The Grapes of Wrath

Wrath Four-fifths of Modi government’s time in office is already gone. The performance of the government in terms of conceptualisation and implementation of policies has been satisfactory. Road transport tops the list of areas that have seen positive development. The areas of concern are rising inflation and joblessness. The youths feel that this government is not serious about creating the required number of jobs. The government has been falling short on this front. How the Modi government will cope with this in its last lap in the run-up to the next Lok Sabha polls remains to be seen, writes PRAMOD KUMAR

It’s been four years that the “Modi government” came to power. Needless to say, whatever it has achieved or not achieved will be the blueprint for fighting the next Lok Sabha polls, or forming the next government, even. While road-transport tops the list of areas that have seen positive development; rising inflation and joblessness are the areas of concern that can easily derail BJP’s campaign.
While the government is putting a brave face forward, the situation on the ground is rather explosive, in want of a better word. The government maintains that the joblessness has increased due to technological advancement, which has curtailed jobs across the sectors. However, it also insists that its ‘Skill Development’ programme has more than made for this. It insists that this timely intervention has blunted the impact. However, the situation on the ground tells a different story altogether. At the maximum Skill India has tried to plug a small hole in a dam that is waiting to give way altogether.
Experts also offer dissenting opinion. While a section of these experts believe that the implementation of GST might eventually lead to a net increase in the GDP in the medium term, it is singularly impossible to see any spike in job data in the near to medium term. Under the circumstances, Modi’s “advice” to the youths to open ‘Pakoda Stall’ sounds more like a cruel joke and an admission of defeat than anything else.
Government’s ‘Start-up India’ programme is already sputtering in absence of credible financial backing through institutions. All this has created a sense of disillusionment among a large section of the 141 million odd youths who make 37 percent of the population. Add to this several millions more who will be the first-time voters in the next poll. That makes for a deadly number. There is already a feeling emerging among the youths that this government is not serious about creating jobs. It is more serious about managing its own image.
Some of the predictions are rather chilling. The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has released a report predicting that while India will easily achieve 7 percent GDP growth rate in the months to come, the job figure is disappointing. It says that on the eve of the next Lok Sabha polls, as many as 30 percent of the youngsters between the age group of 11 and 29 years will either be jobless, illiterate or unskilled.
Looking at the job figures, one can say that there has been little or no net creation of government jobs in the last four years. The hope was on the private and corporate sectors. However, the global slowdown burnt the corporate sector almost to the cinders, taking away several hundred thousands of jobs. The self-created tsunami of Demonetisation did the same with the private and unorganised sector. Unorganised sector is even worse.


Famous author Rex Stout had said, “There are two kinds of statistics, the kind you look up, and the kind you make up.” The same goes for India’s jobs data. There is need for improving the employment data. The National Sample Survey Organisation had resolved to release an annual survey on employment from 2019, after it releases the results of the five-year survey in August- September this year, writes G SRINIVASAN

