How do you talk about an election buzzword without actually talking about it?
Ask India’s interim finance minister Piyush Goyal.
In his budget speech in parliament today (Feb. 01), Goyal mentioned jobs on nine occasions, and yet somehow managed to evade addressing the reportedly alarming rise of unemployment in the country. Now, that’s a job done well, given India is merely weeks away from the national elections.
Campaigning during last election season in early 2014, prime minister Narendra Modi had promised 10 million new jobs if voted to office. However, critics have blamed two of his government’s biggest decisions for growing unemployment.
With a shock announcement in November 2016, the Modi government demonetised 86% of India’s currency bills in circulation in a purported bid to fight corruption. This dealt a knockout blow to the country’s heavily cash-dependent informal economy, which employs about 81% of the labour force. A little over six months later, the government implemented the goods and services tax (GST), disrupting India’s old and rickety tax structure. This, however, was riddled with glitches that are yet to be smoothened, leaving the informal economy confused and bruised.
The result was that, instead of adding jobs, more than 10 million of them were wiped out in 2018 alone, according to the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy, which comprehensively surveys employment in the country. The unemployment rate last December stood at a 27-month high of 7.38%, it says.
The government refutes these data, even as it has consistently delayed the release of its own official employment figures. Earlier this week, the only two remaining non-bureaucratic members of India’s National Statistical Commission resigned in protest against the government sitting on these data.
Yet, Goyal did not refer to any of this in his speech. Here’s what he did say about jobs, though:
- “The insolvency and bankruptcy code has institutionalised a resolution-friendly mechanism, which is helping in (the) recovery of non-performing loans while preserving the underlying businesses and jobs.”
- “Expanding rural industrialisation using modern digital technologies to generate massive employment is the fourth dimension of our vision.”
- “High growth and formalisation of the economy has led to the expansion of employment opportunities as shown in EPFO (Employees’ Provident Fund Organisation) membership, which has increased by nearly 2 crore (20 million) in two years reflecting formalisation of the economy and job creations.”
- “The concept of employment is changing all over the world, now the employment generation is not confined merely to government services or factories. With job seekers becoming job creators, India has become the world’s second largest start-up hub.”
- “Domestic (air) passenger traffic has doubled during the last five years leading to large number of jobs being created also.”
- “Introduction of the first indigenously developed and manufactured semi high-speed ‘Vande Bharat Express’ (train) will give the Indian passengers world class experience with speed, service and safety. This major leap in wholly developed technology by our engineers will give an impetus to the Make in India programme and create jobs.”
- “India’s installed solar generation capacity has grown over 10 times in last five years. This sector is now creating lakhs of new age jobs.”
- “Today, under Make in India, mobile and parts manufacturing companies have increased from 2 to more than 268, providing huge job opportunities.”
- “Digital infrastructure and digital economy of 2030 will be built upon the successes achieved in recent years in digitisation of government processes and private transactions. Our youth will lead us in this endeavour with innumerable start-ups creating digital India and millions of jobs in this eco-system.”
India has the world’s largest group of young people below the age of 25. About 1.3 million of them are entering the job market every month, a pace which promises a crisis of unemployment if not addressed directly.