Looming crisis

Over the past couple of years, a large number of small landholders across states committed suicide, worried as they were about their inability to repay money taken as loans to raise crops. Although the sums they owed might have been meagre compared with the huge debts that some big corporate houses owe banks today, they obviously presented insurmountable odds from the farmers’ perspective.

With crops failing due to the lack of or untimely rains, hailstorms and other reasons, the farm crisis is definitely getting even more acute and is far from over. This is notwithstanding the offer of loan waiver by state governments. However, of late, another crisis of a similar nature is looming over the horizon, and in an altogether different field.

Last Wednesday, a techie in Pune ended his life by jumping off the terrace of a four-storeyed hotel building. The 25-year-old who hailed from Andhra Pradesh left a simple note which read: “In IT there is no job security.

I’m worried a lot about my family.” The solution the youngster found for his troubles is open to debate. His worry, though, is one that is shared by many techies for long and is seemingly spreading across the IT industry, particularly with winds of fortune changing directions around the world.

This is an equally perilous situation as of the farmers, as the average techie puts in more intense hours of work than people engaged in other vocations and is unable to engage with other dimensions of life.

It means not only the loss of simple pleasures of life but also the constant worry about having a job to go to. Although it may be argued that every job has its challenges and this is par for the course in the IT sector, the larger issue of an impending crisis remains.

It appears the bubble that outsourcing and information technology revolution had promised may burst, and the fallout in such a scenario could be painful. The Indian IT story appears to be headed for disaster also as its development is not in alignment with local industry.

An RBI report last year showed that the country’s software services export fell by half in dollar terms in 2015-16. Notably, Nasscom in November 2016 cut its growth outlook for export revenue to 8-10 per cent from 10-12 per cent previously for the 2016-17 fiscal.

The United States was the biggest market for India’s software business with its share of 64.6 per cent in 2015-16. While developed countries are using software and information technology for simultaneously developing their manufacturing sector, India is caught in the unenviable position of having to compromise on greater automation to protect jobs, which are already in great demand.

That apart, the privacy and other related laws plus non-upgradation of skills in the information technology field have already put India behind by at least a decade. For example, the European Union, one of India’s major exports receiver, has been stringently following up on its General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) that will affect India very negatively in the near future.

India’s Aadhaar programme will soon become a great stumbling block for IT exports if privacy laws are not put in place at the earliest. The manner in which the Supreme Court of India is dilly-dallying in taking a stand on the privacy aspect of Aadhaar is making matters even more complicated.

Added to this is the frequent breach of data, as was seen recently with about 100 million Jio customers’ mobile numbers, email ids, personal records contained in Aadhaar (Jio asks for Aadhaar numbers from its subscribers) getting leaked publicly. The involvement of multiple contractors and the opacity of UIDAI data storage facilities has become a terrible problem for trade and business in this country.

Coming back to the topic, India is also yet to produce people with the skills essential for handling manufacturing processes which could enable the synchronization of growth in the IT industry with development across sectors globally.

The situation requires attention and the IT industry should explore ways to redeploy manpower on reduced pay instead of hiring and firing. In the absence of a robust social security network, the pressures that would befall people who are unceremoniously removed from their jobs will have major social consequences.

The situation calls for pragmatic solutions which will ensure that employees in the IT sector are protected even while the quality of people required for the job is not diluted. It is a tightrope walk but hopefully attainable if the present government cooperates by changing laws and regulations that assist the industry while the young Indian IT techies remain updated and internationally competitive.

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