Work 2030: Future Scenarios for India

Supported by EMSD, we worked with HSRC in South Africa and CIPPEC in Argentina to develop and compares scenarios for the future of work in India, South Africa and Argentina.

This study presents four future scenarios pertaining to the likely impact of emerging 4IR technologies on the future of work in India. Scenarios are hypothetical yet plausible stories about the future that help trace the trajectories of present day decision making to future outcomes. They provide a framework for comprehending future uncertainty and identifying preferable policy trajectories.

Many changes relating to 4IR are yet to unfold in the Indian context, making it difficult to project longer term impact; moreover, there is a paucity of data on labor market trends and employment conditions in India. Traditional methodologies are therefore inadequate for unpacking the likely impacts of 4IR technologies on the world of work in India; foresight methods will be needed to create anticipatory knowledge.

In the Technocracy Rules scenario, adoption of 4IR technologies has brought tremendous productivity and efficiency gains to a select elite, primarily owners and managers of large technology companies. Automation has resulted in large scale job displacement in the organized sector, and only those with requisite education and skills have been able to leverage new digital economy opportunities. However, work place surveillance is on the rise, making even qualified workers fear their future prospects. Many small to medium enterprises have been bought over by large multi-nationals, while many others continue to struggle to access more basic, older, technologies. A growing number of people access new opportunities through digital platforms, but wages and employment conditions are deteriorating for most.

In the AI for All scenario, high technological adoption has been made to align with societal goals through innovation policy, taxation, and social sector investments. While large scale manufacturing has shrunk, dispersed manufacturing is on the rise especially among small and medium enterprises, along with growth in the service sector focusing on hyper-local solutions. A large number of data scientists are serving India’s data driven service sector. The platform economy is growing, and has been regulated to support workers through new forms of ownership. The Green economy and creative industries are on the rise. New forms of taxation are supporting skilling and training programs for workers across age groups.

In the Equity First scenario, equal wealth distribution and social cohesion across class and gender has been prioritized over technological adoption and high economic growth. Large multinational companies (MNC’s) and private corporations have left India due to the protectionist market landscape. While this has impeded economic growth and reduced large scale private employment, public investment in social welfare and security schemes, combined with strong unemployment benefits and skilling measures ensure worker well being. Recognition and expansion of the care economy has encouraged women’s participation in the workforce, providing gainful employment in the service sector. Despite low technological adoption, the digital and platform economy is robust at the local level, primarily driven on worker cooperative models.

In the Fracture scenario, crony capitalism and state neglect have irrevocably wrecked the Indian economy, which suffers from low growth and high inequality. The acute water crisis has impacted agriculture and the manufacturing sector, forcing India’s physical and digital infrastructure— from internet connections to road systems— to go into a decline. It is impossible for most industries and businesses to adopt advanced technologies and remain competitive, leading to their collapse.The state withdraws from educational funding, social welfare and skilling schemes. Increasing unemployment creates labour unrest, and the government criminalizes all union activities, developing a surveillance state. The defense sector is soon the largest employer in the organized sector. Informal and illegal employment is rampant, while women retreat further into various forms of unpaid work.


Vikrom Mathur

Vikrom is an anthropologist of science and technology. His diverse research interests include the governance of emerging technologies, social and cultural dimensions of technological transitions, political and social contingencies on the production of scientific knowledge about Nature, cultural perceptions of environmental risk, dynamics between science and policy, and Cultural Theory. He has a PhD from the Institute of Science, Society, and Innovation at the University of Oxford. Vikrom is a Senior Fellow of the Observer Research Foundation & Associate Fellow of the Stockholm Environment Institute.

Urvashi Aneja

Urvashi Aneja is Founding Director of Tandem Research. She works on the governance and sociology of emerging technology; southern partnerships for humanitarian and development assistance; and the power and politics of global civil society. Urvashi is also Associate Fellow at Chatham House and a columnist for the Indian Express. She has a PhD from the Department of Politics & International Relations, University of Oxford. Previously, she was Associate Professor of International Relations at the OP Jindal Global University and Research Fellow at the Observer Research Foundation.