Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Indian History Trivia (4): Legacy of "The Raj"

The other day, someone pointed out to me how "India's share of global trade" had declined from almost 2.5-3% to less than a percent during 1947 to 1991.

The obvious conclusion was that during this 'socialist' era, India had become insulated and lost opportunities to "grow" globally.

One can, however, so easily get decieved by numbers. And so, it took some time to point out the contextual meaning of this decline in numbers... And that, the decline in numbers actually represented a maturing Indian industry and economy, viz.,

  • India hardly had any large-scale industry in 1947, which could process the raw-material into finished usable goods. There were a few industries in the cotton, jute, sugar, matches, and steel sectors, etc. - but they were too few to really service the country's needs. About 65-70% of India's less-than-Rs.600cr export consisted of raw material (cotton, oilseeds, minerals and ores, tobacco, etc.); around the same proportion of its imports were finished goods (ranging from biscuits, sewing needles, cloth etc., to dress-material, medicines to machines-tools). In fact, even in 1950, India was importing 90% of its requirement of machine tools... naturally, India's "share of global trade" was high!!!

    It also occurred to me that apparently many of us look at India-1947 from the lenses we wear in India-21stCentury.

    ...which prompted me to create this random dhobi (laundary) list of the Legacy of the Raj, or what India was like around that time (the data is from various sources from 1940 to 1950)... besides what was mentioned in the earlier post in this series:

  • India had 30crore (300mn) population, with an average longivity of 32 years (with between 17.5 to 19.0% infantile mortality)

  • There were just 360,000 income-tax payers in 1947

  • Only 15% of Indians were literate (literacy rate among women was 9%)

  • 83% of Indians lived in villages, and 70% depended on agriculture... 28% were landless labours (this, as one would notice, has not changed much)

  • 70% of cultivated land was owned by a handful of zamindars and money-lenders.

  • Only 3% of India's workforce (less than 9mn) was employed in manufacturing sector.

  • Jute and cotton industry accounted for 30% of the total industrial employment (and about 55% of value-added to manufacturing)

  • Indian farmers owned 0.9mn iron plough, and 31.3mn wooden plough.

  • Across the total population, even in 1950-51, there were just about 168,000 telephones.

  • Only 27% of cultivated land was irrigated.

  • In 1951, there were just 37,000 towns and villages (out of around 5,000 cities and 500,000 villages) with electricity

  • There were 9 agricultural colleges with around 3,000 students.

  • There were just 10 medical colleges that turned out about 700 doctors every years. In 1951 census, India had about 18,000 doctors... We also had 1,900 hospitals and 6,500 dispensaries, accounting for around 1.2lac (.12mn beds) - for a population of 300mn.

  • There were a total of 7 engineering colleges, with around 2,200 students.

  • In 1950, India produced 7 locomotives, 1mn tons of steel, 99,000 bicycles, 33mn tons of coal, 2.7mn tons of cement, 33,000 sewing machines,

  • India had a total number of 27 universities/colleges in 1950.

  • The total number of enrollment of students from primary to pre-degree education, in 1950-51, was less than 25mn.

  • There were around 6,500 newspapers and periodicals (nationals and vernacular) and 26 radio centers.

  • Even as late as 1955, India had just about 790,000 engineering degree/diploma holders.

  • There were a total of 1125 companies listed on the stock exchange (there were only two of them - Bombay and Calcutta)

    etc., etc...

    ...needless to say, India has come a long way since then...from a country dependent on food-aid (the US PL480 program), we have become a food-surplus country; from an illiterate country, India now has the 2nd or 3rd largest technically qualified manpoer; from a land owned by landlords and princes, there is a greater democratisation of wealth... Etc.

    ...or so we tell ourselves...

    There are certain things that have still not changed, e.g.,:

  • In a food-surplus country, 5-7 farmers commit suicide every day

  • 60% of India's GDP is still created by its 93% "informal sector" - India's most "privatised" workforce (the farmers, slum-dwellers, hawkers, etc.), who slog to "subsidise" the life-styles of the more fortunate ones.

  • The top 10% of the society own 48% of India's assets, while the bottom 10% have access to just 1%.

    etc. etc...

    Perhaps the only way to reconcile these paradoxes is to believe that the history of a nation is not a fairy-tale (with clear-cut good-evil/right-wrong), but an epic across generations which unfolds in various shades of grey...



    AKS said...

    Your series on Indian History makes one stop and think.


    Ashish Gupta said...

    Just read all four history articles (via Desipundit), wow, they are amazing! Quite a bit of surprising & charming information well presented. If you continue write like this, I am going to have to bookmark you!