Hindustan Times (Bathinda) - - Htthink! - KARAN THAPAR Karan Thapar is the au­thor of Devil’s Ad­vo­cate: The Un­told Story The views ex­pressed are per­sonal

I’m not sur­prised the jobs and un­em­ploy­ment sit­u­a­tion has hit the head­lines two months be­fore the elec­tions. After all, if it’s as se­ri­ous as the op­po­si­tion and an­a­lysts claim, it will have a de­ter­min­ing in­flu­ence on the elec­tions. Un­for­tu­nately, it’s also true we don’t have a clear pic­ture. In­stead, what we have are two an­gry and po­lar-op­po­site view­points.

A leaked Na­tional Sam­ple Sur­vey Of­fice (NSSO) re­port says in 2017-18, the un­em­ploy­ment rate was 6.1% and the high­est in 45 years. The Cen­tre for Mon­i­tor­ing the In­dian Econ­omy, re­ly­ing on its own sur­veys, says that by De­cem­ber 2018, the un­em­ploy­ment rate had shot up to 7.4%. If this data is cor­rect, the sit­u­a­tion is both wor­ry­ing and steadily get­ting worse. This also ex­plains why, when the rail­ways last year ad­ver­tised 89,400 jobs, over 23 mil­lion peo­ple ap­plied. So do we have a real and grow­ing hunger for jobs? The gov­ern­ment, of course, dis­misses this anal­y­sis. If the sit­u­a­tion is so bad, Arun Jait­ley asks, how come we haven’t seen wide­spread so­cial un­rest? In­deed, if there’s a cat­a­strophic col­lapse of jobs, how come till De­cem­ber 2018, the BJP won an un­prece­dented 21 states in­clud­ing a sweep­ing vic­tory in UP?

The gov­ern­ment also claims that an econ­omy can­not be grow­ing at 7 and 8% — whilst in­vest­ment is de­clin­ing and ex­ports are stag­nat­ing — with­out cre­at­ing jobs un­less there’s a mirac­u­lous ex­plo­sion in pro­duc­tiv­ity, which clearly hasn’t hap­pened. So, to but­tress the be­lief that enough jobs have been cre­ated, the fi­nance min­is­ter Piyush Goyal points to­wards a 20 mil­lion in­crease in Em­ploy­ees’ Prov­i­dent Fund Or­gan­i­sa­tion (EPFO) mem­ber­ship and the fact that 1.56 mil­lion peo­ple have re­ceived Mu­dra loans to­talling ~7.23 lakh crore, which have con- verted job seek­ers into job cre­ators. The gov­ern­ment also ar­gues that the con­cept of em­ploy­ment has al­tered. Uber and Ola are two ex­am­ples of the new types of job. So too are Ama­zon and Flip­kart de­liv­ery boys. Un­for­tu­nately, sig­nif­i­cant parts of the gov­ern­ment’s ar­gu­ment doesn’t hold wa­ter. EPFO mem­ber­ship re­flects for­mal­i­sa­tion of jobs, not the cre­ation of new ones, whilst 90% of Mu­dra loans are of sums un­der ~50,000 and, there­fore, can at best fa­cil­i­tate self-em­ploy­ment. They can’t cre­ate many jobs. And whilst it’s true that we haven’t seen wide­spread so­cial un­rest, the ag­i­ta­tion by the Marathas, Jats, Ka­pus and Pati­dars for reser­va­tions is a re­flec­tion of the fact that they can­not get jobs. Surely one rea­son is that those jobs don’t ex­ist? Data sug­gests that the worst un­em­ploy­ment is faced by In­dia’s youth. The Cen­tre for Sustainable Em­ploy­ment at Azim Premji Univer­sity says it stood at 16% in 2018. The leaked NSSO re­port claims the un­em­ploy­ment rate for young ru­ral males jumped over three times be­tween 201112 and 2017-18, whilst that for young ru­ral fe­males in­creased nearly three times. These are truly as­ton­ish­ing find­ings and would sug­gest a huge mea­sure of youth anger. But is that so?

Step back a bit and you’ll dis­cover an­other truth. The un­em­ploy­ment rate has been steadily ris­ing since 2011-12. At the same time, the labour force par­tic­i­pa­tion rate has been steadily fall­ing since 2004-05. So the jobs and em­ploy­ment prob­lem is a con­cern that stretches back over a long time. It was an is­sue even un­der the UPA. It didn’t be­gin with Naren­dra Modi, al­though it seems to have ex­ac­er­bated. But is that too aca­demic a point in the present high­ly­charged polem­i­cal at­mos­phere? I would as­sume so.

So what’s my con­clu­sion? I can see this de­bate be­com­ing in­creas­ingly fever­ish and con­tested as we near vot­ing day. Per­haps it will only be de­cided by the re­sults?


■ Do we have a real and grow­ing hunger for jobs?

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