Economic Times, 29/6/2011
The United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government’s much-vaunted strategies for "inclusive growth" stood exposed a few years ago when Arjun Sengupta Commission report highlighted that the "other India" gained very little from most pro-poor schemes.
The key findings of the latest National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) survey bring to the fore, yet again, the futility of pursing misguided job-generation policies in the name of lofty goals instead of going for all-out reforms, said economists and political analysts.
"The latest data reinforce the conviction that what we actually want are reforms, not mere schemes," said renowned economist Shankar Acharya. The government may not face any direct political threat, but they are following wrong policies in its efforts to achieve something big, he added.
The Manmohan Singh-led UPA government began showcasing the grand idea of financial inclusion in its first stint starting from 2004 and later expanded its pro-poor schemes to the second term as it looked to warm up to the aam aadmi (common man).
It also drew flak from other political parties, especially the Left, which calls the UPA’s pro-poor policy a "policy of deception" by creating greater avenues for profit maximisation for the corporates at the cost of increasing burdens on the common man.
According to the latest NSSO data, only 2 lakh jobs were created annually from 2004-05 to 2009-10, when the first UPA government was in power compared with 12 million jobs created by the previous Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) from 1999-00 to 2005-05. The latest survey was conducted between July 2009 and June 2010.
Madhu Kishwar, senior fellow at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, said: "These schemes such as the MNREGA and others are only band-aid solutions to address poverty and generate jobs."
"What is actually required," said Kishwar, who is also a member of the National Commission on Enterprises in the Unorganised and Informal Sector, "are economic reforms in non-corporate sectors such as agriculture and labour". She added that the poor can’t wait for benefits of liberalisation to trickle down. Instead, they need reforms that directly help them earn more, said she.
According to her, the flagship rural employment scheme of the UPA has become a cesspool of corruption. "It is a black hole as it is bound to beâ€¦governments should only create jobs, it shouldn’t offer jobs." Kishwar added: "Farm incomes need to rise and for it to happen the government must alter export norms."
In fact, the scenario is bleaker than expected. The Eleventh Plan (2007-12) targets creating 580 lakh jobs. But the latest NSSO survey confirms the creation of only 40 lakh jobs until 2010. According to BJP leader and former finance minister Yashwant Sinha, all this decline in work creation was caused by the "utter neglect" of infrastructure development, especially that of rural infrastructure.
"This is the major difference between our time and their time, and that explains the jobless growth during UPA’s first term." Sinha added that reforms in labour and farm sectors are crucial in generating more jobs and that the current dispensation is busy chasing wrong policies and not letting manufacturing in the country grow fast.
CPI lawmaker Gurudas Dasgupta is of the view that the problem, as such, is not with the MNREGA or similar so-called pro-poor schemes, but with their implementation. "Money is being stolen. There is no political will to implement the schemesâ€¦there is no accountability. Workers are underpaid and those responsible for it are walking away unpunished."
Other interesting finds of the NSSO survey include employment patterns in the country. According to it, 51% of the country’s overall workforce are self-employed, and that female employees receive less remuneration than their male counterparts for doing similar jobs.
Only 15.6% are "regular wage/salaried" employees and 33.5% are casual labours. Among workers in rural areas, about 54.2% are self-employed, while only 41.4 % of the workforce in urban areas are self-employed. While only 7.3% of workers in rural areas are regular wage earners, 41.4 % of workers in cities are getting regular salaries.
In urban areas, the average wage is 365 per day and it is 232 in rural areas. The NSSO survey also found that the average earning per day received by male workers is 249 but it is only 156 in case of female workers, indicating the female-male wage ratio at 0.63.
CPM politburo member Brinda Karat had earlier said that women workers were getting much less than what men earned. She had called it "sheer exploitation in the name of MNREGA". In urban areas, males earn 377 as against 309 by women, indicating a ratio of 0.82.
Also, the participation of women in the labour force has declined, while that of men has been maintained. The indicators are based on a central sample of 1,00,957 households of which 59,129 were from the rural areas and 41,828 from urban areas. This was the 66th round of the survey by NSSO. The samples, collected between July 2009 and June 2010, were drawn from 7,402 villages and 5,252 urban blocks across the country.
Sure, the NSSO numbers do offer the previous NDA regime reasons to be upbeat. But the opposition brigade, which appears comatose at the moment, is in no mood to either take credit or put political pressure on the ruling dispensation to alter its stance on reforms.
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