In 2013-14, as per the economic census, there were 59 million non-agricultural establishments employing 131 million persons. Disaggregation of the units by size shows that very small units with 1-5 workers were an overwhelming 96% and these employed 70% of the workforce in non-agricultural employment. On the other hand, large units employing more than 100 workers were very few, amounting to just 0.06% of the nation's total non-agricultural units and employing only 8% of its non-agricultural workforce.

Currently, 43% of India's total workforce is employed in agriculture. Of the 57% non-agricultural jobs, the services and trade sector together account for the largest share of 32%, followed by construction and manufacturing with 12% each.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on India's economy and workforce. Given that a vast majority of India's employment is concentrated in very small units, it is critical for policy to reflect the needs of such a vast section of the population. Stimulus packages that involve direct cash transfers can keep these units afloat. In order to provide such targeted support, there is an urgent need to plug gaps in data about the existence of such establishments and build a comprehensive directory. This will have far-reaching benefits that extend beyond the impact of pandemic and consequent lockdowns.

The author acknowledges the contribution of Divij Sinha, IIHS Urban Informatics Lab, who helped with data visualisation.

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