Monday, July 11, 2005

Unemployment - A structured analysis

There are an uncountable number of problems, associated with our country and our society. In fact, every civil society has its share of problems which affects a not infitesimally small percentage of its population, and in many cases society as a whole. The idea of utopia, or ramrajya, is so hypothetical, that it is impossible for any of us to even imagine what it will be like.

If somebody asks me the most serious problem facing our nation, I will rank unemplyment as the worst one. Yes, we can argue that corruption, communalism, terrorism, gender inequality, and lack of basic infrastruture affect a far greater number of people at a more regular basis, and hence should be addressed more seriously. Agreed. Of course, I don't imply that efforst should not be directed towards eliminating them. What I mean is job creation and sustainability is the most urgent need for our society, and it is related as a cause or as an effect of other problems.

What is Unemployment?
Unemployment is a state where an individual is unable to find work where his skills and knowledge is fully used, and hence he is not paid in porportion to his capabilities. Though this definition makes underemployment as part of unemployment, yet it is incomplete. This is because under present circumstances, there exist a vast number of people who either were unable to gather any socially beneficial skill, or their skills are no more useful to the society. Landless urban labourers, tribals living in the most remote corners of the country and the huge number of people engaged in agriculture (with land divided or getting unweildy) form this category. Any approach we take to reduce unemployment must address the proper value addition and imparting income generating skills among the populace as well.


What is so bad in it? Why is it taking alarming proportions?

Right to live is a basic fundamenteal right, which is guaranteed not just by the society, but by nature/creater itself. Along with that, the preamble of our constitution also assures the right of 'Living with Dignity'. The right to earn a living is a part of that clause. First and foremost, dignity also means, that a indivudual must be dignified in his own eyes. He should be respected for what he is doing not only by the society but above all by himself Unemployment is not only bad because it acts as a catalyst to crime in a society. It is bad because unemployment kills the very soul of a human being. Earning a decent living by doing what he can do best, in a rightful, socially beneficial way, is an important aspect of ensuring that dignity in his own eyes. Whether rural or urban, educated, semi-educated or uneducated, unemployment is associated with deep frustration that comes with it. According to a recent survey the absolute numbers of employed people, has reduced in India in last one year. With the earning population (15-60 age group) projected to increase at more than 2% per annum for the next ten years, urgent measures are needed to tackle this problem.

Reasons behind unemployment.
Unemployment had always been a problem in our country. but it is only in recent years, that it has taken alarming proportions. Our economy has grown manifold, but we failed in creating an equivalent number of jobs, that should come associated with it. manufacturing and services have grown to become major contributors to our economy, but it is still agriculture, which about 60% of our population is engaged in. Education has spread widely, but privatization and the rapid growth of coaching centres made sure that they remain accessible only to urban rich youth. Industrial Training Institutes (ITI's) which were a pillar of skill generation among rural youth till a decade ago, has lost all its relevance, and plagued by corruption during admissions. Corruption has also spread in many public sector appointments, esp. at worker recruitment. The government sector (railways, police, teachers, public works, etcetra) also failed in job creation, again because of very high level of corruption. We will be denying the reality, if we don't accept this simple fact. The amounts demanded by government/public sector officials goes in lakhs for a job that pays only a few thousand rupees per month. The jawahar rozgar yojana, which was a boon for so many of our rural youth has gone defunct. Similarly, increased competition among banks ensure that there are fewer loans available to educated youth, esp. in rural areas. There is no coherent government policy on agriculture and it is by and large dependent on monsoons.
Yes, these problems are more serious than what I have written. We can argue that numerous call centers, and offshoring projects have increased the quality of work. Agreed, but then again they cater only to english-speaking urban educated youth. Rural employment generation is the need of the hour, and we have failed there miserably.


Any solution in sight? What the government should do?

The latest government was able to understand the gravity of the situation, partially because of left pressure. This despite the fact that left has seldom done anything right in India, and their visions are quiet often myopic. They have to come out of catering to their traditional trade-union vote banks, and start following the basic tenets of socialism. Urban slums, and rural areas, are the ones who desperately need their support, but you willnot find a single communist voice speaking for them. Anyway, food for work programme has taken a very positive turn. An employment guarantee bill was supposed to be passed during budget session, if not for NDA's stupid boycott of the parliament. Yes, NDA can be faithfully accused of killing a few lakhs more Indians in this process. I hope that our opposition will understand its role in the monsoon session, and get back to work, at least for passing, what I will term as the single most important bill. These two programmes, if properly implemented will be able to take care of our rural undeucated/unskilled labour.
In the same vein, Government (state and national) must redouble its efforts in improving rural and urban infrastructure. We have a very healthy forex reserve now, and a poisitve balance of payments situations. The macroeconomic indicators indicate a very robust economy. Hence it becomes easier a well, to divert some of those funds in infrastructure projects. We must ensure that roads, water, telecommunication reach every village by the end of this decade. The money must be diverted in that direction, not in creating new formula-1 race tracks, which can wait a few years.
FDI in manufacturing and service sector is actually good. Simply because of the fact that they create new jobs in those areas, and allows government to focus on the core areas of education, health and agriculture. Though limited, still urban youth has really benefitted by these new industries.
It is very important to free our system, especially job creation systems from corruption. The right toinformation act is a very good step in that direction. Corruption must be tackled with the three weapons of transparency, empowerment, and strict punishments. Every public appointments must be transparent.
Special focus must be given to our technical education centers. Even for private colleges, the system of donations must be declared a criminal offence. The banks should ensure cheap education loans to all sections of the society. Job oriented technical education, ITI's and diploma centers should conduct a nationwide examination for admission, with special emphasis given to rural centers.
Last but not least, our higher education system must be reformed with job creation as a motive. The need is to give specialised training at higher secondary and graduation levels. The stress on pure sciences and arts is okay, but they should also come with training in applying them in real life to earn a living. For example, basic electronic circuit or mechanical study should be given to each science student.
There are numerous other ways, which are frequently debated by our policy makers, for reducing unemployment. Of course using old job oriented technology is not feasible, because of the increased competition resulting from opening up of our economy. It is time to think out of the box for urgent solutions.


Conclusion
I might have sounded very grim in this article. But beleive me, the situation is not very different from that. The last government lost the elections because of its trying to negate the real scenario and project a happy face. Remember that, 70 malls in Gurgaon does not ensure "India Shining", but the ability of all Indians to have the money for accessing the basic items. India will not shine by building a formula-1 race track, but when it will not take 15 hours to travel 300 km in Chhattisgarh. When a way of earning to his full potential is built into the system. India will not be shining till every Indian gets the "right to live with dignity", right from birth.


Note : This column has been written in a gender impartial manner. All references to man, he. him, himself should be read as human, he/she, him/her, himself/herself respectively.

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