Photo: HT
Photo: HT

Why job quota protests rocked industrial regions

The contractual nature of jobs in states such as Maharashtra, Gujarat has heightened the demand for government jobs, leading to a rise in agitations

New Delhi: With the Maharashtra government deciding to introduce job and education quotas for Marathas, demands for similar reservations by other communities in other parts of the country are likely to get louder.

More than a quarter century after the liberalization of the economy and the burial of socialism, government jobs seem to be back in favour among India’s aspiring classes. But there is an even greater paradox in these demands: the most intense agitations for quotas in government jobs have been in some of the most prosperous and industrialized states: Gujarat, Maharashtra and Haryana.

What explains this paradox? One answer to this paradox lies in the nature of jobs created in these industrial powerhouses, a Mint analysis suggests.

As the accompanying chart shows (chart 1a), Tamil Nadu and Karnataka—along with Gujarat, Maharashtra and Haryana— account for the bulk of new factory jobs generated in India since the turn of the century. These five states account for half of the country’s industrial workforce, and also a majority of the new workers recruited since 2000-01, data from the Annual Survey of Industries (ASI) shows (chart 1b).

However, a bulk of these new jobs are contract jobs. In Maharashtra, the share of contract workers among new recruits since the turn of the century has been as high as 83%.

In Haryana, contract workers account for a majority of new recruits while in Gujarat, they make up a little less than half of new recruits. Their share is lower in Tamil Nadu (27%) and Karnataka (36%) (chart 2).

Thus, although states such as Maharashtra and Haryana have seen an impressive rise in factory jobs, most such jobs have been contractual. The rising ranks of contract workers have made shop floors more prone to conflict and, in extreme cases such as in the 2012 Manesar incident in Haryana, also led to deaths. It is therefore not so surprising that many youngsters find a government job far more alluring than a conflict-prone shop floor—working in a contract job without the perks and benefits enjoyed by the older generation of factory workers.

In his famous 1991 budget speech announcing a series of steps liberalizing the economy, the then finance minister Manmohan Singh argued that liberalization would bring in many more jobs to the country. However, the lack of any attempt to overhaul India’s archaic labour laws since then has resulted in an unspoken compromise between Indian industry and the state: the state won’t simplify labour laws but nor will it enforce them strictly.

This has allowed both government organizations and private firms to hire and fire contract workers with impunity, and limit the number of regular workers on their payroll.

This has fuelled rising competition for regular jobs, and in turn heightened the demand for regular jobs, especially of the sarkari variety. The combination of a shortage of regular jobs and decreasing returns on the farm has dealt a double whammy to landed communities such as the Marathas in Maharashtra, Jats in Haryana and, to some extent, even the Patels in Gujarat. Although these communities are nearly as well off as upper caste groups, they lag behind in education, which puts them at a disadvantage in the job market (chart 3).

While these communities may not be among the most backward, they have few options outside a declining farm sector.

As a result, the politics of resentment resonates among them, even though they may not be economically weak. And given their numbers, politicians can ignore them only at their own peril.

This is the concluding part of a three-part data journalism series on jobs in India. The first part examined the pace of job creation in corporate India in recent years, and the second part looked at the distribution of jobs across Indian districts.

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