If figures are meant to be flaunted, authorities feel no qualms in flaunting them freely and widely lest the public at large should feel happy and at ease that things stay hunky-dory and that there are no major challenges to survival! How else could one explain the needless controversy generated over the acerbic debate on jobs data that put into question the very data gathering machinery of employment unemployment situation in the country as it exists now?
It all began early this year when two economists – Soumya Kanti Ghosh of State Bank of India and Pulak Ghosh of the IIM Bangalore – published a study based on payroll data. Such a set of data exist with the Employees’ Provident Fund Organisation (EPFO), the National Pension System (NPS) and the Employees’ State Insurance Corporation (ESIC) – all statutory bodies to which employers must perforce have to forward employee data. The Ghosh & Ghosh study, as it came to be christened, contended that 7 million jobs were created in 2017-18. Interestingly, as one perceptive analyst citing the authors’ claim in the study that 80 per cent of the workforce in the country is unorganised labour, aptly queried that when 80 per cent of the nation’s workers remain unregistered with the EPFO or other formal sector databases, does it imply that there are 28 million informal jobs being created every year (given that there are 7 million new formal sector jobs every year) to keep the ratio of 80:20 unorganised to organised employment? A former chairman of the National Statistics Commission Pronob Sen pertinently pointed out that payroll data may be relevant in the US because 80 percent of the jobs are in the formal sector, while 85 per cent of employment in India remains in the unorganised sector where payrolls do not exist at all for enumeration; hence one could safely note that the pace of frenetic job creation is more of a myth than what could supervene on the ground, given the stark reality of rampant unemployment and ubiquitous underemployment due to surplus of labour and scarcity of capital that markedly distinguish the domestic economy for far too long.
That Ghosh & Ghosh study was taken with a shovel of salt is now passé as the payroll figures encompassed only 15 percent of jobs in India. There was also another attack on the study that the data might have duplications because of EPFO and NPS numbers as there are no way of ascertaining if there are overlaps sans Aadhaar seeding.
Even as the storm raised by this study got scarcely over, a member of the Economic Advisory Council to the Prime Minister (EAC-PM) and a noted economist and columnist Surjit Bhalla wrote a piece in a mainstream daily remarking that 15 million jobs were created in 2017. At a time when the domestic economy was recovering from the disruptive effects of demonetisation of November 2016 and the roll-out of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) replete with bad design and multiplicity of rates, defeating its core value to the economy, these twin studies on new jobs of 7 million and 15 million respectively in 2017-18 provided a lot of diversionary discussions solely for their distortion and prevarication of facts. It needs to be noted that the Centre for Monitoring of Indian Economy (CMIE) had estimated employment generation for the same period at 1.4 million and the head of the organisation Mahesh Vyas claimed that the member of the EAC-PM panel had “invented” the number by using not comparable data sources. It was also stated that Bhalla mixed estimates of the CMIE, which carries its own surveys to ascertain employment figures, with those of the Ghosh & Ghosh study to make the audacious point that 15 million jobs were created in 2017. It was also mentioned that basing the study solely on the CMIE might have panned out altogether different results.
It is no wonder learned academician Shibas Bandhopadhyay of the Indian Statistical Institute who was member of the NSC wryly noted on a different context that “there are lots of numbers but no data”. To get genuine data sourced from authentic people in a scientific manner has become an intractable exercise and it is small wonder that we get ended up with farcical studies founded on brittle or little data of quality to derive conclusive proof of bold interpretations for policy.
With elections being in the offing for several states before the General Elections to be held in May next year claims and counterclaims and punches and counter punches to score brownie points on the so called vikas with job creation are but expected. But when figures are wildly tossed to arrogate to the ruling dispensation gargantuan achievements, the aged of all hues are outraged that figures and numbers are not for concoction, fabrication and prevarication to screen the reality that will sooner rather than later get exposed to the broad sunshine to the discomfort of all courtiers and flunkies. This is all the more important now than ever before because as the World Bank has put it in a recent report India needs to create 8.1 million jobs a year to maintain its employment rate with the country’s growth set to accelerate to 7.3 per cent this year and is set to rise further to 7.5 per cent in the ensuing two years.
It is also gladdening that the NITI Aayog, the body that replaced the erstwhile Planning Commission, is in the vanguard to get periodic and unified jobs data number for the nation before long. The Task Force under the NITI Aayog has presented a report in August last year on improving employment data. It has suggested, among others, a new time-use survey be conducted and instituted by the line ministry, besides the Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS). A follow-up to the recommendation of the Task Force, a meeting was held in October last year in the PM Office. It recommended that Quick indicators for direct/indirect reflections on the employment data be provided at the earliest and NITI Aayog could provide the requisite framework in consultation with Secretary, Labour, Secretary, Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation (MoS &PI) and Chief Economic Adviser for giving the trends in employment at the earliest. It is also welcome that the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO), under the MoS&PI, had resolved to release an annual survey on employment from 2019, after it releases the results of the five-year survey in August-September 2018.
One can only hope that the quick estimates of employment to be released regularly every year must not be a cosmetic exercise for the comfort of the authorities to suit the electoral compulsions to submerge the people with a litany of false data or fake constructs based on these false data. It is time official juggernaut machinery also made a serious scientific method of collecting data for the larger interest of evolving policy to solve the myriad problems the nation is plagued with, though its demographic dividend continues to be counted as a blessing in disguise, critics stoically say.

