Santosh Kumar Mohapatra
ith the 2019 general elections fast approaching, the BJP’s desperation to retain power by hook or by crook is mounting. This is reflected in the abrupt passage of the 124th constitutional amendment that grants 10 per cent reservation for economically weaker sections of the general category, over and above the existing 50 per cent cap on reservations. This decision, in turn, may help the government divert attention from issues that have pushed it to the wall.
It is clearly another populist gimmick to appease the middle class. The RSS is said to be behind this decision, as the Sangh had attributed the BJP’s recent electoral losses to growing upper caste resentment.
The political expediency was such that major Opposition parties neither opposed the Bill nor discussed it, maybe out of the fear of losing vote banks. The decision may polarise the electorate on reservations. The present politics is bereft of ideology or ethical values and meant to only retain or grab power.
However, the amendment has been challenged in the Supreme Court. It is said to be in violation of the equality code and basic structure of the Constitution as it is intended to do away with restraints imposed on the reservation policy, 50 per cent ceiling and exclusion of economic status as the sole criterion.
The main reasons for job losses are demonetisation and the botched introduction of GST, which crippled the country’s informal sector immediately, and hit the desire and ability of businesses to get projects up and running
It is also difficult to decide who comes under economically weak sections. According to the Bill, all those in the general category that do not earn more than Rs 8 lakh annually are likely to benefit. A family earning about Rs 8 lakh annually, or Rs 2,192 per day, cannot be called economically weak. A person was considered below the poverty line in 2011-12 if his income was below Rs 32 a day in rural areas and Rs 47 a day in urban areas, according to the C Rangarajan committee report.
The present tax exemption limit is only Rs 2.5 lakh per annum. The government considers people with annual income above Rs 8 lakh as “creamy layer”. Hence, a family with annual Income between Rs 4 lakh and Rs 8 lakh per annum is not economically weak but can be categorised as middle class or upper middle class. The idea behind having Rs 8 lakh per annum as the ceiling is designed to create a false notion among the nearly 55 million households that this government is concerned about their welfare.
In reality, reservation means asking a large number of people to eat cake where there is none. When no job is created, what is the meaning of promising such reservation? Reservation will not guarantee employment as jobs are shrinking. Creation of two crore jobs each year was the poll plank of the BJP before the 2014 election. But a CMIE report in 2018 has said that instead of adding new jobs, India lost 1.1 crore jobs with nearly 84 per cent of them being lost in rural areas.
In December 2018, unemployment touched 7.4 per cent, the highest in 27 months. Labour participation, the percentage of working-age (15-59 years) population seeking work, has fallen steadily, from 45 per cent in December 2016 to 42.5 per cent in December 2018. There is apprehension that labour participation can go down for good reasons (youth stay back longer in education) and bad (sustained failure to find work can make people stop looking).
When the question of reservation in jobs arises, it implies organised sector jobs or decent jobs. But jobs in the organised sector are also on the decline. India Inc in 2017-18 added jobs the slowest in the last three years. In India’s top 171 listed companies, which are part of BSE 200 Index, only 64,380 employees joined in 2017-18, down sharply from 1,16,300 a year ago and 1,46,800 in 2015-16. It is disconcerting that labour bureau data do not paint a rosy picture for the Modi government as the number of people laid off has risen about 25 per cent from 2016. While 3,654 people were fired in 2015, the number rose to 4,200 in 2016 and 5,249 in 2017. In 2018, till the end of August, 3,322 people lost jobs.
The main reasons for job losses are demonetisation and the botched introduction of GST, which crippled the country’s informal sector immediately, and hit the desire and ability of businesses to get projects up and running. Besides, government recruitment is frozen and even job creation in state and central government offices is negative. Public sector undertakings have reduced their workforce owing the increased use of information technology, cost cutting and downsizing to compete with the private sector. The use of higher capital in place of labour for higher profit has contributed to decline in jobs.
Further, it is not just the decline in creation of decent jobs that we should be worried about, but also the rise in vulnerable employment. A new World Bank report (derived from ILO data) says 3 out of 4 workers in India (77 per cent of total workers) fall in vulnerable employment category. Vulnerable employment is often characterised by inadequate earnings, low productivity and difficult work conditions that undermine fundamental rights of workers. They are more likely to be informally employed, and more likely to lack a “voice” through effective representation by trade unions and similar organizations.
Instead of winding down quotas, raising it again means squeezing space for meritorious students further. But the question here is not whether we need reservation but why reservation again even after 72 years of Independence. It means successive governments, including the present one, have failed miserably in raising the standard of living of masses and in undoing social injustice. The rich have grown richer at the cost of masses. This growing social injustice cannot be rectified merely through reservation, but taxing rich at higher rates and spending more money in job creation and social sectors such as health and education.
The writer is an Odisha-based economist. e-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.