The intuitive habit of drawing macroeconomic conclusions (about India) from the corporate feedback (and vice versa) is fraught with risk. After all, only half of India’s GDP and 10% of India’s employment are in the formal sector. Further, only a fraction of the formal sector is listed.” This is not any Swadeshi ideologue speaking. This is what the Asia Pacific/India Equity Research paper of Credit Suisse titled “India’s better half: The Informal Economy” says about the most unique aspect of Indian economy. The paper points out that corporate sector accounts for only one-fourth of the national capital formed - the share of listed corporates in it is even less, just 13%. Again corporate sector generates only 15% of the national consumption - the share of the listed corporates in it is just a fraction, just 4%. The Credit Suisse actually compares the corporate sector, which is the celebrity segment of the national economy since 1991, to the tail that “cannot wag the dog”. The Credit Suisse’s study bares the truth that the star corporate sector in India is just the tail - a fact others were too afraid to say, like in the popular Danish fairy tale of “Emperor’s New Clothes” where every one saw the king without clothes but was afraid to tell the truth.
Informal is not illegal
When the Credit Suisse study dismisses the formal - read corporate - sector as marginal what does it find as the core of the Indian economy. The title of the study itself says it is the informal economy of India. In economic discourse informal economy is not a complimentary term. A World Bank study talks of two kinds of informal economy: one survival activities: casual jobs, temporary jobs, unpaid jobs, subsistence agriculture, multiple job holding and two unofficial earning strategies unregistered business for tax evasion, avoidance of government or institutional regulations. But the Indian informal sector is neither. Credit Suisse says that the Indian informal economy is not contraband. It says: “Unlike in the developed economies where informality is purely a deliberate choice to avoid taxation or regulations, in India it is more structural: a reflection of the lack of development and limited government reach.” This is significant. The informal economy in India should carry no stigma. Yet the media, elite thinkers and economic experts in India look down upon the informal economy in India like it is viewed in the West. This is one of the reasons for the mental block against this most productive segment of the Indian economy.
Non-corporates employ 84% of
What is informal economy in Credit Suisse is the non-corporate sector in Indian dictionary. What is the size of the Indian non-corporate sector? Credit Suisse study says that it constitutes 84% of the non-formal employment in India. How about other countries. It is about 4-6% according to World Bank in ‘Developed’ nations. In developing Turkey it is 31%, South Africa 33%, and Brazil and Thailand 42%. The Credit Suisse study says: “India’s informal GDP, i.e., economic activity by unincorporated enterprises, is half of total GDP, among the highest ratios in the world.” Three significant facts emerge now. First, in developed nations, the informal economy escapes the state; in India the state has not reached it. Second, in developed nations, it is a marginal player; in India it is the main drive. Three, despite the obvious differentials the Indian economists and policy makers, imitating the West where it is marginal, hate the non-corporate sector and are working to wipe it out. The question is whether they can wipe it out?
The size of India’s non-corporate sector is staggering. The National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) Survey 2011 says that there are 57.7 million non-corporate business units excluding those in the huge construction sector. Seven out of ten of them are unregistered. The non-corporate units have almost doubled since 1998. The NSSO says that 85% of them “Own Account Enterprises” (OAE) - meaning self-employment units and the rest are “Establishments” employing outside labour. Here is the picture of this core sector in brief. The aggregate value addition by these units is `6.28 lakh crore - 70% of it in rural areas. Value addition per unit is not trivial. It is `1.09 lakh. And value addition per worker is `58,000 and per hired worker is ` 47,000, which equals the average per capita income of India in 2009-10 and higher than the rural per capita income. They employ 108 million - rural 53 million. The units do employ capital that is not insignificant. The value of fixed assets per unit is `2 lakhs. A fourth of these units is engaged in manufacturing, more than two thirds in retail trade and services. A majority of them operate in rural areas, the most difficult terrain for the government to reach. During the liberalisation period this sector grew faster than the organised sector whose employment came down from 8% in 1991 to 7% in 2011
OBC SC ST Entrepreneurs
The most significant part of the story is that the non-corporate sector is dominated by disadvantaged sections of Indian society - the Other Backward Castes (OBCs) Scheduled Caste (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs). A study Caste and Entrepreneurship in India by Lakshmi Iyer Tarun Khanna Ashutosh Varshney Harvard Business School (HBS) links the non-corporate sector to caste-based entrepreneurship. The NSSO Survey says that two-thirds of the sector is owned by ST (5%), SCs (14%) and Other Backward Classes (48%), including 71% of the manufacturing, and 60% of the trading, units. The Survey shows that the disadvantaged castes are increasingly into trade and manufacturing. In rural areas, 72 per cent of OAEs are run by them. The HBS study said that while, in case of OBCs, their share of the business matched their population, in the case of SCs and STs it was less. But the SC share improved from 10% in 2005 to 14% in 2011. In India entrepreneuship is not a product of IITs and IIMs. They are generated by non-corporate sector. The non-corporate business units actually constitute the open the air university of entrepreneurship for the OBCs, SCs and STs. The non farming enterprises hold huge prospect for the promotion of entrepreneurship, self-employment and livelihood among the weaker sections. The advent of Dalit entrepreneur in Agra and Kanpur could become an all Indian phenomenon.
4% credit for 50% GDP, 90% for jobs
Yet, shockingly, according to the Economic Census 2005, institutionalised finance is available only to less than 4% of the 57.7 million units. More than 90% of the units rely on own or traditional sources including usurious money lenders. Banks garner most of the savings with the bank deposit to GDP ratio doubling from 34% in 1991 to 68% now. But they, perhaps rightly, do not finance unregistered businesses. With over seven out of 10 of the 57.7 million non-corporate business units unregistered, no bank would ever finance them. The banks are unable to finance even the registered MSME units, whose share in bank credit had halved to just 7.2% between 1994 and 2008. Though it improved to 13.4% in 2009-10, it was still less than in 1994. It does not need a seer to say that for ensuring social justice it is necessary to increase the ownership of SCs and STs and also OBCs in this sector. It is doable. Malaysia has done it. Through its affirmative action policy launched in the 1970s, Malaysia managed to increase ownership in private enterprises for the discriminated group of Malaya from only 2 per cent in 1970 to 20 per cent in 1990. The government brought about a systematic redistribution of ownership of private capital in favour of discriminated groups in a period of two decades. (The Hindu dt 30.11.2011)
Credit will formalise the sector
The Indian economic establishment detests devising policies for providing finance to them because they are not formalised. But it now needs to think differently. Providing finance to them is really the best way to formalise them. Says that Economist Magazine (Sept 28, 2013)”At the present rate, it will take half a century before India’s economy is fully formal. The best way to speed up the process is to extend the reach of the financial system.” Undeniably, it is the non-corporate sector, not the corporate sector, which is the back-bone of the Indian economy, employment, trading and manufacturing. Also it is the only practical escalator to lift the backward sections out of poverty. But blinded by the love of the corporate sector and hatred for the informal sector there has been criminal neglect of this sector in the past. And yet, despite being left to fend for itself, it has saved India from socio-economic anarchy by employing 90% of the non-farm labour. It desperately needs a new financial architecture which will finance small businesses. The banks working on global banking norms are structurally disqualified to lend to these units. This requires indigenous, non-Western out the box thinking. Will the budget 2014-15 fuel this real growth engine?