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Government, Opposition spar over ‘leaked’ report showing unemployment at 40-year-high

The report is potentially damning for the NDA government, which has been under pressure to step up job creation efforts to absorb job hunters who enter the workforce every year. Instead, the unemployment rate has more than doubled from 2.2% in 2011-2012, according to figures quoted in the newspaper report.

union budget Updated: Feb 01, 2019 00:05 IST
HT Correspondent & Agencies
HT Correspondent & Agencies
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Employment report,unemployment level,40 year high
The NDA government found itself enmeshed in an acrimonious war of words with the opposition on Thursday over an apparently leaked report that showed unemployment had surged to the highest in 40 years.(PTI/ Representative Image)

A day before it presents an interim budget in Parliament ahead of general elections in the summer, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government found itself enmeshed in an acrimonious war of words on Thursday over an apparently leaked report that showed unemployment had surged to the highest in 40 years.

The government’s policy think tank NITI Aayog, in an attempt to defuse the row, said the assessment of National Sample Survey Office’s periodic labour survey, which, according to the Business Standard newspaper, put unemployment at 6.1% in the July 2017-June 2018 period, the worst since 1972-73, was still being processed.

“The government did not release the data on jobs as it is still being processed. We are of the view that when the data of this quarter are ready, we will release it,” NITIAayog vice chairman Rajiv Kumar told reporters, as the Congress, the largest opposition party in the Lok Sabha, alleged that the report had been deliberately kept under the wraps. To be sure, Kumar did not question the published data.

Niti Aayog CEO Amitabh Kant said the nature of jobs was changing the world over. In India too, he said, people were exiting low-level jobs, conceding: “Probably we are not creating high quality jobs”.

Two members of the National Statistical Commission resigned this week, claiming, among other things, that the government had sat on the report although the commission had approved the data. It was the first jobs survey conducted after the November 2016 invalidation of high-value banknotes, which led to job losses and curbed job creation, especially in the unorganised sector. The Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) had estimated that 1.5 million jobs were lost just in the first four months of 2017.

The report is potentially damning for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led NDA government, which has been under pressure to step up job creation efforts to absorb job hunters who enter the workforce every year. Instead, the unemployment rate has more than doubled from 2.2% in 2011-2012, according to figures quoted in the newspaper report.

Joblessness is higher in urban areas (7.8%) than rural areas (5.3%), it said. The labour force participation rate — the proportion of population working or seeking jobs — declined to 36.9% in 2017/18 from 39.5% in 2011/12. The comparable rate for the United States was 63.1% in December.

Congress president Rahul Gandhi took a swipe at Prime Minister Narendra Modi, whose government is also battling agrarian distress in the countryside as it prepares head into the next general elections.

“NoMo Jobs! The Fuhrer promised us 2 Cr jobs a year. 5 years later, his leaked job creation report card reveals a National Disaster. Unemployment is at its highest in 45 yrs. 6.5 Cr youth are jobless in 2017-18 alone. Time for NoMo2Go,” he tweeted with the hashtag ‘HowsTheJobs’.

Senior Congress leader Anand Sharma said the data had shown the effect demonetisation had had in stifling employment growth. “What we have been repeatedly saying about demonetisation has been proved by the report which the government has kept under wrap but has been revealed by the media,” said Sharma.

“While overall unemployment rate has been at 45-year high, among the youth it is the highest, particularly in rural areas, warning of a crisis situation and instability if young entrants to the workforce did not find employment,” said Sharma.

Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav posted a biting tweet. “The unemployed youth will make BJP unemployed through 2019 polls. The BJP had promised 10 crore jobs, now 10 crore will take revenge on BJP in 2019. The village youth who migrate from their villages for development will now snatch power from BJP,” he wrote.

The BJP, for its part, likened Gandhi to late Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, quoting Employees’ Provident Fund Organisation (EPFO) data in its favour.

“It’s clear that he has inherited Mussolini’s shortsightedness and has myopic understanding of issues. EPFO’s real data shows sharp increase in jobs, created in just the last 15 months. Only a man who hasn’t ever held a proper job and is totally jobless can peddle such #FakeNews!” the BJP wrote in a tweet.

The issue also figured at an all-party meeting convened by parliamentary affairs minister Narendra Singh Tomar, a day ahead of the interim budget’s presentation. At the meeting, Mohammed Saleem of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) demanded a separate debate on unemployment and jobs.

“India’s youth which is our asset is now being wasted. It also exposes the utter failure of the BJP-led government to deliver on its promise of providing two crore jobs every year, that is, 10 crore new jobs during the last five years,” the Left party said in a statement. “The CPI(M) demands that all data must be released immediately. These must be placed and discussed in the Parliament. The people of the country have a right to know about the grim realities facing them.”

First Published: Jan 31, 2019 23:35 IST