Union Budget 2023-24 betrayed expectation of workforce for relief from economic hardship

The Centre’s contention that a rise in Capex would be able to keep up the growth momentum which would generate enough jobs is misplaced

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Getty Images

Gyan Pathak

Union Budget 2023-24 has betrayed India’s workforce though it eulogises Modi rule’s “Big Tent accommodating all”. In reality, this “Big Tent” is too small to accommodate the majority of the workforce.

The Budget tried to create hope for the workforce by stating that the proposed big infra push through Capex and other proposals to push growth would generate jobs, but the reality is that all the proposals are not enough even to put a brake on the decline of the GDP growth, and hence it is not possible to generate more jobs with the prospect of the downturn in the economy. The workforce needed social protection at this time and the Budget betrayed them.

The country has been passing through an era of jobless growth since 2017-18 when the unemployment rate reached a 45-year high to 6.1 per cent, which peaked even higher at 8.3 per cent in the beginning of 2023. No wonder, the entire workforce has been waiting to be rescued by the Union Budget 2023-24, which let them down.

Their suffering has taught them that the song of growth has no meaning for them in a “jobless growth” scenario. Numerous opportunities have been assured in the next 25 years of the so-called Amrit Kaal, but the question for the majority of them is how to survive now.

Moreover, the Indian economy is projected to decelerate in 2023, a prospect on which all authoritative estimates agree.

The Centre’s contention that a rise in Capex would be able to keep up the growth momentum which would generate enough jobs is misplaced.

In fact, Budget 2023-24 does not indicate that Modi government has any concrete plan to successfully manage the labour market distortions. The labour market recovery has been fragmented across all economic sectors. Decent work for all promise given by Narendra Modi long back in 2013 during his election campaign as BJP’s PM candidate remains unfulfilled and now doesn’t even find a mention.

The Budget has even decreased allocations in several schemes for the workforce.

The unkindest cut was made in the rural employment guarantee scheme MGNREGA.

There is no employment guarantee scheme in urban areas, and the government did not indicate any intention to have one.

The Centre has reduced MGNREGA allocation to Rs 60,000 crore for 2023-23 as against 89,400 crore in 2022-23. It has been reduced for the second straight year.

Since MGNREGA is a demand driven scheme, the government adopts all sort of discouragement to the jobless rural workforce including non-payment of wages for months, without considering how unskilled labour can work without wages for months.

The Union Budget 2023-24 has even reduced the allocation of the Ministry of Labour and Employment from Rs 16,893.68 crore in the last budget to Rs 13,221.73 crore in 2023-24.

Several Central sector labour welfare schemes have suffered cuts. The budget for the Labour Welfare Scheme has been reduced to Rs 75 crore for 2023-24 as against Rs 120 crore for 2022-23.

PM Modi’s scarce concern for the workforce is revealed even in the PM Karmyogi Mandhan Scheme. The allocation for this scheme has been reduced to a paltry Rs 3 crore this year as against Rs 50 crore in 2022-23.

The Atmanirbhar Bharat Rojgar Yojna has also seen a cut. It has been reduced to Rs 2,272 for 2023-24 as against Rs 6,400 crore in 2023-24.

The allocation of the National Child Labour Project has been reduced to Rs 20 crore for 2023-24 from Rs 30 crore in 2022-23.

Budget allocation of skill development and livelihood in the Ministry of Minority Affairs has come down from Rs 491 crore in 2022-23 to only Rs 64 crore for the fiscal year 2023-24.

The Bima Yojana for Unorganised Workers, which saw an allocation of Rs 10 lakh in the last Budget, has been stopped.

The allocation for National database for Unorganised Workers was also reduced by Rs 200 crore.

These are but only a few examples that are enough to reveal the attitude of the Modi government towards the workforce.

In this backdrop, complete social security coverage to the workforce was out of question for the Union Budget 2023-24.

We need no further proof of Modi government’s anti-labour attitude which has even got the four labour codes ready for implementation in the name of ‘biggest labour reforms’ in independent India, which the Central Trade Unions (CTUs) have termed as anti-labour and pro-corporate.

The CTUs are very unhappy since the issue of long-term employment and creation of quality jobs have not been addressed. They have been demanding Old Pension Scheme, social security to all, pension to all, regularisation of schemed workers, minimum wages for workers of unorganized sector including the agriculture workers etc.

AITUC general secretary Amarjeet Kaur said that the Budget  ignores the interest of its 94 per cent of unorganised workforce who contribute 60 per cent of the GDP. CITU general secretary Tapan Sen said that the budget has nothing for employment generation and support for the MSMEs.

Even the pro-government BMS, while welcoming the Budget, has denounced support to Artificial Intelligence (AI) and expressed disappointment over neglect to EPS pensioners who are getting only Rs 1000 as minimum pension.

(IPA Service)

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