Palanpur, a fascinating story of income growth, social change -Niranjan Rajadhyaksha

This Uttar Pradesh village offers a microcosm of the broader change in Indian villages since independence

Palanpur is a relatively unknown small village in Moradabad district of Uttar Pradesh. However, it has a special place in development economics because of a research project that has stretched over seven decades. Economists have conducted seven detailed surveys of Palanpur since the 1950s, a rare longitudinal database that shows how the village has changed over three generations.

The Palanpur surveys offer us a microcosm of the broader change in Indian villages since Independence. They also have contemporary resonance when rural distress has become a hot-button political issue. The research conducted by some of the best development economists of our times thus deserves to be read more widely.

I recently bought the new edition of a book edited by Peter Lanjouw and Nicholas Stern on five decades of change in Palanpur, even as the results of the latest survey conducted in 2015 are filtering into the public domain. The broad story of Palanpur has been one of income growth as well as better social indicators over the past seven decades. Poverty has declined but the downside is that inequality has increased because some social groups have adapted to change better than others.

Economic growth in Palanpur was initially driven by agriculture. The abolition of zamindari gave tenant farmers incentives to invest in the land. It is worth recalling that the early development plans looked at agriculture as a bargain sector, where productivity could be increased through institutional policies rather than large allocations of money. The next boost to farm incomes came from the Green Revolution, as new seeds, irrigation and farm machinery raised productivity. However, the greater capital intensity released farm labour for other types of work. The second phase of income growth was thus driven by activities outside of agriculture, primarily services, construction and other work linked to agricultural production. The Palanpur economy diversified.

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