One of the major points that the CPI-M, particularly chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee is making in support of acquisition of multi-crop land for industry is that it will create employment opportunities for the unemployed youth of West Bengal. This proposition goes against the trend that has set in in India vis-a-vis employment and liberalisation since 1991.
The Economic Survey 2006-2007 says: “According to the 61st round estimates (National Sample Survey Organisation) during 1999-2000 to 2004-2005 the labour force grew even faster at an annual rate of 2.54 per cent compared to the annual employment growth of 2.48 per cent.
“As a result, despite the faster growth of employment, unemployment (on the usual, principle-status basis) was higher at 3.06 per cent of the labour force in 2004-2005 compared to 2.78 per cent in 1999-2000....It appears that the increase in unemployment between the 55th and the 61st rounds of NSSO was primarily because of an increase in such unemployment incidence for women both in rural and urban areas. Further, while unemployment among men declined in terms of the UPS (Universal Package Service) and Current Weekly Status (CWS), it increased by the Current Daily Status both in rural and urban areas.” So, liberalisation, privatisation, globalisation and the rest, did nothing to reduce unemployment in India. The survey says: “Employment growth in the organised sector, both public and private, declined during the 1990s. The annual employment growth in establishments covered by the employment, market and market information system of the labour ministry decelerated from 1.20 per cent during 1993-94 to -0.38 per cent per annum during 1994-2004.”
So, rosy dreams of an Eldorado put out by private marketeers both in the Government of India and currently in the Left Front government were not only not realised but were also not realisable.
The Financial Express of 9 March, New Delhi edition, carries a news item: “Buddha may go shopping to the USA”. If Mr Bhattacharjee goes to the USA at public cost for creating a better Indo-US relationship at the diplomatic level with the consent and the approval of the Government of India, we have no comments to offer. But if he went at public cost to invite US investors to set up ventures for the purpose of “jobless growth”, the money he would spend would be infractuous.
First, half a million agricultural households which could lose their livelihood because of his intended acquisition of 1.4 lakh acres of good agricultural land in the districts would not get jobs in these high-tech industries.
A new set of knowledge would get some jobs obviously but they would come from the elite section of the population. From a rough calculation, the loss of livelihood of half a million agricultural households would not be compensated by the growth of new employment even at the most optimistic of estimates of one lakh jobs. Of course, these new employees would be much better paid. They would lead a much more luxurious life. They will create a demand for smart cars and white goods. And certainly they would go for cruises abroad on their honeymoons. If that is the growth model that Mr Bhattacharjee has for West Bengal, we belonging to the older generation would certainly not commend it.
Estimates of employment in organised public and private sectors since the liberalisation of 1991 is given. (See graph alongside.) It is apparent from the graph that with the nearly two-digit growth rate, we are squeezing out employment and increasing the pool of the urban, unemployed proletariat. What is also happening is that regular jobs are being casualised in the organised sector by various processes of the “putting-out” system. Casual employment is getting feminised, putting a greater burden on women both for earning a livelihood and looking after households, resulting in what ILO says is the “feminisation of poverty”.
If that is the grand vision of our beloved chief minister, feminisation of poverty and casualisation of employment, one can only say that this was not the goal for which our freedom fighters gave their lives. The Left would be betraying the trust the people reposed in it by voting the government to power.
(The author was secretary to Government of India, ministries of finance [revenue] and rural development and executive director, Asian Development Bank, Manila.)