Photo: HT
Photo: HT

Govt job outlook remains bleak

The prospects for employment in the public sector, an aspiration for Indian youth, remains lacklustre, suggests this year’s budget documents

MUMBAI : The 2020 Budget was expected to provide an impetus for greater job creation, coming as it did when the country was facing a job crisis. Many analysts believe that this impetus hasn’t materialized and remain pessimistic about the job outlook. The budget documents suggest that even the outlook on government jobs, the aspirational employment for India’s youth, is bleak.

According to the 2020 budget, there will be 3.5 million union government employees in 2020-21, just a 0.7% increase (or 24,000 jobs) over the current year. This is in line with the largely stagnant public sector job growth over the last decade and an improvement over the negative average growth (-0.4%) under the National Democratic Alliance-II (NDA-II). These figures are also likely to be over-estimates of the true extent of government job creation. Governments over the years have consistently failed to meet targets set in budget estimates.

In 2018-19, for instance, the latest year for which actual employment figures are available, there was a 7% shortfall in the budget estimates of government jobs and actual jobs.

All this will come as a disappointment to millions of Indian youth who dream of securing a government job. Among young Indians, one of the biggest wishes from this government was to create more government jobs, data from the YouGov-Mint Millennial survey suggests. The YouGov-Mint survey, conducted in January and February 2019, surveyed 5,038 Indians in 180 cities. The online poll found that more than 80% of millennials (those aged between 23 and 38) want the government to create more jobs in the public sector. This craving for government jobs is also reflected in applications. A railways recruitment drive for filling 127,000 vacancies attracted applications from 23 million candidates.

One reason for the lacklustre growth in public sector jobs is that the government is struggling to fill its existing vacancies. A media report suggests that there are more than 600,000 vacancies across departments. The cabinet committee on investment and growth has urged ministries to speed up recruitment to fill these vacancies.

Some of the ministries face a greater backlog. For instance, according to data presented in Parliament, as of April 2019, there were more than 300,000 vacancies in the railways with 88,000 more vacancies expected to be created because of retirements by fiscal 2021. Historically, the railways have been the biggest source of public sector employment but its importance is now shrinking. As the share of railway jobs in the central government jobs has fallen, the share of home ministry jobs has increased.

The major attraction of a government job is the security and stability it provides. However, data suggests that government jobs may increasingly not be providing this security.

A growing proportion of jobs at central public sector enterprises are increasingly filled by contract workers who do not receive the benefits that permanent workers enjoy.

In another analysis using National Sample Survey data, Santosh Mehrotra and Jajati K. Parida also found an increase in informal employment in public sector jobs. They find that, in the manufacturing and services sector, there has been an increase in government jobs with contracts of less than a year at the cost of jobs with contracts of three years or more.

Including all of the government’s contractual employment and employment at state government level suggests that overall public sector employment may be increasing, according to R. Nagaraj of the Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research in a 2017 paper. However, this employment has been skewed towards low-skill jobs and not the high-skill jobs that would improve state capacity.

Economists have frequently stressed the need to increase public sector employment. India’s public sector, especially in key areas such as policing and health, is understaffed compared to global levels. Increasing these jobs could improve state capacity and, in doing so, help Indian youth realize their career aspirations.

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