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India, Economy

India has struggled financially since independence, experiencing slow economic growth and economic setbacks due to climatic extremes or political disturbances. The country has been gradually transforming its economic base from agrarian to industrial and commercial. Under British rule in the 19th century, India’s cottage industries and thriving trade were virtually destroyed to make way for European manufactured goods, paid for by exports of agricultural products such as cotton, opium, and tea. Beginning in the late 19th century a modern industrial sector and an extensive infrastructure of railways and irrigation works were slowly built with British and Indian capital. Nevertheless, India’s economy stagnated during the last 30 or so years of British rule. At independence in 1947 India was desperately poor, with an aging textile industry as its only major industrial sector.

Economic policy after independence emphasized central planning, with the government setting goals for and closely regulating private industry. Self-sufficiency was promoted in order to foster domestic industry and reduce dependence on foreign trade. These efforts produced steady economic growth in the 1950s, but less positive results in the two succeeding decades. By the early 1970s India had achieved its goal of self-sufficiency in food production, although this food was not equally available to all Indians due to skewed distribution and occasional shortfalls in the harvest.

In the late 1970s the government began to reduce state control of the economy, making slow progress toward this goal. By 1991, however, the government still regulated or ran many industries, including mining and quarrying, banking and insurance, transportation and communications, and manufacturing and construction. Economic growth improved during this period, at least partially as a result of development projects funded by foreign loans.

A financial crisis in 1991 stimulated India to institute major economic reforms. After the Persian Gulf conflict of 1990 to 1991 caused a sharp rise in oil prices, India faced a serious balance of payments problem (its foreign expenditures exceeded its foreign income). To obtain emergency loans from international economic organizations, India agreed to adopt reforms aimed at liberalizing its economy. These economic reforms removed many government regulations on investment, including foreign investment, and eliminated a quota and tariff system that had kept trade at a low level. Also, reform deregulated many industries and privatized many public enterprises. These reforms continued through the mid-1990s, although at a slower rate because of political changes in India’s government. In 1993 India permitted Indian-owned private banks to be established along with a minority of foreign banks.

With the reforms, India made a dramatic shift from an economy relatively closed to the global economy to one that is relatively open. By 1996 to 1997, foreign investment had increased to nearly $6 billion, up from $165 million in 1990 to 1991. Exports and imports also grew dramatically in this same period. Economic growth since the 1980s has brought with it an expansion of the middle class, which was estimated to form 20 to 25 percent of India’s population in the mid-1990s. As a result, the demand for consumer goods from soap to luxury cars has expanded rapidly.

In 2000 India’s annual gross domestic product (GDP) was $457 billion. In 2000 agriculture, forestry, and fishing made up 25 percent of the GDP, compared with 27 percent for industry (including manufacturing, mining, and construction) and 48 percent for services.

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