NSSO’s leaked data show the devil is clearly in the detail. India is staring at a mammoth employment crisis thanks to Modi government’s outlandish policies.
The Narendra Modi government didn’t want the national sample survey (NSSO) on jobs to be released for the public. Two members of the National Statistical Commission stepped down late last month after the government refused to release the NSSO employment report which they had vetted. In their resignation letter, they said the government is sidelining the organisation. Two days after the officials — acting chairman PC Mohanan and JV Meenakshi — resigned, the Business Standard carried a report on the NSSO report, which said unemployment in India reached a 45-year-old high of 6.1% in 2017-18. In 2011-12, when Manmohan Singh was the PM, the unemployment rate stood at 2.2 percent, according to the report. Given the numbers, it was evident why PM Modi, who came to power in 2014 on promises of development and jobs, did not want to release the report.
This was not surprising. The government, though it would not acknowledge its intent for political reasons, seems to have understood that there’s a serious crisis of jobs in the country. That’s why it came up with the reservation bill, which offers 10% reservation in government jobs for “economically weak” sections. According to the government criteria, which got support from across the political spectrum in both Houses of Parliament—from the Congress to the Left to the BSP—anybody from a household earning less than Rs.8 lakh will be eligible for this reservation. This covers a huge majority of the country’s population. In political terms, the Modi government was trying to mollify the millions of unemployed youth with this reservation gimmick.
Some private studies suggest that the unemployment situation in the country is bleaker than what the leaked NSSO data suggest. The Labour Bureau, which used to release employment data annually, stopped doing so in 2016. The defenders of the Modi government said then that one should wait for the NSSO data for a clearer picture on employment. But the government has refused to release the NSSO data as well, as claimed by the two statisticians who quit the NSSO. According to the Centre for Monitoring the Indian Economy, an independent think tank, unemployment rate in India reached 7.38% in 2018, higher than the leaked NSSO data figure. The unemployment rate is higher in urban areas, at 7.64%, compared to 7.25% in the rural areas, according to this report. BJP-ruled states Tripura and Haryana see the highest jobless rates— 31% and 18.4%, respectively. Karnataka has the lowest unemployment rate at 1.5%.
Unemployment among the youth is particularly scary, an issue that could bother the Modi government. According to a study by the Centre for Sustainable Employment at Azim Premji University, youth unemployment now stands at 16%. The study finds that economic growth creates fewer jobs. Between 2011 and 2015 when the Indian economy is estimated to have expanded by 6.8%, employment growth was only 0.6%. During the Modi government, the situation, as the NSSO’s leaked data and CMIE’s estimates suggest, the job scenario has become worse, mainly due to the Prime Minister’s controversial policies such as demonetisation and the GST rollout. Somesh Jha, the journalist who broke the NSSO story for Business Standard, says unemployment rate stood at 8.9% in 2017-18, the fiscal year that saw the introduction of demonetisation and GST.
In sum, irrespective of the economic angle you’re looking at, India’s job scenario looks bleak. And this is a country where 12 million youth enter the job market every year. During the poll campaign in 2014 Modi promised to create 10 million jobs a year. And now, the country’s job scenario is comparable only to year 1972. And that’s why the social media took a pun on the BJP’s pet phrase from ‘hypernationalist movie Uri — “How’s the Josh”– to attack the government on the day the NSSO data was leaked. The Tweeple asked: #HowsTheJobs Prime Minister, which became a trending hashtag instantly.
The government is now saying the leaked report was not the final one. It might come up with a different report as what’s happening with the GDP. As Kaushik Basu, a former chief economic adviser to the Indian government, wrote: “The Modi government’s economic policy has been disproportionately focused on a few big corporations, neglecting small firms and traders, the agricultural sector and most workers. The results are now showing.”