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Law and the Economy in a Young Democracy

India 1947 and Beyond

An essential history of India's economic growth since 1947, including the legal reforms that have shaped the country in the shadow of colonial rule.

Economists have long lamented how the inefficiency of India's legal system undermines the country’s economic capacity. How has this come to be? The prevailing explanation is that the postcolonial legal system is understaffed and under-resourced, making adjudication and contract enforcement slow and costly.

Taking this as given, Law and the Economy in a Young Democracy examines the contents and historical antecedents of these laws, including how they have stifled economic development. Economists Roy and Swamy argue that legal evolution in independent India has been shaped by three factors: the desire to reduce inequality and poverty; the suspicion that market activity, both domestic and international, can be detrimental to these goals; and the strengthening of Indian democracy over time, giving voice to a growing fraction of society, including the poor.

Weaving the story of India's heralded economic transformation with its social and political history, Roy and Swamy show how inadequate legal infrastructure has been a key impediment to the country's economic growth during the last century. A stirring and authoritative history of a nation rife with contradictions, Law and the Economy in a Young Democracy is essential reading for anyone seeking to understand India's current crossroads—and the factors that may keep its dreams unrealized.

272 pages | 4 line drawings, 14 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2021

Markets and Governments in Economic History

Economics and Business: Economics--Development, Growth, Planning, Economics--History, Economics--International and Comparative

Law and Legal Studies: Legal History


"This book's conclusions are sobering and important. Immensely readable, clear-headed, and compelling, it is a wide-ranging account of the economic shortcomings (mostly) of Indian statute and case law, and also of the mixed impact of democracy."

Peter Robb, SOAS University of London, author of Agrarian Development in Colonial India: the British and Bihar

"Many works have studied the impact imperial institutions had on the economies and legal systems of ex-colonies, but the analysis is usually carried out at the level of aggregate outcomes. Rarely, though, do we get to see how these relationships survived the political change at independence, nor how they persist in postindependence politics. With this book we do, and the connections—among politics, the legal system, the legacy of colonial institutions, and economic endowments and outcomes—all become clear in vivid detail. Roy and Swamy manage to do all that, yet they never lose sight of the big picture—a real achievement."

Philip T. Hoffman, California Institute of Technology

"Roy and Swamy succinctly capture the effects of the lag between policy change and changes in the relevant Indian law since colonial times. Their book provides a contrasting historiography of how the persistence of primacy to social and political stability factors led to conservative legislations in the spheres of land, property, and credit, as opposed to a more proactive stance in commerce since the times of the British Raj. It subtly captures how the framing of property rights around religion brought about conflicts between equality and freedom and led to our current struggles to attain caste and gender equality in matters of property. They offer fascinating analysis of the consequences of unequal land reforms, the momentum of eminent domain issues during the liberalization years, and the changing trajectory of the Supreme Court."

P. G. Babu, director, Madras Institute of Development Studies

"This book is well researched and lucid and includes thoughtful commentary on the nexus between colonial institutions, contemporary political and economic pressures, and the underinvestment in India’s current legal infrastructure. Recommended."


"This book is an excellent work that attempts to grasp the interaction between laws and the economy in India. It outlines not only how certain laws have affected India's path of development, but also how certain laws were introduced and amended in response to a changing political and economic environment. This book provides a robust economic history of India written from the viewpoint of institutional changes."

The Developing Economies

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Chapter 1. Introduction
Chapter 2. Land Rights: Equity versus Transferability?
Chapter 3. Rural Credit: Overreliance on Law
Chapter 4. Democratic Rights and the Limits of Eminent Domain
Chapter 5. Environmental Law: Judiciary Takes Center Stage
Chapter 6. Law in a Labor-Surplus Economy
Chapter 7. Politicians’ Burden? The Evolution of Company Law
Chapter 8. Globalization with a Nationalist Face: Mergers, Acquisitions, and Intellectual Property
Chapter 9. Property: Equity versus Religious Norms
Chapter 10. Conclusion

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