The government on its part says that it has done a lot to improve the scenario. Labour and Employment minister Santosh Gangwar maintains that the government has taken steps to do away with the difficulties in doing business both in the organised as well as unorganised sectors. This includes amendments in the Factories and Labour Law, implementation of Maternity Benefits Amendment Act, 2017, amendments in the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Rule, 2017, implementation of Employees’ Compensation Amendment Act, 2017, implementation of Wages Amendment Act, 2017 and easing the compliance to maintain registers under various labour law rules.
“We have made labour laws easy and transparent. And this has massively benefited unorganised and organised sectors. Factory workers are getting their salaries in their
accounts, and are also availing pension schemes. The truth is, technological advancement and go-getter attitude of the youths have redefined the entrepreneurship in this country. New entrepreneurs are coming to the fore. Our Skill Development programme is creating a workforce of those qualified in high-technology,” says Gangwar.
Bombastic claims apart, the truth is, Demonetisation and unplanned implementation of GST did break the economy’s back. There are millions of youth– who were the main breadwinner for their families– who lost their livelihood following Demonetisation. Says Dr Arun Sirohi, an expert at Institute of Advanced Studies, “A large section of workers from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, who used to work in Gujarat, have lost their jobs following Demonetisation. They were the primary breadwinner of their respective families, but are now seen loitering aimlessly in their villages. Since their skill-sets were primarily in the textile industry, they cannot overnight jump to other industry without proper training. Consequently, they have no option but to assist in the agricultural activities where their siblings or parents were already employed.”
There are other fallouts too, which have been ignored till now. Says Prakash Singh, ex-DGP, Uttar Pradesh, “These unemployed youths are the primary reason behind the spike in the crime rate in both the states. There is also a high prevalence of liquor.” And if that was not enough, celebrated psychologist Dr Abha maintains that there is also a spike in the cases of depression among the unemployed youths. All this has brought the youths to the brink.

The chronic global slowdown has burnt the corporate sector almost to the cinders, taking away several hundred thousands of jobs in one go

However, the government is not throwing the towel. It still believes that its ‘Skill Development’ programme is the best way to gear up for the upcoming “Fourth Industrial Revolution”. NITI Aayog has sent a roadmap to the PMO where it has claimed that ‘Knowledge’ and ‘Skill Development’ can become two engines of the economic growth. The commission has pledged to skill or reskill as many as 400 million youths under the National Policy for Skill and Development Entrepreneurship 2015. Rumour has it that Modi showed the door to Minister Rajiv Pratap Rudy only because he was unable to keep up with the target. Insiders also inform that the PM pulled up several ministers from labour and employment ministry, minister for tribal affairs and ministry for skill development during a cabinet meeting on the relaxation of labour laws, for not being able to cope with.
It is important to look at data to understand the gravity of the situation. The government targets to turn around 4.69 percent of youths under the age of 29 into skilled workers. The corresponding figure in Germany and South Korea is 75 percent and 96 percent.
Rajin Kumar, Deputy Chairperson of NITI Aayog, puts a rather brave face when he says, “I don’t think we are worried about unemployment situation. This is more an issue of underemployment or unsatisfactory employment. The primary reason is that youths’ aspiration is way beyond the ground reality.”
The government, in private, admits that the situation is not very encouraging. On one hand we have automation robots gnawing on the existing jobs, and on the other hand, we are not creating new jobs. This requires exemplary skills, which is lacking in this government. The government has been accused of fudging or misrepresenting data to present a rosy picture and has been caught red-handed at times. Most of its claims don’t hold water. And while they make for a good talking point on the social media, there is pretty much nothing on the ground to show for it.
Says Arun Shourie, ex-minister and journalist, “Road transport has seen some boost but roads don’t bring bread to the household, do they? Modi keeps harping about millions of youth but fails to mention how unemployed these millions of youths are. Those with skills are finding it difficult to arrange for finances. And the consumption of Pakodas is way lower than the Prime Minister wants us to believe.”