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Modi govt sets up task force for reliable employment data

NITI Aayog vice-chairman Arvind Panagariya. India’s job creation fares badly compared to workforce generated each year. For 18 million people entering the labour market each year, only 3.45 million jobs are available—leading to severe unemployment. Photo: Pradeep Gaur/MintPremium
NITI Aayog vice-chairman Arvind Panagariya. India’s job creation fares badly compared to workforce generated each year. For 18 million people entering the labour market each year, only 3.45 million jobs are available—leading to severe unemployment. Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint

The Narendra Modi-led govt has tasked NITI Aayog Arvind Panagariya to generate timely and reliable employment data to fulfil the key priority of job creation

New Delhi: The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government has set up a task force headed by NITI Aayog vice-chairman Arvind Panagariya to evolve a methodology to generate timely and reliable employment data, signalling, in the process, a key priority of its remaining tenure: job creation.

The NDA starts its fourth year in power on 26 May.

India has no reliable jobs data. The little data available is outdated. Employment data will help policy planners assess the impact of policies on jobs.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has personally initiated the project and directed the task force to submit its recommendations at the earliest.

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India faces the challenge of creating jobs for a predominantly young population. According to credit rating firm Crisil, around 18 million people enter the workforce every year. The number of jobs created is far lower; between 2011-12 and 2015-16, India created 3.65 million jobs a year, according to industry lobby group Confederation of Indian Industry (CII).

Other members of the task force are labour secretary M. Sathiyavathy, secretary of the statistics department T.C.A. Ananth, Pulak Ghosh of NITI Aayog and Manish Sabharwal, chairman and co-founder of staffing firm Teamlease Services Ltd.

The lack of sufficient and timely information has often led to ill-informed and politicised debates, such as the one India witnessed in 2009-10 when a survey revealed the phenomenon of jobless growth and so-called casualization of the workforce (meaning fewer people were finding jobs in the organized sector). The Congress-led United Progressive Alliance coalition which was in power then didn’t buy the numbers and some insiders in the government even questioned the veracity of the data.

Currently, data on jobs is generated with a time lag and in some instances—as in the case of the Labour Bureau—restricted to the organized sector. Data on jobs in the informal sector, which employs around 90% of the country’s workforce, is not easily available and, when available, is sparse. The most comprehensive database is that generated by the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO), but that comes with a lag.

Better data will shed light on the actual size of the informal economy, said Shankar Aggarwal, a former labour secretary. He claims that the informal sector may actually account for just 75% of jobs and not 93% as shows by data currently. And, he added, it will also settle the debate about jobless growth.

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India’s labour market has over 470 million people.

“It should not just be a data-generation exercise," says Himanshu, associate professor at the Jawaharlal Nehru University. “Focus should be in capturing informal workers; their work conditions, wages and so on. The data so generated will enable the government to understand the problems and create policies to create good-quality jobs."

According to the NSSO, between 1999-2000 and 2004-05 India created 59.9 million jobs while the labour force increased by 62 million people. Between 2004-05 and 2009-10, India created nearly two million jobs even as the country’s economy expanded, leading to charges of jobless growth.

Between 2009-10 and 2011-12, there was a pick-up in job creation; 13.9 million jobs were created, though the labour force grew by 14.9 million.

“No economy is complete without comprehensive employment data. When any government speaks about economic growth it cannot be just GDP figures and this must have motivated the government to go for it," said K.R. Shyam Sundar, labour economist and professor at XLRI, Jamshedpur.

Generating jobs data will take some doing, according to Pronab Sen, a former chief statistician.

“NSSO has a capacity of 3,200 people and its Chinese counterpart has 29,000 people. How will you conduct comprehensive employment data collection with this?," he asked .

“We had demanded an increase in the headcount to around 5000 and also that the jobs survey should be expanded and made comprehensive. But the then government (the previous UPA government) did not agree. We need comprehensive jobs data," Sen added.

On Tuesday, the Economic Times reported that Prime Minister Modi had asked that all proposals sent to the Union cabinet also state their potential impact in terms of job creation.

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