Understanding the unorganised sector

The unincorporated or non-corporate sector has the largest share of national income, manufacturing activities, services, savings, investment, taxes, credit market, employment, forex earnings, etc. Yet it is little understood, dismissed as `un-organised’, `informal’ or `residual’ sector. It is important that the nature and role of this sector are explored to see how it impacts the economy.


IT IS a sign of our times that the largest segment of our economy requires to be identified by negating something else which is relatively small. It is perhaps, in our tradition wherein we define a thing based on the concept of Na Ithi — “that which is not”. Also we can take comfort from the fact that, for instance, under some of the constitutional provisions, a Hindu is defined as any other person who is not a Muslim, Christian, Parsi or Jew by religion. Herein also negation defines a thing.

The focus in this column is on the role, regulations and reforms pertaining to the “India UnInc” or the unincorporated/non-corporate sector of the economy. The unincorporated or non-corporate sector (consisting of partnership/proprietorship firms and self-employed persons) has the largest share in our national income, manufacturing activities, services, savings, investment, both direct and indirect taxes, credit market, employment, forex earnings, etc.

It is important that we understand the nature and role of this sector, which is sometimes referred to as “un-organised” or ” informal” or “residual” sector. All these terminologies are based on concepts pertaining to the Western experiences, which may not be appropriate in our context. The focus of the reforms and discussions by experts has been mostly on the corporate sector. But the unincorporated sector requires focus and understanding as its share in national income is more than one third, as we will see later.


The National Accounts Statistics (NAS) uses the classification of `organised’ and `unorganised’ sectors in presenting national income data and what is indicated as `unorganised’ in NAS is not the same as `uninc’ or non-company forms oforganisations.

“Generally, all enterprises which are either registered or come under the purview of any one of the acts like the Indian Factories Act 1948, Mines and Minerals (Regulation and Development) Act, 1957, the Company Law, the Central/State Sales Tax Acts, the Shops and Establishment Acts of the State governments, are defined as part of the organised sector. Also included are all government companies, departmental enterprises and public sector corporations.

“Similarly, forestry, irrigation works, plantations, recognised educational institutions, and hospitals which are registered as non-profit making bodies are also classified as organised sector… all unincorporated enterprises and household industries which are not regulated by any acts of the above mentioned type and which do not maintain any annual reports presenting the profit and the loss and balance sheets are classified as unorganised” (National Accounts Statistics – NAS 1980: pp 69).

A partnership firm may, thus, be grouped under the `organised sector’ if it was covered under any of the statutes mentioned and if it maintained annual accounts. Otherwise it would be classified under the `unorganised sector’. Thus, non-corporate enterprises can figure under either of the two (organised and unorganised) sectors in the national income classification. In practice, however, corporate form is treated as organised for estimating purposes, except in the case of manufacturing. This is borne out by the explanation in the NAS of later year. It (NAS 1994: pp7) elaborates the coverage of the organised sector for major activities in the non-agricultural sector as follows:

Manufacturing: Registered factories covered under the Factories Act.

Construction: Construction works in the public sector and private corporate sector.

Trade, hotels and restaurants: Public and private corporate sector, and cooperatives.

Transport by means other than railways: Public sector, private shipping companies and road transport under the private corporate sector.

Storage: Warehousing corporation in the public sector, cold storage covered under the Factories Act.

Banking and insurance: Total activity except the commission agents attached to Life Insurance Corporation of India and unorganised non-banking financial undertakings including professional money-lenders and pawn-brokers.

Real-estate, ownership of dwellings and business services: Real estate companies in the private corporate sector and public sector.

Other services: Public sector medical, education and sanitary services, television and radio broadcasting and recognised educational institutions in the private sector.

Thus, the organised sector is the same as registered factories under the Factories Act in the case of manufacturing and the public and private corporate sector (that is, entities governed by the Companies Act 1956) in the case of all other activities. From the above definitions, it is clear that all unregistered units in the manufacturing sector (unregistered units in manufacturing would be typically partnership/proprietorship type of organization) and partnership, proprietorship firms in trade, transport, construction, hotels, restaurants and other services belong to the unorganised sector.

