New employment data released by the National Sample Survey Organization (NSSO) shows that the UPA government generated only 2 million jobs between 2004 and 2009, even as the economy grew at the rate of 8.43 percent annually. The employment numbers present a stark contrast to the Planning Commission’s target of 58 million jobs in the five years between 2007 and 2012. The new NSSO survey numbers have added on to the pile of problems and corruption charges that the UPA has been embroiled in during its second tenure. Many are now referring to this tenure as the phase of jobless growth. The figure, 2 million new jobs, looks worse when one looks at the number of new jobs the NDA government generated between 1999 and 2004 – 62 million.

NSSO’s survey, presently the most credible and widely respected sample survey in India, is now drawing flak from some very influential officials, including the chief statistician of India and the Deputy Chairman of Planning Commission. Right from the methodology to the survey process and analysis, everything is being questioned, maybe to sidetrack the nation from real issues in hand.

Let’s look more closely at what the 66th Round says. According to NSSO data, the employment rate has actually declined in the five year period ended 2009-10 to 39.2 per cent from 42 per cent in 2004-05. This means, if the growth in population is factored out, there has been a decline in employment in absolute terms. When one looks at these statistics along with Census of India projections, it seems that during this 5 year period, only 2 million jobs were added compared with 55 million who joined the workforce aged between 15-59 years.

The report by NSSO also shows an increase in the number of casual workers[1] by 21.9 million, while growth in the number of regular workers nearly halved between 2004-05 and 2009-10, compared with the previous 5 year period. This means that there has been a substantial shift in the structure of labour force in the Indian economy during the period in question. Planning Commission’s Prinicipal Adviser, Pronab Sen, quickly came to the rescue of the UPA government by saying something on these lines– 2009-10 was a severe drought year, possibly forcing some among the self employed (includes farmers) into casual labour.

NSSO’s director general himself spoke of these numbers. He said: “Discussion on these topics in India often loosely uses language of employment and labour market from the more developed world, with misleading and confused conclusions.” He went on to say that these bunched numbers (2 million jobs vs 62 million) hide many distinct structural problems. His explanation suggests that fewer jobs were created because of an improvement in other socio economic indicators; 1. Many young individuals, previously employed in menial jobs have quit, and joined back school. This is evident from increased school attendance and decline in child labour. 2. Fewer people have multiple jobs now because their primary job is enough to help them make ends meet.  3. Participation of women in the labour force has declined sharply, also because of an improvement in other socio-economic indicators (eg: spending more time in school).

However, neither does this explain the increase in the number of casual workers, nor does it tell us about the second jobs that people abandoned. It is still unclear from reports as to what people are finally drawing from the NSSO data. The 64thRound also hinted that we be cautious, but went largely ignored. Should the government be alarmed? Are there some serious corrections required in the economy, to include rapid growth in labour intensive manufacturing as one of our primary objectives? Should we be reminded of the reforms in the 1990s and promises of new jobs in the factory that were made? Whatever the final verdict is, we know the debate that is being generated in academic circles was much needed. Job creation has again gained the importance it always deserved. It also acts a reminder to the government to check how far we have drifted from our vision of inclusive growth.


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