October data has seen unemployment numbers rise to 7% in October from 6.7% in September 2020. Unemployment across the country and especially in north India remains extremely high.
While none of this is unknown, the Bihar elections seem to have been a headline moment of sorts where jobs came back to the political discourse. RJD’s chief ministerial aspirant Tejashwi Yadav promised 10 lakh jobs if voted to power in Bihar. In a narrowly fought contest, Yadav and his coalition of parties lost, but he successfully brought jobs back on the agenda.
Are jobs now going to become the centre of electoral context? In a conversation with Mitali Mukherjee, professor Santosh Mehrotra, author of the recently released book Reviving Jobs: An Agenda for Growth said the unemployment situation is at a point of crisis and needs urgent attention by the government.
He also expressed his reservations on whether states like Uttar Pradesh would be able to generate the kind of jobs it is promising, as there had been no significant growth in the industry.
The UP government has announced an employment scheme under which the government aims at providing jobs to at least 50 lakh youths till March 2021. The scheme will be targeted largely at those who lost their jobs during the COVID-19 economic slowdown. Till February 2020, UP had about 34 lakh, unemployed persons, as per official government data. In the first few months of the lockdown, close to 40 lakh, people returned to UP from various states where they had been employed.
Mehrotra pointed to a complete lack of manufacturing policy that had led to a slump in jobs availability over the last 8 quarters.
Compounding the problem was the COVID-19 pandemic. With the highest concentration of youth in services sectors like travel, tourism, hospitality – large layoffs in these industries had hit the young the hardest.
He also said he believed an Urban Employment guarantee is a necessity. Professor Mehrotra said the urban unemployment situation is extremely serious. Creating a parallel programme in urban areas would actually reduce the spend and pressure on MNREGA, India’s rural employment guarantee scheme.