The NSC has also pointed out that “Direct estimates (of National Income) mostly relate to public (of which Government proper is a component) and private corporate sector so that the estimates related to them usually constitute what is usually referred to as `organised’ sector or segment of the economy. Indirect estimates mostly relate to households (including non-profit institutions serving households) and constitute the residual `unorganised’ sector or segment of the economy” (National Statistical Commission 2001: pp 357)

Informal sector

From the point of view of mode of production or economic activity, the distinguishing features of the informal sector are as follows:

  Low level of organisation; small in scale usually employing fewer than ten workers and often from the immediate family;

  Heterogeneity in activities;

  Easier entry and exit than in the formal sector;

  Usually minimal capital investment; little or no division between labour and capital;

  Mostly labour intensive work, requiring low-level skills; there is usually no formal training as workers learn on the job;

  Labour relations based on casual employment and or social relationships as opposed to formal contracts; employer and employee relationship is often unwritten and informal with little or no rights;

  Due to their isolation and invisibility, workers in the informal sector are often largely unaware of their rights, cannot organise them and have little negotiating power with their employers and intermediaries (ILO 2000).

The informal sector consists of all economic activities that remain outside the official institutional framework (Statutory Control and implications and Governmental Regulation). Consequently, the government has little control over the quality of employment. Generally agricultural activity does not come under the purview of informal set. Actually, the term informal sector has not been used by the NAS. The first nation-wide survey on informal sector under the National Sample Survey (NSS) was conducted during the 55th round (July 1999-June 2000). Here, all unincorporated, proprietary and partnership enterprises were defined as informal sector enterprises.

From the above-mentioned discussion on informal sector it can be concluded that it is a sub-set of non-corporate sector if we consider all non-company forms of activities.


The two diagrams explain the terminology issues in a graphical form.

In manufacturing activities, all unregistered (also called unorganised) units are a sub-set of the non-corporate sector. If it is unregistered (not having ten or more workers with power and twenty or more without power) then the unit cannot be expected to be a company form of organisation as the cost of having a corporate form is significant for such entities. The registered manufacturing units (organised sector) can be either a corporate or a non-corporate unit. A partnership firm can be a registered unit fulfilling the criteria.

In all other activities, the unorganised sector can be said to be a part of the non-corporate sector. But in practice, as already mentioned, in many service activities CSO considers only government and private corporate, as part of organised sector and to that extent non-corporate and unorganised are the same in these activities. Hence, we can define Uninc. or non-corporate sector as those non-corporate entities belonging to non-agricultural and non-government (departments and non-departmental enterprises) activities.

It excludes company forms of organisations in private sector and also in public sector. It consists of partnership/proprietorship forms of organisations and other self-employed persons such as barbers, cobblers, carpenters, plumbers, electricians, commission agents, cycle-rickshaw pullers, architects, chartered accountants, lawyers, priests, and so on. Cooperative forms of organisations are also part of this group. The non-corporate form of organisation for tax purposes could be individuals, proprietorships, and partnerships, HUF, etc.

The non-corporate forms of organisations are major players in such activities as manufacturing, construction, transport, trade, hotels and restaurants, and business and personal services. Terming them as “un-organised” is inappropriate as they are well-organised from the economic and organisational point of view. They are not the residual segment of the economy. They are very much part of the “formal” system of laws/rules/regulations. Hence, we will use the term of Uninc (unincorporated) or sometimes non-corporate sector. It would be useful for consistency and clarity if the Central Statistical Organisation publishes a comprehensive list of all activities and indicate the form of organisation and classification. For instance, in the context of savings data, the Uninc is considered as “household” — like yours and mine. We will explore Uninc from various dimensions and explain how the corporate tail seems to be wagging the dog of the Indian economy.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: