October 6, 2004


There has been much ado about unemployment in this country but nobody seems to be serious enough to tackle this problem. “Employment for All” became election plank in many elections, but never became part of our planning except in the Eighth Five Year Plan, and was abandoned midway by the then Finance Minister Dr Manmohan Singh who is now our Prime Minister. The “Employment for All” programme was launched to provide employment to almost all within the stipulated period of ten years between 1992 and 2002, but nobody cared for its implementation after 1995. The problem of unemployment has been becoming more and more acute with the passage of time and within two years we are going to face an explosive situation.

The former NDA government was aware with this situation and, therefore, had appointed a Special Group to review the unemployment scenario in this country and recommend steps to tackle the problem. It was headed by not any other person, but the then member of the Planning Commission Mr Montek Singh Ahluwalia, who is now the Deputy Chairman of this institution which functions under the Chairmanship of the Prime Minister.

It is a well known fact that in the beginning of this decade the recommendations submitted to the Vajpayee government by Montek Singh Ahluwalia created a great controversy within the NDA whose convenor George Fernandes felt it disastrous if followed. Subsequently , another Task Force on Employment Stratagies and Employment Monitoring at state level was set up by Planning Commission under the Charirmanship of the then Member, Planning Commission Dr S P Gupta , with representatives from states and major central Ministries and departments. In the midst of these exercises, the ten year period of Employment for all elapsed in 2002. Until then nothing much could be achieved.

In the beginning of the Tenth Five Year Plan in 2002, the Vajpayee led NDA government began fearing the spectre of unemployment and announced implementation of one crore employment opportunity every year. During the last Lok Sabha election held in May 2004, the NDA government claimed to have achieved 84 lakh employment per year on an average. However, those estimates were based on thin samples which suffer from large sampling errors, and nobody believed them. NDA paid the price in the elections.

In the terminal year of the BJP led NDA government, the employment and unemployment scenario of this country was as follows.

The data available from the 945 employment exchanges in the country indicates that in February 2004, the number of job seekers registered with the employment exchanges was of the order of 4.11 crore. Among them , approximately 70 percent were educated (tenth standard and above). The number of women job seekers were 1.07 crore. The maximum number of job seekers awaiting employment were in West Bengal. The placement effected by the employment exchanges at all India level during 2003 was of the order of 1.55 lakh as against 2.56 lakh vacancies notified during this period.

But it does not give the complete picture. No reliable data is available either. Data on the labour force and unemployment are collected by the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) through quinquennial surveys. As per the results of 55th round survey (1999-2000), the latest data available and mentioned in the Economic Survey 2003-04, the rate of growth of employment on Current Daily Status basis declined from 2.7 per cent in 1983-94 to 1.07 per cent per annum in 1994-2000. It was despite higher growth in GDP indicating growth with decreasing labour requirement under New Economic Policy of liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation initiated by the then Finance Minister Manmohan Singh and vigorously and recklessly followed by all successive governments. The result was that the absolute number of unemployed increased from 20 million in 1993-94 to 27 million in 1999-2000. Not only that , the incident of unemployment expressed in terms of unemployed as a percentage of the labour force increased from 5.99 per cent to 7.32 per cent during the period. The share of casual labour in total employment went up. Only a small percentage of 8 to 9 per cent of the total workforce of the country was employed in the organised sector. As on March 31 , 2002 , this figure was only 27.2 million of which 18.8 million were in the public sector. It means private organised sectors employment was less than 10 million. In 2002 , employment in organised sector witnessed 2.1 per cent decrease over 2001, of which 1.9 per cent decrease was in the public sector. Women and children were worst sufferers of this scenario.

It is in this backdrop, Congress manifesto this year promised guarantee of work for 100 days for all. It promised National Employment Guarantee Act. This also found place in the National Common Minimum Programme of the UPA, which taken over reign at the Centre after the general elections in May this year. Recently, while giving away Shram Awards for the year 2002 and 2003 , Dr Manmohan Singh even coined a new slogan Rojgar badhao ( increase employment) and said it was the slogan for the present time.

Perhaps, he wants us to believe that he is doing a great service to the unemployed people of this country. He is resorting to rhetoric to impress the common people, while has been doing more profitable things to the privileged and the rich. Here are some examples.

The employment strategy for the Eighth Plan was formulated as part of a ten-year perspective of achieving near-full employment at the end of the ten year period 1992-2002. The setbacks suffered by the Indian economy in 1990-91 and 1991-92 were taken into account while formulating the programme. According to the mid term appraisal of the plan done in 1995, employment growth fell short of the target of 2.7 per cent to 2.03 percent despite a lower growth rate of 4.6 per cent as against the target of 5.6 percent and the controversial shifts in economic policies. The document categorically mentioned, “Prospects of achieving the goal of near full employment by 2002 appear feasible.”

The question is what went wrong after 1995 ? The programme of employment for all was abandoned in favour of certain forces, domestic and foreign. And all the governments after that cannot shed their guilt.

Many employment schemes were launched by the then Narasimha Rao government and the subsequent Deve Gowda , Gujral and Vajpayee governments. But the efforts fell short of the task, mainly because of the wrong priorities adopted. The present initiative of the UPA government is also bound to meet the same fate and is certainly not a match of the “Employment for All” programme. Never the less, there is nothing new in the so called new initiative, except the promised act which contains and integrate mainly the earlier employment schemes.

If the present government is serious this time, it should prepare a comprehensive programme of Employment for all within a stipulated time with a real intention to implement it. Dichotomy is dangerous for the country, and the mere rhetoric won't do. (EOM)