The tendency in certain circles to emphasise the still modest recovery in the rate of growth of the Indian economy since the late 1970s has deflected attention from many disconcerting features of recent economic performance. Besides the cost of that growth in terms of its impact on the balance of payments and the domestic price level, its most disturbing aspect is its failure to noticeably increase employment and real incomes and improve the quality of life among the lowest income deciles of the population. This issue of the Social Scientist includes three papers which, in different contexts, analyse the adverse fall-out of the strategy of growth being pursued on different sections of the labouring poor.
Sheila Bhalla, in her analysis of employment trends in the Indian economy in general and the agricultural sector in particular, focuses on the decline in the employment generating capacity of the pattern of growth being realised. Two features are of significance here. First, while a major explanation for the 'growth revival* of recent years is the increase in the rate of growth of the non-agricultural sectors, resulting in a dwindling share of agriculture in national income, the rate of growth of non-agricultural employment was less than a half of the rate of growth of non-agricultural output. As a result the number of people dependent on agriculture for their livelihood has risen at a rate much higher than the rate of growth of agricultural output.
However, agriculture's own capacity to accommodate these growing numbers has been constrained. While the possibilities of raising net sown area are declining, the ability to raise employment in agriculture through yield-increasing technologies, double cropping and shifts to labour intensive crops have been constrained inter alia by inadequate investments in irrigation, flood control and drainage. Further, the evidence indicates that the successful green revolution areas, which had hitherto contributed substantially to the growth in agricultural employment, are now moving in the direction of labour saving agricultural practices that are reducing the responsiveness of agricultural employment to increases in agricultural output. Thus, barring the new green revolution regions, the possibilities of employment growth in agriculture within the current path of development appear extremely limited.