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Budget sops, smug can’t eclipse growing unemployment figures
News analysis

Budget sops, smug can’t eclipse growing unemployment figures

Ajayan

The shocking and alarming revelation of unemployment in India reaching a 45-year high has been swept under the carpet nearly a week after its exposition. The sops offered to the tax-paying middle class and measly Rs 6,000 dole to farmers have taken over. The promise of presenting afresh the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) on unemployment still remains unfulfilled.

It has to be remembered that the figures go against the promise of 10 million jobs every year that Narendra Modi and the NDA team he led had promised before coming to power.

The NSSO data from the first full fiscal year following demonetisation was at a record high of 6.1 per cent 2017-18. This is, in fact, the first official survey of employment situation after the demonetisation of high-value currency notes was announced in November 2016.
According to reports, unemployment was last this high in 1972-73. To make matters worse for the Modi Government, the unemployment rate was down to 2.2 per cent in 2011-12, during the UPA regime. And all this is there in the NSSO data which was supposed to have been announced sometime late 2018.

Not only did the Government not announce it, but hurriedly dismissed the leaked report. The numbers were not comparable to the unemployment data collected from 2010-11 as sample size and methodology of survey were different, it claimed.

Such justifications when figures are unfavorable and do not match claims are nothing new to this Government. It was only towards November end that the Government revised economic growth rate to show that it averaged 6.7 per cent during the Congress-led UPA regime when in the four years of the BJP-led NDA regime it was 7.3 per cent.

Claims then too were that the methodologies used now were different and 'scientific’.

But in the latest issue, it has to be remembered that two National Statistical Organisation (NSO) top officials quit just two days before the unemployment figures caught media glare.

Acting chairman PC Mohanan and member JV Meenakshi resigned leaving the organisation with NITI Ayog chief Amitabh Kant and chief statistician Pravin Srivastav as members.

Their resignations from the autonomous supervising body are pointers to the Central Government's continued efforts to suppress inconvenient facts.

However, hard the Government might try to claim that the resignations were insignificant, it remains a fact that they were a protest against failure to publish the survey report. Incidentally, the sixth annual employment and unemployment survey of 2016-17 did not see light. And if figures of that survey are true, which is also the reason for suppression, the unemployment rate rose to 3.9 per cent from 3.7 the previous year.

The ILO's World Employment and Social Outlook: Trends 2018 report has an unpleasant scenario etched where the number of unemployed in the was expected to rise from 18.3 million in 2017 to 18.6 million in 2018 and 18.9 million by 2019. That situation can only be worse because the estimates were on the basis that the unemployment rate was at 3.5 per cent when the latest NSSO figures are nearly double.

The latest survey report on labour force participation rate shows a decline to 49.8 per cent in 2017-18 from 55.9 in 2011-12. The rate is the proportion of the population working or seeking jobs and is a pointer to a high rate of unemployment.

The picture painted so far is gloomy and suppression of data, insights to the job market and bases on which policies are evolved, can get gloomier and turn counter-productive. There can naturally follow a lack of employment-generating programmes, strategised on the basis of available data.

However vehemently the Government will justify demonetisation and slipshod implementation of the Goods and Services Tax and whatever be the methodology used to gather data, the fact rains that unemployment is on the rise and there is also dissatisfaction among farmers who were forced to take to the streets in astoundingly huge numbers, indicating that things do not augur well.