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JANUARY 12, 2019

Where Will the 10% Be Employed?

A 10% quota for the upper-caste poor will not necessarily translate into employment opportunities.

he central government’s employment-protection manoeu- competing for less than half of the jobs left unreserved, and the
vres, especially its recent 10% quota politics, bear a strik- beneficiaries of reservation can hardly gain from it.
ing resemblance to a walking device described in a 19th- While the “aspiration of the youth” is a common occurrence in
century Bengali limerick. The device, strapped to its wearer’s the political rhetoric of the day, the understanding of such aspi-
shoulders, dangles “carrots” in front of them. It can make its ration seems half-hearted, based on a rather uncaring assumption
wearer cover miles in minutes in pursuit of the bait that will al- that throwing crumbs (read pakodas) at them in the name of
ways be at a constant distance from them no matter how fast vague promises for employment, or a job anyhow, can buy their
they run towards it. Take for instance, the government’s latest political support. With such deliberate dismissal of the youth’s
stunt of reserving 10% of jobs and seats at academic institutions agency in the job markets, the government is turning a blind eye
for the “economically” weak upper castes. Given the political to the issue of underemployment, which is the reality.
ado about it, none can deny its effectiveness as an electoral The International Labour Organization’s (ILO) World Employ-
strategy, but neither can one dismiss its spuriousness in providing ment and Social Outlook: Trends 2018 has classified almost four-
employment opportunities. Just like the perpetual motion device fifths of the employment in India as “vulnerable,” with less than a
in the limerick, which makes hunger satiation unattainable, the fifth of the workers being regular salaried employees and another
recent quota arrangements, too, are equally pointless for any two-fifths perceiving themselves to be underpaid. Comparable
worthwhile recruitment. evidence related to underprivileged job conditions is also there in
Where are the opportunities after all? A recent report by the the State of Working India 2018 report by Azim Premji University,
Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) reveals that the which found low-wage employment to be a problem even in the
situation in the Indian job market is bleak: first, unemployment organised sector, not to mention in the unorganised sector.
is on the rise with the rate shooting up to 7.4% in December 2018, Despite a 3% annual growth of the inflation-adjusted wage rates
the highest ever seen in the past 15 months; second, the retrenched in 2015, 82% men and 92% women, mostly in non-government
workforce, estimated to be 11 million between December 2017 sectors, were earning an average monthly income that is almost
and 2018, is included in this force of the unemployed; and third, 40% lower than the minimum salary recommended by the
the incidence of joblessness is the highest among the (economi- Seventh Pay Commission. Concurrently, there is an ever-widening
cally) vulnerable sectors and sections (for example, around 82% divergence between labour productivity and wages. For instance,
of the jobs lost are in the rural sector, already facing the agrari- labour productivity in organised manufacturing is estimated to
an crisis, and almost 80% of the joblessness is borne by women, have increased by six times over the past three decades, where-
which ironically form the focus of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s as wages increased by only 1.5 times.
(BJP) new “vulnerability” politics. With all of this evidence, one may alternatively argue that the
Though the CMIE has claimed these to be provisional estimates, current unemployment in India, and particularly youth unemploy-
the scenario is unlikely to change drastically even with the final ment now, could be “potential” rather than “actual” unemployment.
estimates. Recruitment in the government sector is tardy, where- That is, youths willing to work are not making efforts to find
in a third of the backlog vacancies is already of the “reserved” cate- jobs because the existing jobs do not fulfil their expectations for
gory. Simultaneously, the unorganised and informal sector that had payments and privileges. The increasing preference among the
been a source of employment, historically, is evidently reeling youth for salaried jobs, especially in the government sector, can
from the “surgical strikes” of demonetisation and the goods and provide an alibi for transferring the onus of joblessness on to the
services tax. Contravening the Supreme Court-mandated 50% jobless themselves. But, it cannot take away from the fact that,
cap on reservations, at this point, may improve the BJP’s chances whether it be actual unemployment, underemployment or poten-
of winning electoral allies and earning brownie points with the tial unemployment, all have a strong association with low or no
“weak” voters in the Hindi belt that it lost in the 2018 assembly elec- job creation. And, that it is incumbent upon the government to
tions. But, in practice, it will only increase the numbers of precariat recognise and address the structural bottlenecks that weaken
voters. A disproportionately higher share of jobseekers are the relationship between economic growth and employment
Economic & Political Weekly EPW JANUARY 12, 2019 vol lIV no 2 7

generation. Concurrently, it is hard to dismiss the government’s being a matter of choice, the government cannot wash its hands
hypocrisy of pushing (increasing) “reservations”—which in es- of from making such choices path-dependent. Every false prom-
sence signifies the protection of an individual at the extreme ise of safeguards (read reservations) to the electorate triggers a
point of vulnerability—into a job market that is already dis- vicious cycle of failed expectations, which are simultaneously
traught with susceptibility. lulled by tall commitments and threatened by juxtaposing
However, even if the high unemployment rate among the policies that heighten “vulnerability,” resulting in the politically
youth, particularly the highly educated, is explained off as expedient demands for more of such promises.

8 JANUARY 12, 2019 vol lIV no 2 EPW Economic & Political Weekly