the available data on rural non-agricultural activities in India. To put the results of the Indian censuses and surveys in a broader comparative perspective, studies of other developing countries cited in the three available review papers are also referred to.

We begin by defining the scope of rural non-agricultural activities in Section 1. This is followed, in Section 2 by an assessment of the quantitative importance of rural non-agricultural sector in terms of employment and the number of enterprises. The sectoral composition of rural non-agricultural employment is analysed in Section 3. In rural areas, while employment in agriculture is usually the primary activity in terms of major source of income and/or major time criterion, non-agricultural work is often undertaken as a secondary activity some-

*Gujarat Institute of Area Planning, Ahmedabad

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