With the latest government unemployment figures showing a sharp decline in comparison to the previous year, the BJP in March cited the highest ever budgetary allocation for its flagship rural employment scheme, MNREGA, as one of the reasons for reducing unemployment by almost half. What the government data, however, failed to capture were the thousands of retail-sector jobs created through platform-driven technologies like Amazon. As the ‘new India’ moves towards becoming ‘digital India’, “will technology open up the Indian jobs market?”.
Panelists at the ieThinc, an Indian Express event presented by Facebook in New Delhi, grappled with the question whether this new tech-driven economy has the job-creating potential.
Sharing the Amazon experience, company director Archana Vohra cited numerous examples of how its SME clients used its retail platform to sell products and ended up creating more jobs.
“When we started off in India four years ago, we started with 100 sellers, now we have 2 lakh sellers…We created 1.5 lakh jobs in the last four years directly or through partners,” she said.
Echoing her views on how technology forms a bridge between multiple stakeholders, Little Black Book founder and CEO Suchita Salwan said: “LBB connects two million users with over 30,000 restaurants. We add 3,000 new listings every month to our site. This shows the rate at which people are starting new establishments… We have seen a lot of retail growth — it has been exponential. We employ about 60 people, and our team is seeing a 3x growth on an annual basis.”
Despite the burgeoning entrepreneur ecosystem in India, Sharad Sharma of iSPRIT, a think-tank of the software product industry, claims there is no economic mobility in India due to a flawed banking system. “If you are outside the business class and talented, no bank is going to bet on you. Our banking system is entirely based on collateral…Data needs to come into play to assess loan viability,” he said.
Underlining the disruptive role technology will play in the future, Pranob Sen, India’s first chief statistician, said: “When we talk about well-being, we only talk in terms of income, not insecurity. The trade-off between income and security is real. Technology makes insecurity higher. It is going to be disruptive and it is going to increase insecurity.”
Meanwhile, Niti Aaayog member Bibek Debroy weighed upon the price at which the jobs are being created in the present day market.
“At one level people will always find jobs, but the question is at what price, what wages and work conditions. They are not satisfied with the salary they are earning. From MBAs working as cashiers in malls to those who invested in education…., he said.
In conclusion, the panel agreed to disagree. Yes, technology can connect entrepreneurs with end users, hence improving income and creating jobs. And no, because it can be disruptive and will cut labour costs, thereby resulting in loss of jobs.