Edit & Opinion

Economic mess: Alarm for masses & job seekers

Economic slowdown in India and uniform acceptance that future is not quite bright is under sharp focus. It gets reinforced by IMF chief’s observation that in emerging economies, specially India and Brazil, the slowdown would be more pronounced and projections for the current fiscal further downgraded. Obviously, it all sounds quite disturbing for the masses as well as for the new generation, which is entering the work force.

Even Prof. Abhijit Banerjee, the Nobel Laureate in economics this year, has spoken of India’s economic mess, starting with demonetisation and a hurriedly launched GST. There is near unanimity about the way the economy has been handled, benefitting the business class as also the middle income sections. While something has been done for public sector banks, the PSUs have been handled in an unprofessional manner and jobs in this sector have been diverted to the private sector.

The resultant effect has been that the employment scenario has been very poor for over a year. But while experts are giving suggestions regarding revival of the economy, there is no concrete proposal how and when employment prospects would improve. Recently at an informal conclave of some non-traditional economists, where the undersigned was also present, it was pointed out that there is no scope of employment prospect increasing if the current economic policies and programmes continue in the years ahead. In fact, the situation may become quite serious and shall have grave consequences for a country like India with a huge labour force.

Meanwhile, RBI’s monthly Consumer Confidence Survey for September revealed deep pessimism about the employment situation among Indian households. A majority of respondents — around 53% felt the job situation had worsened. Similarly, around 48% of the households felt that the economic situation worsened, though the figures would have been higher if the survey had covered rural areas, specially the backwards districts.

At the same time, the Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS) of the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) reported that in 2018, the overall unemployment rate was 6.1 per cent with rural being 5.3% and urban 7.8%. This must have increased by around 1% with the rural figures much below the actual. This is justified by the fact that the potential non-agricultural workforce grew at the rate of 14.2 million a year between 2005 and 2012 which rose further to 17.5 million a year between 2012 and 2018.

The biggest challenge before the country is not in satisfying the needs and demands of the middle income sections and, of course, of the upper echelons of society but in ensuring better livelihood facilities for the rural poor. Unfortunately, in spite of various plans and programmes, this is not reaching the impoverished sections and the backward communities.

The fact that India has been ranked 102nd on the Global Hunger Index among 117 countries, the lowest ranked South Asian country and way behind BRICS nations, is a testimony to the glaring fact that the country’s planning and development policies are faulty and lopsided. India’s rank slipped from 93 in 2015 and even Pakistan, which used to be the only country in South Asia to rank below India, has pulled ahead in the 2019 ranking to 94th place. This suggests that over the years social infrastructure development has been neglected, which, in turn, talks a lot about rural transformation and creating employment avenues.

The huge dependence on agriculture is due to the fact that non-agricultural avenues have not grown as these did not receive sufficient support as did big business. With finance being a problem area, self-employment didn’t grow. An additional problem area was entrepreneurs and workers with requisite skill not getting adequate intention, which is being addressed only now.

The present government, in its quest to help and support a few big private companies, has not given sufficient attention and encouragement to PSUs to help expand and modernise. A professor of telecommunication engineering and a few common friends questioned the fact that while BSNL provide towers to all companies, how is it that the private operators, who are using these towers, are making profits whereas the former is mired in losses?

If the government wants to hand over everything to the private sector the possibility of employment generation would decrease year by year. It is known the private sector is only interested in profits and results of a survey on corporate social responsibility reveal that most companies are not adhering to it as mandated. Worse, under pressure from business houses, the penalty clause for defaulters was withdrawn at the last stage. If this is state of affairs, can we then believe that public-private participation or even ‘Make in India’ by the private sector will actually throw up adequate job opportunities?

As is well known, capacity utilisation is just around 73% and the private sector will not invest, as is generally being laid out after the government reduced corporate taxes. Instead, it would have been better if the government had forced the big corporates to take up at least one village for upgrading facilities, specially in areas of education and health. But the government has put up a false hope that investment opportunities would be geared up if corporate taxes are reduced. Over the years, the politician-business nexus has possibly been the result of such sorry state of affairs, i.e. imbalanced development and mass suffering.

The nature of capitalist development that we are following will neither result in job creation nor will it address the poor conditions of the rural folk. I would say more than renowned economist Prof. Amartya Sen, it was Prof. Amlan Dutta, who laid the foundations of a different developmental approach, which could be termed ‘people centric’. Being a hard-core Gandhian thinker, he envisaged a decentralised form of governance with more power and authority to the panchayats, which has not fructified till now as envisaged. Moreover, he wanted planning to be rural-centric — focus on problems of villages and their needs and necessities.

Even our late President APJ Abdul Kalam had promoted the concept of PURA (providing urban facilities in rural areas) to strengthen rural economy and provide jobs so that migration is curbed. Very recently Abhijit Banerjee had conceptualised Congress’s unique NYAY scheme that aimed at improving financial condition of 20% of India’s poorest families and this was drawn from experience of countries like Indonesia and Brazil.

The actual change in planning strategy and developmental approach is yet to become a reality as the larger interest of capitalists and political leaders continues to get top priority. This invariably goes against the interests of the masses, specially in rural and backward areas. Unless a pro-rural, inclusive and labour-oriented approach is adopted, which is unlikely in actual terms by the present government, inclusive development will remain a myth and employment generation shall steadily decline. A reality check rather than tall claims is needed.

 

…INFA

 

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