Government, Opposition spar over ‘leaked’ outline showing unemployment at 40-year-high | union budget

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A day before it presents an interim budget in Parliament ahead of general elections in the summertime, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government found itself enmeshed in an acrimonious war of words on Thursday over an it sounds as if leaked outline that showed unemployment had surged to the highest in 40 years.

The government’s policy think tank NITI Aayog, in an attempt to defuse the row, said the assessment of National Pattern Survey Office’s periodic labour survey, which, according to the Trade Standard newspaper, put unemployment at 6.1% in the July 2017-June 2018 period, the worst since 1972-73, was once still being processed.

“The government did not release the data on jobs as it is still being processed. We are of the view that when the data of this quarter are able, we can release it,” NITIAayog vice chairman Rajiv Kumar told reporters, as the Congress, the largest opposition party in the Lok Sabha, alleged that the outline had been intentionally kept under the wraps. To make sure, Kumar did not question the published data.

Niti Aayog CEO Amitabh Kant said the nature of jobs was once changing the world over. In India too, he said, people were exiting low-level jobs, conceding: “Probably we aren’t creating top quality jobs”.

Two members of the National Statistical Commission resigned this week, claiming, among other things, that the government had sat on the outline despite the fact that the commission had approved the data. It was once the first jobs survey conducted after the November 2016 invalidation of high-value banknotes, which led to job losses and curbed job creation, particularly in the unorganised sector. The Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) had estimated that 1.5 million jobs were missing just in the first four months of 2017.

The outline is potentially damning for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led NDA government, which has been under pressure to step up job creation efforts to take in job hunters who enter the workforce yearly. Instead, the unemployment rate has more than doubled from 2.2% in 2011-2012, according to figures quoted in the newspaper outline.

Joblessness is higher in urban areas (7.8%) than rural areas (5.3%), it said. The labour force participation rate — the proportion of population working or seeking jobs — declined to 36.9% in 2017/18 from 39.5% in 2011/12. The comparable rate for the US was once 63.1% in December.

Congress president Rahul Gandhi took a swipe at Prime Minister Narendra Modi, whose government could also be battling agrarian misery in the countryside as it prepares head into the next general elections.

“NoMo Jobs! The Fuhrer promised us 2 Cr jobs a year. 5 years later, his leaked job creation outline card reveals a National Catastrophe. Unemployment is at its highest in 45 yrs. 6.5 Cr youth are jobless in 2017-18 alone. Time for NoMo2Go,” he tweeted with the hashtag ‘HowsTheJobs’.

Senior Congress leader Anand Sharma said the data had shown the effect demonetisation had had in stifling employment growth. “What we have been repeatedly saying approximately demonetisation has been proved by the outline which the government has kept under wrap but has been revealed by the media,” said Sharma.

“While overall unemployment rate has been at 45-year high, some of the youth it’s the highest, especially in rural areas, warning of a crisis situation and instability whether young entrants to the workforce did not find employment,” said Sharma.

Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav posted a biting tweet. “The unemployed youth will make BJP unemployed through 2019 polls. The BJP had promised 10 crore jobs, now 10 crore will take revenge on BJP in 2019. The village youth who migrate from their villages for development will now snatch power from BJP,” he wrote.

The BJP, for its part, likened Gandhi to late Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, quoting Employees’ Provident Fund Organisation (EPFO) data in its favour.

“It’s lucid that he has inherited Mussolini’s shortsightedness and has myopic understanding of issues. EPFO’s real data shows sharp increase in jobs, created in just the final 15 months. Only a man who hasn’t ever held a proper job and is completely jobless can hawk such #FakeNews!” the BJP wrote in a tweet.

The issue also figured at an all-party assembly convened by parliamentary matters minister Narendra Singh Tomar, a day ahead of the interim budget’s presentation. At the assembly, Mohammed Saleem of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) demanded a separate debate on unemployment and jobs.

“India’s youth which is our asset is now being wasted. It also exposes the utter failure of the BJP-led government to deliver on its promise of providing two crore jobs yearly, that is, 10 crore new jobs right through the final five years,” the Left party said in a remark. “The CPI(M) demands that each one data will have to be released immediately. These will have to be placed and discussed in the Parliament. The people of the country have a correct to realize approximately the grim realities facing them.”


First Published: Jan 31, 2019 23:35 IST

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