Who stole our jobs?
By Vijaya Pushkarna
When Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently met the captains of industry it was not a routine, ahead-of-Budget 2020-21 meeting. It happened in the backdrop of the current economic gloom—the GDP figure is the lowest in six years, low credit off take and investment, high inflation, low unemployment, and a worrisome low in consumption. He is believed to have discussed with them the steps that will have to be taken to boost the economy and realize his dream of making India a $5 trillion economy by 2024.More importantly, he brought up the issue of job creation.
For the first time, there has been an admission, even if a veiled one, at the highest level, that lack of jobs in the economy is a serious issue. So far the government has been in a denial mode whenever the the subject was raised.
Amitabh Kant, CEO of the government think tank NITI Aaayog maintained there was no reliable data on jobs . "Currently there are three contesting narratives. First narrative is of jobless growth implies that India is creating insufficient jobs. Second is opposite to first one and advocates that there is no issue of employment. Third, which I believe to be true, is between the first two suggesting that though there is sufficient employment, but the true challenge is to create well-paying quality jobs."
Kant argued that economic growth had come about with expansion in every sector – from infrastructure to housing, transport to healthcare and from professional services to retail. "It is inconceivable that such growth could happen concurrently with shrinking number of employed workforce, which would strictly imply that productivity and capital accumulation is driving whole of India’s growth."
When the cry of job losses grew more shrill post the demonetisation, the government took cover under the number of Provident Fund accounts to maintain that there were more jobs, and that these had got formalised from being unorganised in the past.
Government sources have pointed to the “data available on people contributing to Social security benefits are provided through the Employee Provident Fund Organisation (EPFO), the Employee State Insurance Corporation (ESIC) and the National Pension Fund (NPS)” According to these sources, between September 2017 and November 2018, a total of 73,50,786 new subscribers were added to the EPFO, an average of 4.9 lakh subscribers each month.
On average, between September 2017 and November 2018, approximately 10 lakh-11 lakh subscribers were added each month to the ESIC. “Even if we consider a 50% overlap with EPFO data, it yields about 10 lakh workers being added to the formal workforce per month, or 1.2 crores annually. An analysis of NPS shows that we are adding close to 6 Lakh+ Jobs in Central and all State Governments.”. That was in exactly a year ago.
Yashwant Sinha,senior Opposition leader and former union minister for finance, summed up India's job scenario, "In the last few years, 25 lakh young Indians appeared for a competitive exam for 6,000 Group D jobs in the West Bengal government; 12,453 applied for 18 vacancies for the job of a peon in the Rajasthan govt; and 2.8 crore applied for 90,000 vacancies for train drivers, trackmen, etc, in the Indian Railways. The hopefuls for these ‘enviable’ jobs included engineers, chartered accountants, lawyers and postgraduates. "
In Sinha's view, "We are sitting on the country’s biggest job crisis, and it takes a very obstinate man to refuse to admit to it. But Prime Minister Narendra Modi was quoted in July 2018 stating that “more than a lack of jobs, the issue is the lack of data on jobs”.
In his campaign days of 2013, Modi spoke about the mismatch between the aspirations of the youth and what the Congress had delivered. "If BJP comes to power, it will provide one crore jobs which the UPA Government could not do despite announcing it before the last Lok Sabha polls," he said at an election rally. With 65 per cent of the Indian population below the age of 35, the youth, currently struggling with unemployment, can be galvanised into a force for the development of the country, he said to thunderous applause.
And later as prime minister famously said that even making pakodas and selling them is employment!
The Prime Minister has more than once praised industrialists for their contribution to nation building, even as he rubbished allegations of crony capitalism. Now, will the industrialists help him generate the jobs he so badly needs to build up a decent report card for this tenure? Or have they suggested the government creates an enabling atmosphere for MSMEs to begin production once again?
Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman's budget bag will, hopefully, have some ideas that will help the economy begin chugging once again, and people in rural and urban India, consuming like they did, a few years ago.