Even as the debate on employment or the lack of it rages, stand in Finance Minister Piyush Goyal chose to remain silent on the issue of job creation while presenting the budget for financial year 2019-20 on Friday. In fact, he uttered jobs only on five occasions in the 90-minute monologue without giving any number on how many jobs have been created in the last five years of NDA government or a promise of a similar kind for the future.
A delay in the release of labour force survey for fiscal year 2018 by the National Sample Survey Office that led to the resignation of two members of National Statistical Commission including its acting chairman earlier this week, has cornered the government that has been accused of trying to suppress the report. It was expected the government would hit back at the criticism that India was in the middle of jobless growth by dishing out some data in the budget. Without giving any numbers, Goyal said large number of jobs have been created in the aviation, railways and renewables with the potential of many more jobs to be created in future as part of government's push towards digital infrastructure.
"Domestic passenger traffic has doubled during the last five years leading to large number of jobs being created. The introduction of the first indigenously developed and manufactured semi high-speed Vande Bharat Express 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," Goyal said in his budget speech. "Our commitment to promote renewable energy is reflected in setting up the International Solar Alliance, the first treaty-based international inter-governmental organisation headquartered in India. India's installed solar generation capacity has grown over ten times in last five years. This sector is now creating lakhs of new age jobs."
"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," he added.
The issue of rising unemployment and job losses has become a major embarrassment for the government. In the run up to the elections in 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had promised his government would create 2 crore jobs every year. According to statistics from the Labour Bureau, job creation for 2015 and 2016 (April-December) stood at 1.55 lakh and 2.31 lakh in numbers, respectively. A separate report by Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy projected an even dire scenario where around 11 million people lost their jobs in 2018.
The controversial NSSO survey, which the government has now rubbished as one that is not verified, claims that unemployment was at a 45-year high of 6.1 per cent in FY18 compared with 2.2 per cent in FY12.
"This report is not verified. We are still waiting for six-quarter data in the absence of which we cannot do a quarter-on-quarter comparison," said Niti Ayog Vice Chairman, Rajiv Kumar on Thursday.
"We are creating 7-7.8 million jobs, which are enough for the new entrants into the country's workforce. However, we also need to create jobs for people exiting low-productive jobs," said Niti Ayog CEO Amitabh Kant.
The decision to skim through the issue in the budget, however, highlights the nervousness of the government on jobs.