How’s the josh?” Prime Minister Narendra Modi asked the film fraternity while inaugurating the National Museum of Indian Cinema in Mumbai recently. The reference was to Vicky Kaushal’s film Uri, based on the surgical strikes carried out by the Indian armed forces in Pakistan in 2016. The audience giggled, and replied “High Sir”.
And an Internet meme was born. But the social media can be cruel. “Josh” has been replaced with “jobs”, a tricky word as far as the Modi government is concerned.
The government insists that all is well on the jobs front in Mr Modi’s “New India”. But if India’s spirits were as high as the government claims, as far as jobs are concerned, there would have been no agitations demanding quotas across the country, nor would the government and Opposition parties been competing with each other promising assorted handouts.
As I write this column, Gujjar leader Kirori Singh Bainsla is threatening to revive his community’s quota agitation in Rajasthan if Gujjars and four other castes are not provided five per cent reservation in government jobs and educational institutions.
Arguably, the jobs crisis did not start with Mr Modi nor is the National Democratic Alliance government at the Centre entirely to blame. But the NDA government, which came to power on the promise of creating millions of new jobs for young Indians, among other things, has not been able to deal with the crisis.
Rest assured, in an election year, the data wars about jobs following the recent revelations about the National Sample Survey Office’s (NSSO’s) data will continue.
That there is a dearth of “josh”, or high spirits, on the jobs front has been known for quite some time now.
The State of Working India (SWI) 2018 report brought out by the Centre for Sustainable Employment (CSE) at Azim Premji University noted that “even as GDP growth rates have risen, the relationship between growth and employment generation has become weaker over time”.
The report pointed out that in the 1970s and 1980s, when GDP growth was around 3-4 per cent, employment growth was around two per cent per year. However, “since the 1990s, and particularly in the 2000s, GDP growth has accelerated to seven per cent but employment growth has slowed to one per cent, or even less. The ratio of employment growth to GDP growth is now less than 0.1”.
Between 2013 and 2015, total employment actually shrank by seven million, and that “more recent data from private sources show that the absolute decline has continued past 2015”.
The SWI 2018 report debunks a study that claims that the economy generated 13 million new jobs in 2017. “Unfortunately, this optimistic conclusion depends on the selective use of data and unjustified assumptions. As a result, the rate of unemployment among the youth and higher educated has reached 16 per cent. It used to be said that India’s problem is not unemployment but underemployment and low wages. But a new feature of the economy is the high rate of open unemployment, which is now over five per cent overall, and a much higher 16 per cent for youth and the higher educated. The increase in unemployment is clearly visible all across India, but is particularly severe in the northern states.”
In a 2017 article in the Economic and Political Weekly, Dr Vinoj Abraham of the Centre for Development Studies, Thiruvananthapuram, also pointed out that since 2011–12 the labour market in India is facing a severe crisis with employment growth stagnating across almost all sectors, and unemployment rate is worsening.
“The fall in employment in agriculture had been conventionally accompanied by increasing labour absorption in two industries, namely manufacturing and construction, along with other sectors such as trade and transport, albeit in the unorganised sector. However, what is worrisome in the recent period is the absolute decline in both manufacturing and construction sector employment, especially in urban areas,” Dr Abraham noted.
It is not that no new jobs are being created but the sectors which generated work for the vast numbers of unskilled or barely-skilled Indians are not generating as many jobs, and the new economy is not creating the kind of jobs that people at the bottom of the skills chain can adapt to.
So, for example, there may be new beauty salons, food delivery services and other service sector opportunities springing up in swathes of urban India, but it is no comfort for the barely literate farmer reeling from an agricultural crisis.
India’s employment crisis is compounded by an employability crisis, as Dr Abraham says.
Just this week, N. Chandrasekaran, chairman of Tata Sons, reminded an august gathering in Mumbai that only 15 million out of India’s billion-plus population have jobs in the organised or formal sector. Highlighting the skills gap between the formal and informal sectors, he pointed out that within the 15 million in the organised formal sector, 60 per cent have secondary education, while close to 95 per cent in the services sector have secondary or tertiary education.
In short, almost all the skilled people in the country belong to that 15 per cent pool. The other 85 per cent — the vast majority — toil in the unorganised sector, and are far less skilled and educated.
The government’s various skill development programmes in recent years don’t seem to have made much difference because quite often those imparting skills are not part of the employment-generating sectors.
The SWI 2018 report from the Azim Premji University says that a large majority of Indians are not being paid what may be termed a living wage, and that explains the intense hunger for government jobs.
The situation has affected women far more brutally than men. Their participation in the labour force is tapering off. The SWI 2018 report flags a field study in West Bengal which shows even multiple informal occupations do not fetch women a living wage. “For example, one woman undertook tailoring, brick kiln work, daily labour, and mid-day meal cooking to earn `2,700 a month while another performed brick kiln work, daily labour, sand mining, and agricultural work to earn `6,800.”
To tweak a famous phrase from that other Bollywood hit Three Idiots — aal izz not well on the jobs front!