What does development imply? It implies, according to conventional economic theory, growth as measured in terms of gross national product and in terms of per capita income. Economic growth should also be accompanied by certain structural changes. While the primary sector including agri¬culture may register growth, its growth is overtaken by that of the secondary sector consist¬ing of manufacturing indus¬tries and later by the growth of the tertiary sector consisting of transport and other services. Accompanying this structural transformation is the increas¬ing pace of urbanization in society which in turn brings about radical alterations in social relationships. Following this paradigm of development, Kurien marshalls statistical evidence to under¬stand what has happened in Tamil Nadu over the period 1950-75. He finds that the net state domestic product of Tamil Nadu has increased at an annual compound rate of 3.2 per cent over the 1950-75 to 1973-74 period, which is not as good as the national perfor¬mance of 3.45 per cent. In terms of per capita income, however, the rate of growth has been 1.6 per cent annually as compared to the 1.35 per cent per annum for the entire country. Per capita income has increased from Rs 257 in 1950-51 to Rs 374 in 1973-74. This growth has been accom¬panied by structural transfor¬mation as well. The share of the primary sector came down from 57 per cent of the net state domestic product in 1950-51 to 42.8 percent in 1973-74 and that of the secon¬dary and tertiary sectors went up from 16.4 per cent and 26.6 per cent to 22.4 per cent and 34.8 per cent respectively. Kurien uses census data on urbanization to demonstrate that structural changes have been accompanied by increas¬ing urbanization, the propor¬tion of urban population increasing from 24 per cent in 1951 to 30 per cent in 1971.
Economic growth over these twenty-five years has been accompanied by an agricultural transformation as well. Kurien notices that there has been a shift towards the cultivation of wet crops like paddy and sugar¬cane from the cultivation of dry crops like millets. This has been due to extension of irriga¬tion. In Tamil Nadu, as the scope for public irrigation projects is limited and was used up in the 1950s, the accent has been placed on encouraging private irrigation through the installation of electric pumpsets. Better irri¬gation facilities, accompanied by the use of fertilisers and high-yielding varieties of seeds, ushered in the green revolu¬tion in Tamil Nadu. However, Kurien finds that the impact of the green revolution on the growth of paddy production was not really impressive. If the growth rates witnessed in the 1950s are compared with the green revolution growth rates, making proper allowance for ‘recovery rates’ from the drought years, the perfor¬mance in the 1950s stands out as much better. And if the production of millets, groundnut and cotton is also considered, the green revolu¬tion growth rates become moderate. In the 1970s the green revolution also encoura¬ged the use of tractors in culti¬vation. Notwithstanding all this Kurien points out that the green revolution has favoured small farms as far as produc¬tivity per hectare is considered, although the larger farms tend to show higher farm income and higher labour productivity because of the use of better implements. He also notes that the small farms tend to rely on family labour whereas larger farms use hired labour.
While Kurien provides evid¬ence of economic development in terms of some of the con¬ventional indices, he also shows that the cost of economic growth in Tamil Nadu has been the deepening of inequalities. The data on assets structure of rural households show that in 1961-62 more than 85 per cent of the assets were owned by the top 20 per cent of the house¬holds. In 1971-72 the top 20 per cent owned more than 88 per cent of the assets. If data on the top two deciles of the rural households are further broken down, it is noted that over 1961-62 the concentration of asset-holding has increased. The top 2.5 per cent of the households increased its share from 46 per cent to more than 53 per cent, whereas the share of every other group de¬clined—the decline being maximum in the lowest decile. Rurien pursues his analysis of the assets structure further to show that in rural Tamil Nadu, land continues to remain a dominant asset. Among the landowners owning half an acre or more, it accounted for more than 50 per cent of the assets. Even for non-cultivating owners, ownership of land makes a big difference to total asset values.
Since land is an important source of asset value, it is nec¬essary to study the changing pattern of landownership so as to assess the impact of land re¬forms in Tamil Nadu. On the basis of National Sample Sur¬vey (NSS) data for the years 1959-60 and 1971-72, Kurien demonstrates that the farmers owning between 15-50 acres have increased their share of land. Those who have lost land significantly are owners of 50 acres or more. There is some evidence that owners of land under 5 acres have im¬proved their position, but this improvement is not statistical¬ly significant. Thus land re¬forms do not appear to have significantly reduced the trend towards deepening inequalities; they have lopped off only the tallest poppies, as it were. Land reforms seem to have reduced the incidence of te¬nancy, but the practice con¬tinues; the large landowners tend to lease out their lands, and the small landowners tend to lease in land.
The evidence for sharpening inequalities in rural Tamil Nadu also obtains from the data on real wages which shows a definite decline over the years. Poverty line measures point to only a slight decline in the incidence of poverty. Using the stricter definition of poverty as meaning inadequate nutritional diet only, the per¬centage of population below the poverty line declined from about 53 in 1957-58 to around 49 in 1969-70. There is also evidence of proletarianization. The small and marginal far¬mers are giving up cultivating their uneconomical holdings and are joining the ranks of the agricultural proletariat. In Tamil Nadu, urbanization has not been sufficiently wide¬spread to absorb the manpower released by the green revolu¬tion. Hence the rural proleta¬riat sink to the lowest depths of destitution.
Thus it is possible to conclude that economic growth in Tamil Nadu has not had the desired trickle-down effect. Inequali¬ties have not significantly been reduced. The bulk of the evidence shows a contrary trend.
The conclusions above are in line with the findings of village studies that have recently appeared on Tamil Nadu. By confirming the findings of village studies Kurien demons¬trates how macro and micro studies can be mutually com¬plementary.
The value of Kurien’s book does not lie so much in its conclusions. I would consider its craftsmanship as its major contribution. Kurien has ima¬ginatively tapped diverse statis¬tical sources including the National Sample Survey, the surveys of the Reserve Bank of India and the Farm Manage¬ment Surveys to get a macro view of Tamil Nadu economy. He also uses his data with great ingenuity. Here is an example of how, by using simple percentages and tests of significance, it is possible to make the figures speak for themselves. What is also to be admired is the restraint with which Kurien draws inferences from his analyses. Although he is familiar with the debate on capitalism in agriculture, and although his findings seem to have a direct bearing on the debate, he sensibly avoids making any generalizations regarding capitalism in Tamil Nadu agriculture.
Having commented on what Kurien has achieved it is neces¬sary now to raise a basic issue on a study of this nature, viz., the validity of comparing data collected by sources like the National Sample Survey and the Census. To be fair to Kurien, he is aware of the problems of comparability—but, having warned the reader, he nevertheless leads him on to an excursion of statistical comparison, thereby legitimiz¬ing the prevailing practices in the collection of statis-tics. I do consider it im¬portant that the NSS data for the 26th round (1971-72) shows a 5.17 per cent decline in the estimated number of households and a 10.78 per cent decline in the estimated area owned as compared to their 1961-62 data. Further, there are discrepancies between the NSS data for 1971-72 and the 1971 Census data on the number of households and on land area. Should we ignore these discrepancies, as Kurien does, or should we press fur¬ther and scrutinize the methods and techniques of data collec¬tion that organization such as the NSS and the Census office adopt? The basic problem with these organizations is that the ‘brahmins’ who develop the conceptual categories and for¬mulate questionnaires leave it to their inferiors to collect data. Unless this division is broken, the validity of ‘statis¬tics’ produced by such agen¬cies will always be open to doubt. It is time that we thought of ways of impro¬ving the validity of our data so that they can provide more reliable indices of change and development.
M.N. Panini is Assistant Professor at the Centre for the Study of Social Systems, School of Social Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.