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Development Strategy: The State and Agriculture Since Independence

Government and Institutions

There is a widespread belief that India is currently in an agrarian crisis, with the spate of suicides by farmers several states since the 1990s seen as a tragic symptom of the crisis. In the large and growing literature on the crisis some common themes emerge: the role of systemic economic reforms since 1991, the opening of the Indian economy to external competition and investment after decades of insulation; the impact on India of implementing the Agreement on Agriculture of the Uruguay Round of Multilateral Trade Negotiations; the alleged neglect of agriculture in the planning process since the mid-eighties; the decline of public investment in agriculture in response to rising fiscal deficits at the Centre and the States; and above all, the slowing of the growth of agricultural output (particularly food grains) as well as a stagnation in yields per hectare of land since the nineties.

This paper argues that the fundamental factor that is at the root of the current state of agriculture is India’s pursuit, until the 1991 reforms, of a state-directed, state-controlled and state-dominated development strategy of import substituting industrialization with emphasis on heavy industry and insulation from the world economy. This strategy completely ignored the lessons of economic history: successful development lies in the transformation of economic structure by shifting a substantial part of the large initial share of labour force in agriculture and other low productivity activities in the informal sector to more productive off-farm activities through rural and urban industrialization with emphasis on labour-intensive manufactures to supply growing domestic and world markets and raising agricultural productivity. Leap-frogging the labour-intensive manufacturing stage of development altogether and focusing on information technology intensive services sector to bring about the transformation is not simply not feasible. This paper elaborates this main point by looking at major policy interventions in agriculture since independence It argues that there was no coherence, and little coordination among the centre, states and other policy making institutions in the decisions on the myriad interventions and their effectiveness in achieving their intended objectives was limited.

363wp.pdf (492.73 KB)
T.N. Srinivasan
Publication Date
December, 2007