What 15 numbers tell us: Barring 10 crore Indians, it is a bleak Diwali for others

What are the pointers that the Indian economy is seriously ill? Overflowing cricket stadia, malls, and sales of high-end cars can be deceptive, as the figures suggest

Representative image (photo: Getty Images)
Representative image (photo: Getty Images)

AJ Prabal

In these polarised times, even economists are divided in their ‘opinions’ on the economic outlook in India. If economists in the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), the finance ministry and bankers are to be believed, India has never had it so good. While the world hunger index says otherwise and the government’s own extension of the free-ration scheme to 80 crore Indians until 2028 is a confession of how bleak the future is, economists like Surjit Bhalla, Sanjeev Sanyal and others would easily convince TV viewers and their readers otherwise.

What, however, do the figures show? The government’s own data and estimates by the World Bank etc. present a stark picture that only finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman can debunk. Here are what the figures tell us then:

Youth unemployment data posted by economist Kaushik Basu based on ILO figures (photo: @kaushikcbasu/ X)
Youth unemployment data posted by economist Kaushik Basu based on ILO figures (photo: @kaushikcbasu/ X)
  1. Over the past 12 months, 96,917 Indians were caught entering the US illegally. It shows that India’s growth is being disproportionately cornered by a few.

  2. Youth unemployment is at an all-time high.

  3. Wealth concentration at the top is back to pre-1947 levels.

  4. Savings and investment rates are at a 20-year low.

  5. Food inflation is close to 10 per cent.

  6. All India Consumer Price Index (New Series) rose to 174 in December 2022 (from 112 in 2012-13)

  7. Number of government jobs declined by 22 per cent during 2015-23

  8. Youth (15-24) unemployment rate is 23.22 per cent.

  9. As many as 57 per cent of Indians are self-employed.

  10. Regular wage earners have declined from 24 per cent to 21 per cent in 2023.

  11. Among graduates, the unemployment rate is 42 per cent.

  12. Bank credit growth is being driven by personal loans (23 per cent) and gold loans (22 per cent). Some of it is suspected to be for consumption.

  13. Average daily wage for a ‘rural casual worker’ has declined to Rs 388.

  14. Imports have doubled from Rs 529 billion to Rs 944 billion between 2013 and 2023, but exports have stalled despite the falling rupee, which has made imports costlier, whereas it should have made exports more attractive.

  15. The rupee is trading at a Rs 83.50 against the dollar, up from Rs 61 in 2014.

Graphic courtesy: @kaushikcbasu on X
Graphic courtesy: @kaushikcbasu on X

So, is all talk of robust GDP growth a lot of bull…? Not quite. Although the average GDP growth between 2014 and 2024 is likely to be 6.8 per cent (lower than the average of 8 per cent between 2004 and 2014), the growth is still the fastest in the world.

Experts explain that while there is nothing wrong with the growth rate, the benefit of growth is going largely to the rich, who are getting richer. Inflation, high unemployment and trailing agriculture, on the other hand, are eroding the income of the masses. Apples are being sold in malls at rates ranging from Rs 299 to Rs 599 a kg, but farmers are still forced to sell the fruit at less than Rs 80 a kg.

The World Inequality Report 2022 tellingly indicated that India had "one of the most extreme increases in income and wealth inequality observed in the world", and that inequality was back to where it was "under British colonial rule".

The total number of billionaires in India increased from 102 in 2020 to 166 in 2022.

According to some estimates, the wealth of the top 10 richest Indians stands at Rs 27.52 lakh crore ($335.7 billion, an increase of around $110 billion, which is a 33 per cent rise from 2021). Between 2012 and 2021, 40 per cent of the wealth created in India is estimated to have gone to just 1 per cent of the population, and only a mere 3 per cent wealth to the bottom 50 per cent.

That explains why jewellers and high-end car sellers are laughing all the way to the bank even as sales of two-wheelers are going down.

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