Herald View: While PM refuses to address unemployment, in the Union Budget the FM must
The Government can no longer be in denial of the distressing problem of educated unemployment and 100 million Indians dropping out of the economy. The Union Budget will hopefully address it
Alarm bells should be ringing at visuals emerging from different parts of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh this week. While mainstream media have largely ignored or downplayed clashes between unemployed youth and the police, they are ominous. The youth were demanding cancellation of results declared by the Railway Recruitment Board of tests held to fill up non-technical posts. They alleged the results showed large scale duplication. Several candidates were shown to have ‘passed’ more than once, some as many as six times, arousing their suspicion of foul play. At best it indicated incompetence and at worst duplicity. The frustrated youth gave vent to their anger by setting train engines and bogeys on fire, by putting up obstacles on railway tracks, holding up trains. Typically, while ministers, politicians and bureaucrats were nowhere to be seen, armed policemen, Government Railway Police and the Railway Protection Force were deployed to deal with the agitated youth. The Railway Ministry issued a statement, warning the agitating youth that they would be debarred from Railway jobs for the rest of their lives. Better sense prevailed only after three days of sustained violence, when the Railway Board reluctantly agreed to set up a committee to examine the grievances. By asking the committee to submit its report six weeks later in March, the Railway Board however sent out the unfortunate message that it was merely buying time till the state elections get over. Neither the violence nor the distrust augur well for the country. While unemployment has been a ticking time bomb for past several years, the Government has been busy window dressing and fudging the data. The Prime Minister famously said that those frying pakodas and selling the savouries by the roadside were also employed. The Haryana chief minister this month threatened to take police action against the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) for releasing inconvenient data on unemployment. It is time for both these gentlemen to realise that unemployment is not a law-and-order problem.
Disturbing signs were there all along. Even the Union Government would have been aware of the grim reality when it stopped releasing unemployment data. But several agencies, including the government’s own, had acknowledged that employment in 2018 was at a 40-year low. We failed to address the issue. In 2019 economists warned that number of Indians who had ‘dropped out of the economy’ – those who had lost all hope and had stopped looking for work—had ballooned to a staggering 100 million. The pandemic would have made the already desperate situation worse. The Government was however bent upon reducing government jobs, privatizing PSUs and employing people through contractors. For at least the last five years Congress leader Rahul Gandhi has been saying to whoever would listen to him that unemployment is the most serious problem before the country. He was ridiculed and even when, in desperation, Congress mockingly celebrated the Prime Minister’s birthday this year as the ‘National Unemployment Day’, it was ignored as a political gimmick. It is dangerous for a society in which youth start questioning the value of increasingly expensive education, where the more educated you are, the less likely are the chances of getting suitably employed. Strangely the Government has been oblivious to all the available signals and went about its hobby horse of building infrastructure and buildings. The emphasis on capital expenditure neither creates demand in the short run nor provides permanent, sustained employment. The PM has refused to address the issue. Will the Finance Minister do so in her budget speech at least?
(This was first published in National Herald on Sunday)