‘India is Broken: A People Betrayed' author estimates India needs 200 million jobs

12.5 million people applied for 35,000 Railways jobs — which don't exist even 3 years later, says Princeton economist Prof Ashoka Mody

Indian Youth Congress members organised 'berojgari melas' across the country on 17 September 2022 to observe PM Narendra Modi's birthday as unemployment day (Photo: Getty Images)
Indian Youth Congress members organised 'berojgari melas' across the country on 17 September 2022 to observe PM Narendra Modi's birthday as unemployment day (Photo: Getty Images)

NH Digital

In the film 'Shree 420' the character played by Raj Kapoor says he has travelled from Allahabad to Bombay in search of ‘dhandha’. In the film 'Satya' too a character asks, “Kuchh kaam milega?"

Jobs have long been a central preoccupation of Indians and are central to India’s economy, argues Prof Ashoka Mody, senior economist at Princeton University and author of the acclaimed book India Is Broken: A People Betrayed — Independence to Today (2022).

India needs some 200 million jobs, he estimates and points out that in 2019, some 12.5 million Indians had applied for 35,000 jobs in the Railways. Three years down the line, in 2022, the Railways had still not been able to deliver the jobs, he noted in a recent presentation to media outlet The AIDEM. The talk can be accessed here:

India does not invest in human capital and treat its people well — that is the stark diagnosis made by Mody for the paucity of jobs. India’s manufacturing exports in 1948 was higher than Japan, he demonstrates, but in 2022–23 it has fallen behind not only Japan, but also Vietnam and Korea.

Prof Mody is of course not the only economist who has expressed alarm at India’s jobless growth. Between 2014 and 2021, youth unemployment rose from 21.2 per cent to 28.3 per cent, a 33 per cent rise in 7 years — an all-time high.

There are no official data on unemployment since 2011. And a 2019 survey which indicated that India had lost 45 million jobs was ‘rejected’ by the Central government as faulty. Post-pandemic, the situation is believed to have worsened.

While India’s GDP growth has been driven by booms in the low-end, high-technology areas like IT-enabled services, finance, construction and real estate, agriculture remains distressed and the share of manufacturing, which generates jobs, is declining even in an industrialised state like Tamil Nadu.

A key reason for India’s failure to add jobs, Prof Mody points out, is because of its poor record in investing in mass education and human capital. While the numbers have grown, he emphasises, there has been a decline in learning and teaching standards. The required ‘industrial literacy’ and discipline that education imparts has been missing, he explains.

India dropped out of the PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) in 2012, after faring poorly in the test. The PISA data, however, show that in reading, science and mathematics, school students from Vietnam have been outscoring students from other countries, including those in Europe.

Other surveys also indicate that an overwhelmingly large percentage of students in the 5th grade in India cannot read texts prescribed for the 2nd grade and do not know ‘division’.

There are two Indias, Prof Mody concedes, and refers to the burgeoning half revealed in the glamorous inauguration of the Nita Ambani Cultural Centre in Mumbai and in Adani stocks, which zoomed up on value after Narendra Modi became prime minister in 2014 and, ironically, after the pandemic.

The solution lies—besides ensuring better education, accessible and effective healthcare, and a functional judiciary—in ‘deepening democracy by devolving more economic and financial powers to local bodies, complemented by a strong civil society movement’, he says in his book.

For a large part of India and Indians, poverty and jobs remain the central concerns. On both counts, India has slipped in the last nine years.

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