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The impact of informalisation on the composition of India’s labour forces has long been debated. This paper draws upon data from the 1998 and 2005 Economic Census to assess recent claims about the ‘non-capitalist’ character of non-agricultural informal activities. This data incorporates a range of economic activities and is used to contrast national level changes with trends in four states: Haryana, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Delhi. The results suggest that there was a trend towards the employment of wage labour in urban areas between the late 1990s and the mid-2000s, a concentration of wage labour in informal enterprises, and, in some states, significant employment growth in large formal sector enterprises. In addition, the paper cautions against the use of descriptive data to make brash statements about changing ‘modes of production’. While some important conclusions can be gleaned from this evidence, the problems of accurately identifying changes in employment relations in informal enterprises and households, as well as the employment of ‘informal labour’ within the organised sector, require a broader range of approaches and methodologies.


Institute for Religion, Politics, and Society

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