'Demographic dividend' coming unstuck, job scene scary

“Prime Minister Narendra Modi has lived up to his mantra of ‘Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas’ (development of all) by empowering Indians from all sections of society, including women, youth and the poor, by dint of the schemes and programmes launched by his government,” External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj said recently.

Going by the version of the ‘far right’ at the Centre, a new India is emerging with youth at the helm. But the catch-phrase of the so-called “demographic dividend” dominating the public discourse into the early years of the NDA government is conspicuously muted. In Modi’s India, there are fewer jobs. With that being the case, it is inconcei­vable how Modi helped empowering youths.
TeamLease Services, a HR service company, in its ‘India Labour Report 2006’ has predicted that the prevailing trends of employment generation will lead to an “unemployment explosion” by 2020. Over 211 million would have no employment in 2020, as in that year, India’s working population would be equal to its total population (846 million) when economic reforms started in 1991 which means an alarming unemployment rate of 30%.

Why? Nine out of 10 unemployed people will be in the 15 to 29 age bracket. The potential working age population in the 20 to 59 years group in 2020 is estimated to be over 761 million. The annual average growth in employment has slowed, it observed, primarily because agriculture has failed to create jobs since the 1990s.

Surprisingly, unemployment of such a huge scale has not been taken up by the opposition rallying against Modi — they are otherwise very vocal about his other acts of omission. While the cultural agenda of the BJP in transforming India’s academic and cultural institutions, its warped version of jingoistic nationalism and monolithic Hindutva, besides its food fascism, its predilection for vendetta and mob vigilantism are distasteful enough, the prospect of millions of jobless youths is socially destabilising.

For a government that has pitched in with steps such as ‘Make in India’ to create jobs for inclusive growth in the country, it is alarming that unemployment rate has shot up to a five-year high of 5% in 2015-16, as per a report by Labour Bureau, with the figure significantly higher at 8.7% for wo­men as compared to 4.3% for men. According to the fifth annual employment-unemployment survey at the all-India level, about 77% of the households were reported to be having no regular wage/salaried person.

Sadly, the present government is clueless about ways to generate jobs. The previous UPA government was rightfully taken to task for a decade of jobless growth in the 2014 manifesto, which also promised economic revival, high priority to job creation and opportunities for entrepreneurship among other things.

But under the NDA, with 1.2 crore to 1.5 crore young Indians joining the ranks of job seekers every year, the failure to generate jobs has the potential of raising an army of malcontents. As per an official report, unem­ployment rate in Jammu and Kashmir is at 24.6% of the population in the age group of 18-29 years, which is higher than the average all-India unemployment rate of 13.2%. Whether this has some reflection in the rise of insurgency in the Kashmir Valley bears a sociologist’s scrutiny.

Manipur is a classic example of public policies going haywire as state’s economy is characterised by a high rate of unemployment and poverty, low capital formation, inadequate infrastructural facilities, geographical isolation, communication bottlenecks and practically no industrialisation with its high literacy rate notwithstanding. The high unemployment in Manipur has often led its youth to other alternatives, including alcoholism, drug addiction, robbery, murder, and suicide as well as joining the insurgent cadres for easy money.
Now with Modi’s most bombastic election promise in 2014 for millions of young voters to create 10 million jobs going to the four winds, with three years wasted through optics and inanities such as drumming up drama around surgical strikes, the spectacle of the opposition, scattering and sputtering, and not being able to ask him to account for his reneging on his election promise evokes pity.

Informal sector affected
In the backdrop of insufficient jobs in the organised, corporate sector, there is enough room to doubt that post-demonetisation, in the informal sector, there has been a dent in job creation as well. The data in this sector is not reflected in the official figures and it was this sector which was absorbing much of the new job seekers. The Economic Survey for 2015-16 said that only 3.7 million (roughly 35%) of the 10.5 million new manufacturing jobs created between 1989 and 2010 were in the formal sector.

The mad scramble for a career in IT should cause sufficient alarm in view of a finding by the All India Council for Technical Education. The most coveted of all engineering streams — the infotech sector is already headed towards recession as over 60% of the eight lakh engineers graduating from technical institutions across the country annually remain unemployed.

Digest it with the fact that seven of the biggest Indian IT firms, including Infosys, Wipro and Cognizant, are planning to lay off 56,000 engineers this year. Now, if one compounds this with new-age technology-thrust like artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things (IoT) along with US clampdown with visa restrictions on job hires from India, the downtrend in the IT job market looks irreversible. It is as though things cannot get bleaker than this.

For a labour-intensive India, technology now poses the biggest challenge to India’s rising workforce. The success of Skill India Mission is related, therefore, to its performance in the informal sector. Infrastructure building, construction and small business which could have created jobs are plagued by bad loans and therefore shorn of fresh capital. At a time when looming employment crisis is a ticking time bomb, our prime minister must act on it without putting red herrings before the nation.

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