Some years ago, the writer introduced a father to the son of an owner-auditor for his daughter. But the father declined because auditing was after all a business and therefore risky. About a year later was received an invitation for the same girl’s wedding to a youngster who happened to be working for the same auditor. I was later informed that while a job was secure, it had its ups and downs.
During the years I frequented the districts in Gujarat, he was invariably asked what industry or udyog could I help to bring. It was clear that the impression was widespread that the key to fresh employment was setting up of industries. The unpopular truth was that the modern manufacturing unit is more an employer of machines and less a giver of jobs to men and women.
By allowing for depreciation every year, machinery gets cheaper whereas the employees need to get increments annually. With technology advancing continually, the need for workers per unit of machinery or rather per piece of the product gets less and less. These mindsets, whether with regard to security of a job or the potential of an industry, must be given a go-bye. This is not to say that industry is not necessary for the economy to grow.
Of course, it is the foundation of a robust modern economy. But if anyone expects it to provide a great deal of direct employment, he would be disappointed. The indirect jobs in areas like supplies, sales, transport et al would certainly be helpful to the economy and employment. The other threat to jobs is automation that comes with electronics and computerization. Although not in a big way, yet robots are replacing some workers in factories.
Then again, very desirably, more and more women are joining the worker market which makes jobs appear fewer to men than they are. So much for the second and third or service sectors of the economy. The government or bureaucratic sector has grown to be big enough and is already beginning to reduce or actually shrink. For example, the Post and Telegraph department is nothing like the giant it was. And yet, there are millions of young men who may go through life waiting for government jobs. For one, such jobs are traditionally presumed to be secure until the retiring age.
For another, private assignments demand qualifications which not every aspirant has. In many areas of the country, commerce and industry are yet to be set up. Then there is the issue of reservations which exclude quite a few sections of the people, be they the Jats, the Patels or the Marathas. Yet most politicians again and again promise more and more jobs.
Everyone is for economic growth, but that does not equal up to the creation of employment as most of the common youth look for jobs. What is therefore necessary to inculcate is the idea of an economic citizen, a self-engineered way of earning a living. Be it as a doctor, lawyer, para-medico, shopkeeper or even pheriwala or a pedlar, but not as a dependent on anyone for survival. The government’s responsibility is to create and sustain the economic environment for the willing selfreliant citizens to have ready opportunity. The government’s function is to govern and not provide jobs. The size of the bureaucracy need not exceed the demands of administering the country.
The price of a heavy or a top heavy government would be either high taxes or printing currency leading to inflation. For example, something like 40 per cent of the jobs in France are given by its government directly or otherwise. How long will the country survive as a prosperous modern state? A great constraint of the European Union is the Euro which does not allow any of its member countries to devalue its currency. If therefore any member cannot keep pace with German economic efficiency, it either has to rationalize or head for impoverishment.
The Soviet Union guaranteed full employment and this noble commitment was one of the causes of its eventually going bankrupt in 1992. Moreover, in the course of the 25 years since then, Russia has not developed as an economy. God forbid, if only the country was not gifted with petroleum, what would have happened? A full employment guarantee sterilized the people’s aptitude or potential for entrepreneurship. The spirit of economic self-reliance would to do the opposite.
To refer back to setting up industries, it should be remembered that this is a globalized world. Almost every manufacturer has to face competition on a potentially global scale. Why not therefore also consider promoting institutions that do not have to compete so much, yet at the same time serve the immediate needs of the country? Health and education apart from employment, are urgent necessities.
Hospitals are quite worker intensive and several thousand of them are needed immediately if the common people’s health has to be cared for. With the Rs 5 lakh per family insurance scheme inaugurated by the Prime Minister, payment would also be readily available. Pricewaterhouse Cooper in a professional survey has recommended that by year 2034 India would require 36 lakh beds. Today not even a fraction of these would be anywhere in sight. Each hospital would need several hundred non-medical persons and all the hospitals when ready should absorb millions indirectly and help to generate many jobs.
The medical and para-medical staff would be extra. If the Right to Education Act 2009 is to be taken seriously, thousand upon thousand schools would be necessary to be created. Many of the state schools that exist are more in name and less in effect. Some have only a few teachers while those that have more do not attend regularly.
The result is that the students who graduate from them are semi-literate. Vocational polytechnics are imperative, not to speak of colleges and universities. If only these are developed, the demographic dividend we hear so much about, would be paid to the country. And if the institutions are in place, their capacity to provide employment should be enormous.
Tourism, whether domestic or for pilgrims, is another area of neglect although it has the potential for enormous, visible employment. The variety of sites to see, monuments to visit and places of worship to pray at are numerous. The Himalayas in the north Bengal region have a potential far greater than Switzerland. The only deficiency is the lack of development and infrastructure.
Conquering Mount Everest continues be a craze but those who can climb can take a jeep to Sandakphu at 12,000 feet and watch the tallest peak as if it was across a very broad avenue. The Kanchenjunga twin peaks are 80 kilometres as the crow would flies from Darjeeling at 6,000 feet. The architectural jewels in Odisha can attract the world, as it were.
The Puri beach can potentially match many in the world but where are the facilities to make an American or a European tourist comfortable? Keep aside employment and economics, it is a pity these Indian gems go unvisited, unseen by so many on the globe. South India again is a paradise for tourists and pilgrims, but can the current infrastructure carry it? Finally, agriculture also offers a great deal of scope provided we broadcast to the farmers not only how to increase productivity but also to upgrade the value of the crops they grow.
Prime Minister Charan Singh had written in his book, India’s Economic Policy, based also on his field experience, how almost infinite is the scope of farming to offer a livelihood to people. Israel has demonstrated how to farm in a desert with the minimum of water. Unilever Ltd, have demonstrated in their large open air pavilion at Disneyworld near Florida how, for example 20 brinjals or tomatoes can be grown vertically on four to five square feet of land space. With the many small farms we have, this may be the only way of saving those who are marginal or even smaller farmers.
The writer is an author, thinker and a former Member of Parliament