The era of an unemployed India


There is a lot of evidence that seriously contradicts the high claims of job creation in India

There is a lot of evidence that seriously contradicts the high claims of job creation in India

Reports and images of the recent agitation by rail applicants show a widespread problem of massive job insecurity among India’s youth. Even before the huge dislocations unleashed by the 2020-21 lockdowns imposed in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, unemployment figures continued to be alarming. Well before the pandemic, the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) reported an unemployment rate of 6.1% for 2017-18, the lowest in over four decades. The picture has turned bleaker in the months since April-May 2020.

For example, in December 2021, the Center for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) estimated that almost 53 million Indians were unemployed, a large proportion of them women. The unemployment rate was 7.91% in December 2021, and while there was talk of a drop in unemployment in January 2022, the figure is still a worrying 6.57%.

uncover claims

Percentages and data released by government agencies and policy think tanks can be contested, but there is other evidence that seriously contradicts the lofty claims of job creation. One such index is the downward pressure exerted by the influx of overqualified youth seeking middle- and lower-level government jobs that, despite their modest pay, are highly desirable given the higher job security they are credited with.

As expected, after more than 35,000 vacancies advertised, the Railway Recruitment Board was inundated with applications worth over 1.25 crore; a significant proportion of these were holders of a postgraduate degree. This led to massive insecurity among some of the candidates who met the minimum requirements but were forced to compete with candidates with higher educational qualifications.

As public sector jobs are limited and declining in number due to the contracting and outsourcing of several key jobs, there is intense competition in different job categories; a point brought to light again by the Railways’ recent recruitment controversy. As clarified by the Railway Recruitment Board and the Union Railway Secretary, the large number of applicants for the lowest to highest vacancies eventually forced authorities to shortlist 20 times the number for the second phase of testing that sparked protests of candidates for all levels.

Explain the scramble

Amazingly, ads for even a handful of lower levels of government attract overwhelming numbers of applications, sometimes resulting in such ads being withdrawn. In September 2021, news reports highlighted that among 18,000 applicants for around 42 posts (peon, gardener and cook) in the Himachal Pradesh Secretariat, there were hundreds of PhD and other postgraduate applicants. Previously, in March 2021, more than 27,000 candidates with degrees such as BA, BSc, MA, MSc, MCom, MBA, Engineering, etc. had applied for 13 positions for the position of a peon at Panipat District Court. Likewise, for 62 messenger posts in the Uttar Pradesh Police Force, there were a total of 93,000 applicants as of August 2018; 3,700 had doctorates and 50,000 graduates. A V-level education was required for this particular job opportunity and the selection criterion was a self-declaration that the applicant could ride a bicycle.

The desperate scramble for government jobs clearly stems from the high job insecurity (ease of hiring and firing), low base pay and long hours that characterize most private sector jobs. Historically, few employer-employee relationships in India, mostly in the formal sector, have been subject to government regulation. In recent decades, however, there has been a steady decline in state regulation of labor-capital relations in the formal sector. This deregulation has been coupled with a concerted push towards rapid privatization of the public sector. Taken together, these developments have contributed significantly to intermittent unemployment among both skilled and unskilled workers, and have also limited opportunities for new labor market entrants.

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A spillover effect

The effects of this overall process are manifold. At one level, increased deregulation of labor relations between employers and workers in the formal sector has led to periodic unemployment among higher-skilled workers who have spilled over into and crowded out lower-skilled informal sector jobs. Likewise, the spillover effect of intermittent unemployment on middle and higher-level jobs in the Indian labor market has encouraged more skilled young people to squeeze into lower government posts.

This trend itself has created a deep crisis for those with lower educational qualifications aspiring to the more humble government posts, for whom such employment has traditionally been envisaged.

Reduced government spending on health, education and social services as a whole has also left insufficient job creation despite exponential growth in demand for ‘public goods’. For a country with a growing need for education, particularly with large numbers trying to escape inherited poverty through educational opportunities, the marked shortage of state schools and publicly funded universities is alarming, to say the least.

A closer look at the higher education sector itself shows a steadily increasing number of applicants. The scenario, of course, requires many more qualified teaching staff to be filled through the creation of new publicly funded higher education institutions (HEIs) and the expansion of existing ones. However, successive governments continue to restrict and even delay the recruitment of teachers at existing publicly funded higher education institutions. For example, at a large publicly funded university such as the University of Delhi, a recruitment crisis has worsened over the years, as over 4,500 teaching positions have been filled with ad hoc faculty and appointments to permanent positions have repeatedly faltered.

antinomy of entitlement

This recruitment crisis is also the result of an inexplicable delay in the allocation of the second tranche of apprenticeships, which was to coincide with institutional expansion in the wake of the implementation of reservations for other backward classes (OBCs). A recipe for complete disaster continues to unfold at such universities, as a large, highly qualified faculty staff defensively holds on to precarious temporary contracts while more eligible new candidates flood the job market. One of the controversial consequences of such intensified competition has been the enforcement of higher and higher qualifications for entry-level teaching positions at publicly funded higher education institutions.

Another indicator of increasing job insecurity and unemployment is thus the arbitrary increase in educational qualifications required for employment in better-paid government offices and new criteria for admission to vocational training institutions. This trend is not only evident at publicly funded universities, where a PhD degree is now mandatory in addition to a master’s degree and a UGC-NET qualification. This is also reflected in the proliferation of common entrance tests for high-demand qualifications such as medicine (National Eligibility cum Entrance Test or NEET) and centralized aptitude tests for hiring jobs such as school teachers (Central Teacher Aptitude Test or CTET). As the number of seats and vacancies is not increased, we see a systematic attempt to ruthlessly eliminate a growing number of applicants with ingenious tests and arbitrary criteria.

Against the backdrop of large numbers of highly skilled and overskilled people languishing in the agony of unemployment, Skill India’s strident rhetoric rings hollow. We will see more instances of youth frustration and excitement in response to rampant unemployment. For the many educated, aspiring youth, overcoming the prevailing logic of the economy is a crucial starting point to envision a world without unemployment. An economy that creates fewer jobs is one that overwhelms some while leaving many unemployed. A tired India and a jobless India are just two sides of the same coin. The youth must realize that their fulfillment of decent employment cannot be achieved in isolation, but is linked to how the sea of ​​highly exploited working masses around them is also guaranteed access to the basics – education, health and livelihood. A change in circumstances awaits newer sensibilities and a sense of solidarity.

Maya John is an Assistant Professor at Delhi University and a Labor Historian

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