Discussing the Union budget is one of the most important agendas in India and there are passionate debates among politicians to ensure that proper allocation is made. After all, it contributes to the stabilisation of the economy.
Every year, the world’s three major democracies, India, US and UK, follow a ritual and present 1–2-hour budget speeches. They talk about the economic situation and the government’s priorities and intentions for the coming year.
In each of the budget addresses over the previous decade, the US President has mentioned the phrase ‘jobs’ 20 times, and the British chancellor stated it 15 times. But in India’s budget speeches, subjects linked to jobs were largely overlooked. This shows the priorities of every country and how India is clearly misguided.
India’s unemployment problem
Every year, the presentation of the Union budget is accompanied by spectacular speeches. All the latest government plans, tax reforms, and so on are covered and brought to our attention by the media. However, the question ‘How many jobs will the budget programmes generate?’ is absent from all of this. According to statistics, 2019 was the worst year for young graduates in India. In 2019, they had a 63.4 per cent unemployment rate on average. This is significantly higher than any of the previous three years’ unemployment rates. India’s general unemployment statistic of roughly 7.5 per cent does not reflect the country’s true realities and challenges.
Graduates between the ages of 20 and 29 have a far greater jobless rate of 42.8 per cent. In fact, graduates of all ages together have an unemployment rate of 18.5 percent. The sole reason for economic issues in India, is lack of job opportunities. In November, last year, 30 million people living in abject poverty queued up to ask for work at minimum wages under the MGNREGA scheme. With this, comes another problem, the increasing disparity between the high-income groups and the low-income groups. These are the two places, real emphasis is needed.
During the pandemic, migrant workers and the impoverished in India were the hardest hit. Almost six million paid workers were laid off. There was a lot of unemployment, underemployment and reduction in income. None of this was addressed in the Union Budget. It has provided migratory workers and the unemployed very little assurance. The Code of Social Security aims to provide unorganised and migrant workers with social security coverage. However, under the Code on Social Security, 2020, there has been no allocation for the social security fund.
Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman reviewed in detail the existing programmes for providing rations to everyone, but she kept silent on civil society groups’ desire for an employment assurance scheme. The only step that the government could have taken was to at least provide money to the low-income earners for some months to allow them to gather themselves and their families. However, no such declaration was made in this aspect as well. It is regrettable that the government continues to ignore the current job crisis, while there is a need to maximize MGNREGA spending to boost rural demand.
The government recently announced a plan to spend Rs 76,000 crore to promote semiconductors in India. On the surface, this appears to be a very viable economic policy and a positive move forward. However, if you look at the records of worldwide semiconductor companies, you’ll see that their sales have climbed by more than six times during the pandemic, but the overall workforce has shrunk due to the increased use of technology. All the work in their plants is now done using intensive automation. These manufacturing plants do not generate the needed employment for India’s 400 million people.
On the flip side, the same amount of money, if spent on textiles industry, results in the creation of over 2,500 employment opportunities improving the living conditions of the impoverished and the graduates. Announcements of budget schemes and partnerships without accounting for the number of jobs they create or destroy are worthless. It’s all futile.
The GDP growth, stock market performance are all meaningless if the people who live in the country are unhappy and do not have access to the essential necessities of life.The need of the hour is creating jobs for the emerging youth and bridging the gap. The only criterion upon which India’s union budget should work on, should be creating employment for the people and making the workforce happy.
The author is a student at Delhi Public School, RK Puram. Views are personal.