The village of Palanpur, in Moradabad District, Uttar Pradesh, has been the subject of close study by economists since the late 1950s. Five waves of intensive field-level data collection have occurred in the villages in the years 1957/8, 1962/3, 1974/5, 1983/4 and 1993. A great deal of analysis has been carried out with these data. Bliss and Stern (1982) and Lanjouw and Stern (1998) provide detailed overviews of the full research programme and its outputs. The Palanpur study occupies a fairly unique place in development literature in that it brings together very rich and detailed information about the circumstances and economic behaviour of the entire population of one village, over a period spaning generations.
An important strand in recent debates on economic development in India, and beyond, focuses on the meaning and achievability of inclusive economic growth. The World Bank’s 2008 World Development Report on Agriculture and Development emphasizes that an integral part of the economic development process involves a transition from exclusive reliance on (largely subsistence) agriculture towards a more diversified economy. This transition involves both a shift out of agriculture into manufacturing and services, as well as a shift from a heavily rural-based population into one where the urban sector at first matches and ultimately surpasses the rural sector in population size. The rapidly evolving global economy, and India’s significant participation in this process, provides an essential backdrop against which to examine this transition process. There are many questions amongst policy makers and development practitioners concerning the pace of this change, its sustainability, its capacity to involve the weaker segments of society, and the way it can best be managed. Fundamentally, how does the broad shape of India’s growth trajectory involve the rural sector, and particularly the rural poor? How can growth and inclusion be encouraged or promoted by policy?
The unique nature of the Palanpur study offers an important opportunity to examine these questions anew, at a very detailed, micro-level. Much is known about the structure of Palanpur’s economy: the operation of village institutions (such as land, labour and credit markets); the expanding importance – since the early 1970s – of links to the broader Indian economy; the evolution of incomes, poverty and inequality. This knowledge stems not from some earlier “snap-shot” of the village, but from a very close study of the evolution of the village economy over many decades. It is possible therefore to have a sense of the dynamic process of development in Palanpur and to consider, now, how this dynamic process is being affected by recent changes occurring in the wider Indian economy. However, the current data stop at 1993 and the past two decades have been of great importance for both growth and changing structures of poverty and inequality in India. What has happened to income, standard of living and activities of different groups and individuals in Palanpur?
To pursue some of these questions, the sixth round of survey based study of the village led by Prof Nicholas Stern was undertaken. This is a joint collaboration of Centre de Sciences Humaines and London School of Economics and Political Science. During this field-work, information was collected on all aspects of the village economy – in a way that maximizes comparability with data collected in earlier rounds. Two key features of the earlier data collection efforts were sought be preserved: collection of data on all households and individuals in the village; and linkage of individuals across data rounds so as to be able to track individuals over time. By collecting a detailed census of households as opposed to a sample survey of the village, and combining this with village-level information we would be in a good position to analyse the functioning of markets and institutions. And by tracking individuals and households over time, we intend to study dynamic processes in a way that would be unavailable from cross-sectional data. We pay particular attention to fill certain knowledge gaps from earlier surveys and thereby round out more fully our understanding of the village economy and society– notably by collecting consumption data for the first time, and by making a concerted effort to collect and analyse data relating to gender. We collected information on movement during the period 1993-2008 as well as taking a full a survey for 2008-09 itself.