After the recent Sukhma encounter in Chhattisgarh in which 25 CRPF personnel were killed by Maoists, a commentary by a senior journalist, Ashutosh Bhardwaj, related a poignant tale: In April 2012, the Maoists in Sukma had kidnapped the district collector, A.P.Menon. A young Maoist guarding the officer approached him on the sly, with a small request: “Sir, when you go back to the ‘outside’, please take a favourable look at my job application.” The young man had applied for the post of a hand-pump mechanic!
That’s how serious job-hunting in this country is!
Providing jobs was a major plank of the Narendra Modi election campaign. With 13 to 15 million able-bodied youth joining the job market every year, unemployment is a potential time bomb. Seeking to diffuse it, the PM at an election rally in Agra in November 2013 had promised his party would create one crore jobs if voted to office. Facts have belied his promise.
A POTENTIAL TIME BOMB
The latest Labour Bureau data shows that growth in jobs or fresh job creation for 2015 was just 1.35 lakh while for April to December 2016 it was 2.31 lakh. Comparing apples to apples for eight labour intensive sectors, the UPA regime performed better creating a high of 12.65 lakh jobs in fiscal 2009. This later fell to 4.19 lakh in FY13 and 4.93 lakh in FY14.
The prospects for the future too are not good. The UN’s International Labour Organisation (ILO) report on global trends released in January this year said: “Unemployment in India is projected to increase from 17.7 million last year to 17.8 million in 2017 and 18 million next year. In percentage terms, unemployment rate will remain at 3.4 per cent in 2017-18.”
With the NDA celebrating its 3rd year in office, the growing joblessness is a blot. The Prime Minister is worried it could spell problems for the BJP in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. All ministries forwarding proposals to the
Union Cabinet for approval have been directed to include the number of jobs the project will generate.
It is now becoming clear that, despite the hype, many of the government’s flagship growth and employment programs have not worked too well. Among the star programmes has been the ‘Make in India’ initiative. It is directed at boosting the neglected manufacturing sector. The target was to push up the share of manufacturing to about 25 percent of GDP by 2020 from the stagnant 15 percent inherited from the Congress-led government. However the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Commerce’s recent report admitted “the manufacturing sector has grown only by an average of 1.6 percent in the last 5 years till 2015-16.”
Similarly, the ‘Digital India’ and ‘Start-up India’ programmes were designed to boost investments and jobs in the IT and service sectors; and the creation of 100 ‘Smart Cities’ was aimed to rejuvenate decrepit townships and bring in jobs by developing infrastructure and transportation. Much of these initiatives have remained slogans so far.
It has to be realized that, while digital India will be the driver for long-term transformation, the here-and-now of job creation are the traditional labour intensive industries like construction, leather industries and textiles. Government estimates have suggested that focusing on India’s traditional occupations could create one crore jobs a year. However, regressive policies like ‘gau-raksha’ are harming not only the renewal of bovine stock in rural areas, but also leather-based industries.
Cow leather, because of its thin and fine texture is ideal for handbags and other fashion accessories. The alternative of thick buffalo leather is not suitable. As a result of cow protection curbs, India has lost out leather exports to Bangladesh and Vietnam. The Indian Leather Development Programme has trained over 50,000 youth and another 1.5 lakh craftsmen will pass out from 3 centres. The question is: will they find jobs in the current environment?
The pitch has been further queered by the global slowdown and hidden under-employment. Over the last 3 years, exports have fallen hitting sectors like gems and jewellery, apparels and footwear. These 3 sectors alone accounted for the loss of 38,000 jobs. A huge area of neglect is under-employment. Labour Bureau data shows as much as 34 percent of the workforce get just 6 to 11 months of work through the year.
The answers are there with the government: kick start growth drivers like infrastructure; focus on manufacturing and traditional occupations; and rejuvenate agricultural production to generate rural jobs. But there is a problem: there is a vast chasm between planning and execution.
Unemployment in India is projected to increase from 17.7 million last year to 17.8 million in 2017 and 18 million next year. It will remain at 3.4% in 2017-18.
(The writer can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)