Mumbai rail roko: If Modi govt still thinks unemployment is a made-up story, students' protest will serve as eye-opener

Modi govt should first acknowledge unemployment problem, else a crisis is in the making

Dinesh Unnikrishnan March 20, 2018 14:43:56 IST
Mumbai rail roko: If Modi govt still thinks unemployment is a made-up story, students' protest will serve as eye-opener

Does India actually have a job crisis? Or is it a non-existent problem cooked-up by opposition parties to tarnish the Narendra Modi administration? Forget the politics of it, if you are a serious observer and are tired looking for missing government data, or are tired of  surveys on employment/unemployment trends, you should probably look at what’s happened in Mumbai, which suffered local train chaos earlier in the day.

Police were caning students, who, in retaliation, were throwing stones at policemen, and were shouting slogans demanding a meeting with Union Railway Minister Piyush Goyal. They are seeking an assurance on jobs. There is no better example to understand and assess how serious the jobs problem is in the country. Hundreds of youngsters thronging streets seeking jobs and livelihood assurance is something one typically observes in countries ravaged by war, terrorism or racial madness or, let’s say, failing economies. Which of these problems is India facing at this juncture?

Mumbai rail roko If Modi govt still thinks unemployment is a madeup story students protest will serve as eyeopener

Students protesting on railway tracks in Mumbai on Tuesday. Image procured by Sanjay Sawant

If one looks closer at the issue, what happened in Mumbai earlier today isn’t unique to Mumbai but is present elsewhere in the country. According to reports, this round of protest is being carried out by activists of the All India Act Apprentice Association (AAAAA), demanding scrapping of the 20 percent quota, and jobs for all local candidates who clear the All India Railway Act Apprentice Exams. The protesters claim that they had taken up their demands with the Railway Minister Goyal, who met them. But there has been no progress in the matter.

But there is a larger issue here, as this Economic Times report shows, the Indian railways alone has received 1.5 crore applications this year for 90,000 railway jobs, which also includes 63,000 jobs in the Group D, a category that is reserved for gangmen. What does it tell us? Had India’s private sector companies, start-ups, SMEs or MSMEs done their part in absorbing the new workforce, we wouldn’t have seen such a large number of students desperately thronging for government jobs, including group D jobs. This is nothing but fact.  India’s unemployment problem isn’t a non-existent one. It is present and real. As columnist Vivek Kaul points out in his piece, citing a recent estimate made by the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy, in 2017, two million jobs were created for 11.5 million Indians who joined the labour force during the year.

One of the biggest concerns for any observer looking at the economy is to not have enough data on what’s happening on the ground. When you talk about jobs, that fear may be coming true for India. The last time the labour bureau released job data, it showed that unemployment rose to a five-year high of five percent in 2015-16. This rate was actually 4.9 percent in 2013-14. In 2015-16, the unemployment figure stood at 8.7 percent for women as compared to 4.3 percent for men, 5.1 percent in the rural sector and 4.9 percent in the urban sector. According to this report in the DNA, which cites a recent reply by Minister of State for Labour and Employment (independent charge) Santosh Kumar Gangwar in Parliament, the Labour Bureau under the ministry has not conducted any survey to find out the actual data of employment in the country since 2016.

India's unemployment rate in % under the usual principal status (UPS) approach
Year In % Male Female Rural Urban
2009-10 9.3
2011-12 3.8 2.9 6.9 3.4 5.0
2012-13 4.7 4.0 7.2 4.4 5.7
2013-14 4.9 4.1 7.7 4.7 5.5
2015-16 5.0 4.0 8.7 5.1 4.9
Note: Labour Bureau did not bring out any such report for 2014-15.
Source: Fifth annual employment-unemployment survey 2015-2016 at all-India level


If this is indeed the case, the government doesn’t even have an account of the job situation on the ground. But there are important signals coming in, like what happened earlier today in Mumbai’s suburbs. The bigger danger is when unemployment becomes the subject matter of protests; it easily connects with the unemployed youth across state boundaries. There is no caste, religion or demographic divide when it comes to a fight for jobs. Protests can spread like wildfire. A bigger problem is in the making then. Particularly, in the context of the Mumbai student protests, there have been cases of suicides in connection with the job issue. This is evident from what the protesters said. “There has been no recruitment since last four years. We are struggling from pillars to post. Over 10 students have committed suicide. We cannot let such things happen," one of the protesting students has been quoted as saying.

If one looks at the job scenario in the country today, one can safely say that Narendra Modi's biggest opponent in the 2019 general elections will not be Rahul Gandhi, or a united Opposition that the Congress vice-president has been talking about — it will be the lack of jobs for youth in India. In August, 2017, An India Today-Karvy Insights Mood of the Nation poll, conducted among a sample of 12,178 people across the country, provided some warning signals to Modi. It said 53 percent of the voters polled believe that the grim jobs scenario signals a deeper economic crisis. The scepticism on jobs is 17 percent higher than a similar survey by the same surveyor six months ago. Failure to give jobs could turn the 133 million first-time voters Modi is targeting in 2019 against him. The signals of this are already evident.

This means if this government fails to generate sufficient jobs (which is largely the case so far), the biggest challenge Modi and his campaigners will have to face will be the possibility of the same 133 million - the new workforce - turning against the government. The warning signals were present all along.

The 2016-17 Economic Survey authored by Chief Economic Advisor Arvind Subramanian said, "Employment in India poses a great challenge in terms of its structure which is dominated by informal, unorganized and seasonal workers, and is characterised by high levels of under employment, skill shortages, with the labour markets impacted by rigid labour laws, and the emergence of contract labour.” In four years of Modi rule, the unemployment rate in India has actually gone up, going by the available data so far. The government has attempted to counter this problem through various schemes such as Deen Dayal Antyodaya Yojana National Urban Livelihoods Mission (DAYNULM) and Mudra loans, but what these have achieved is too little compared to the targets facing the government. The regime should first acknowledge the problem at hand, else a crisis is in the making.

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