No short cut, plan long term

Employment Drive

By Dhurjati Mukherjee

In the backdrop of looming unemployment in the country, recent available data reveals that in 2019 and 2020, vacancies in Central agencies, excluding Armed forces, have touched 10 lakh, over double from previous four years. In 2020, there were nearly 8.9 lakh civilian vacancies in Central government and another 1.1 lakh in Central forces that come under Home Ministry, while in 2019 the unfilled positions were over 10 lakh. From 4.7 lakh in 2016, vacancies crossed 7 lakh in 2018 and 10 lakh in 2019. These vacancies saw a steady increase from 5% in 2001to 16.2% in 2013 but dipped below 10% in 2015 and 2016 and then increased sharply to cross 20% in 2019 and 2020.
The government had informed Rajya Sabha that there were an estimated 8.72 lakh vacancies in various Central ministries and departments as on March 1, 2020, in respect of regular civilian employees. MoS Personnel also claimed 2.65 lakh Central government posts had been filled up between 2018-19 and 2020-21 through recruitment agencies like SSC, the UPSC and Railway Recruitment Boards.
Amidst this bleak scenario, the government recently announced its decision to recruit 10 lakh people in Central government departments and ministries on ‘mission mode’ by December 2023, a deadline close to Lok Sabha elections. The initiative for hiring has come from the Prime Minister himself. It is understood that nearly 70% of the hiring will be done by Home Ministry in paramilitary and police forces, railway ministry for technical and non-technical staff, education and health ministries for faculty and non-faculty staff, postal department and defence ministry.
Additionally, the government announced ‘Agnipath’ scheme wherein soldiers will be recruited in the Army, Air Force and Navy on a short-term contractual basis. The idea being to hire 46,000 Agniveers of which 34,000 will leave service after four years with lumpsum benefits of Rs 11 lakh. The ultimate aim is to have regular soldiers and Agniveers in a 50:50 ratio. This will reduce their average age from 32 years to 26, a huge improvement since younger soldiers are fitter and tougher. This new approach may not be limited to the 1.2 million Armed service personnel but the para-military and civilian security forces too.
Experts fear that demolishing so many gun trained youngsters in an era of high unemployment may lead them into crime, terrorism or other forms of violence. This is not without reason and must be seriously considered as Agniveers’ future will be entirely uncertain.
Though the aim of the government is to cut the ballooning salary and pension bill, the scheme has come in for criticism from all quarters. Several senior retired Army personnel have observed that keeping in view the requirements of the Armed forces as well problems of unemployment and underemployment, economic considerations can’t be the sole criterion. Military life and career can’t be evaluated from money saved to the exchequer.
Major General Satbir Singh (retd) said the scheme will adversely affect the efficiency and effectiveness of the military as it was not in keeping with the erstwhile military tradition and ethos. A retired brigadier pointed there was no rationale behind doing away with the age-old established practice in recruiting soldiers: “This Agnipath scheme is going to destroy the single-class regiments like Rajput Regiment, Sikh Regiment, Jat Regiment, Gorkha Rifles etc.”
Thus, it’s quite natural that youngsters, hoping to get into the Armed forces, are understandably angry with Agnipath post four years, as unemployment looms large. The government may need to re-consider the entire issue and fix tenure of these Agniveers to say 7 years that was there till 1977. Moreover, at least 40 to 50% should be the retention ratio.
With the deterioration in the economic situation, there is good reason to believe the unemployment scenario would worsen. More than unemployment, underemployment is another problem as young people need to be gainfully engaged throughout the year and not just for a few months. In this context, the recent Budget’s allocation  for the MGNREGS scheme hasn’t been substantial as providing work for even 100 days may not be possible, given that the backlog of dues from 2021-22 is yet to be cleared in some States.
The unemployment rate is high and not truly reflected in official figures and if underemployment is taken into consideration, job opportunities are very low, even for educated and/or skilled people. The resultant effect is increasing social tensions, including crimes of various nature.
India needs to create 100 million more jobs by 2030. Job creation is the biggest development challenge that the country faces. While the link between economic and job growth is well-recognised, uncertainties remain. Experts believe that more jobs needs to be created by new, young and small enterprises or large/established firms? Secondly, will more jobs be created in mega cities or Tier 2/3 cities? And, thirdly, how will the fourth industrial revolution and artificial intelligence impact job creation?
India also still has one of the lowest entrepreneurship rates in the world for its stage of development. What can promote entrepreneurship? Improving the business climate, less regulation, lower taxes, and scaling up investments in physical and human infrastructure are seen as factors that drive entrepreneurship even in developed countries.
Empirical evidence from districts suggests that anticipation of abnormally high returns on investment, less regulation and business environment are not key drivers of entrepreneurship. The critical factors are investments in human and physical infrastructure. Districts that have improved their infrastructure, provided a supportive industrial structure for input and output markets, and those that have small local suppliers have shown a faster growth rate in entrepreneurship and jobs.
This pattern is seen in both the manufacturing and service sectors. Urbanisation and job growth moved in tandem in early 1990s, but this changed during the last decade. Mega cities and their outskirts have become too costly, forcing manufacturing enterprises to move to Tier 2/3 cities to remain competitive. Unfortunately, India’s spatial development process has been too slow to accommodate the transition of manufacturing hubs to medium-size cities.
Questions arise whether the fourth industrial revolution has impacted the pace of job creation in India? Unlike China, which has been a formidable exporter of manufactured goods, India has acquired a global reputation for exporting services. It has leapfrogged the manufacturing sector, going straight from agriculture into services — a path which offers hope to late-comers to economic development.
Besides, due to its cost advantage, India can export healthcare services in a big way. Setting up educational institutions and strengthening existing ones can help create a large number of jobs down the line, such as in leisure, arts/entertainment and housing. Computer scientists/engineers, IT administrators, architects, carpenters, plumbers, construction workers, and machinery operators will continue to be absorbed in large numbers. While energy and climate change may too create some jobs, urban India will continue to absorb a large number of domestic workers, both men and women.
To create 100 million additional jobs is a tall order. Raising entrepreneurship,investments in human and physical infrastructure are policies which need top priority. Short-term goals may help win elections, but not the country. — INFA