large section of India's youth faces a jobless future. Yet much
of the current discourse on economics has ignored this burning issue
while focussing on topics like globalisation, liberalisation, privatisation
and so on. Right through the 60s, 70s and 80s, all economists would
debate and discuss how job opportunities could be created efficiently
and whether or not policy planners should blindly adopt labour-intensive
Even today, politicians of all ideological
hues talk about the need to create more employment. What has been
this country's track record? Pretty pathetic, to say the least.
A glance at the section on labour and employment in the latest Economic
Survey confirms one's worst apprehensions. It has been pointed out
that the "decline in the rate of growth of employment in the
1990s was associated with a comparatively higher growth rate in
GDP, indicating a decline in the labour intensity of production".
The 55th round of the quinquennial survey of the National Sample
Survey Organisation goes even further, stating that the annual rate
of growth of employment declined from 2.7 per cent between 1983
and 1993-94 to a mere 1.07 per cent between 1993-94 and 1999-2000.
During these two periods, the overall rate of growth of population
came down from 2 per cent per year to 1.95 per cent.
The employment elasticity of output declined
from 0.52 to 0.16 between these two periods. This decline cut across
virtually all sectors of the economy-there was a near-stagnation
of employment in agriculture in the second half of the 90s-the exceptions
being transport, financial services and real estate. Shorn of jargon,
what is apparent is that while the rate of growth of population
in India has come down, the number of new jobs created in the economy
has declined even faster because of the growing use of capital-intensive
Data available from 939 employment exchanges
in the country indicate that at the end of September last year,
the number of job-seekers (all of whom are not necessarily unemployed)
stood at 41.6 million, of whom roughly 70 per cent were educated
up to at least the 10th standard.
According to statistics compiled by the Directorate
General of Employment and Training in the Ministry of Labour, the
total employment level in the public sector came down for the fifth
year in succession: from around 19.56 million at the end of March
1997 to 19.42 million the following year, a little lower the year
after that to 19.31 million in the year 2000 and 19.14 million in
The loss of jobs in the public sector over
the years has hardly been compensated by growth of employment opportunities
in the private sector. Employment in the organised private sector
came down from 8.75 million in 1998 to 8.69 million the following
year and 8.65 million in 2000. Between 2000 and 2001, the number
of new jobs created by the organised private sector rose by a mere
Significantly, these figures pertain only to
the organised sector that accounts for barely 9 per cent of the
total employment in the country's economy. Those who are optimistic
believe that the number of self-employed would grow significantly
in the years ahead as more people shun contractual jobs with uncertain
This phenomenon of jobless growth is not confined
to India. It is, in fact, an international trend of growing dimensions.
In his book entitled End of Work (Penguin, 2000), author Jeremy
Rifkin wrote: "While earlier industrial technologies replaced
the physical power of human labour, substituting machines for body
and brawn, the new computer-based technologies promise a replacement
of the human mind itself, substituting thinking machines for human
beings across the entire gamut of economic activity." He added
that the economic fortunes of most working people continue to deteriorate
amid the embarrassment of technological riches, the benefits of
which reach only the elite. So don't be surprised if social tensions
among the youth rise in the time to come.
The author is Director, School
of Convergence at IMI, New Delhi, and a journalist.
He can be contacted a firstname.lastname@example.org