Written Ashwathnarayan CN
At the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic in April 2020, India saw an unemployment rate of 23.5 per cent. An estimated 1.5 crore people in India have since been left jobless; those with jobs found their income levels reduced. The pandemic left widespread misery in its wake. The distress of people from diverse economic backgrounds has been something never seen before. The coronavirus has impacted India’s giant economy, and this is no hidden fact.
As India came to a standstill in the first quarter of 2020-21, there was a decrease in demand for labour. Disruption of business caused a Gross Value Added (GVA) loss of more than 9 per cent for the Indian economy in April last year. The figures were grim across all Indian states. Karnataka’s rate of unemployment in April 2020 was at 29.8 per cent. Similarly, the pandemic has hit about 15-20 per cent of the 8 lakh-odd MSMEs in Karnataka.
Could we have avoided this? I wish. The situation has been like chasing two rabbits, more so since citizens were absolutely unaware of what the coronavirus meant and brought along. While the pandemic ushered in a renewed focus on health and sanitisation, it has also, in unexpected ways, highlighted the need for productive employment opportunities in rural India.
In 2021, when the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic hit the country, it led to another rise in unemployment, as several states imposed lockdowns and restrictive measures to contain the spread of the virus.
Under the Ministry of Rural Development’s Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) scheme, in May 2021, 1.85 crore persons were offered work per day, a 52 per cent rise from figures recorded during the same period in May 2019. Last year, this number was 1.22 crore persons per day. At the state level, we needed rapid implementation of employment enhancement and livelihood programmes for various categories of workers. And this had to be done keeping in mind the labour force participation rates of men and women. Revolving Fund and Community Investment Fund, amounting to approximately Rs 56 crore, were released to women’s self-help groups (SHG) in FY21 as compared to Rs 32 crore in the corresponding period in FY20. Online training has been continuing for the staff and community cadres on farm and non-farm-based livelihoods and promotion of agri-nutri gardens by SHG households has also been continued in this period. The cumulative physical progress and the cumulative expenditure under the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana (PMGSY) from April 1 to May 12 period are 1795.9 km and Rs 1693.8 crore respectively in FY21, higher than the corresponding period in the previous years.
A recent and an important step taken by the Centre to ensure that women continue to stay in the workforce was issuing an advisory to all state governments and Union territories to encourage nursing mothers to continue work from home under the Section 5(5) of the Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Act, 2017. This will keep them protected, while also ensuring they do not have to leave the labour force.
Even as Covid continued to mar normalcy, the state and Central government were now strained to take towing measures on the economy, to improve employability and avert another economic crisis of sorts. However, productive and formal employment generation depends on the availability of an adequately skilled labour force, with sustained investments in skill development and fostering opportunities for decent job creation through entrepreneurship.
In 2020, to address the issue of skills deficit in the State of Karnataka, and increase employability, a range of policies and strategies were initiated to make the education system more work relevant. The Department of Skill Development, Entrepreneurship and Livelihood (SDEL) of the Government of Karnataka, initiated a helpline for career guidance, life skills, and technical, vocational education and training schemes, along with on-the-job training in both formal and informal sectors. The Kaushalya Karnataka programme was launched for the youth to acquire necessary skills and expertise to increase their employability. The programme aims to undertake the functions of regulation, standardisation, promotion, implementation, and monitoring of all skill development initiatives in the state.
With the current demand for the healthcare workforce, the skilling department evolved the AICEP (Assess, Identify, Collaborate, Educate and Partner) Model, which focuses on training the state healthcare technicians, educated and high school dropouts. The Department is educating the youth to understand the benefits of these skills and the potential job opportunities.
The Karnataka government also launched a Rs 33.83 crore scheme for street vendors through Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) of Rs 2,000 each to 2.16 lakh vendors in the state, registered under the Department of Skill Development, Entrepreneurship and Livelihood’s Deen Dayal Antyodaya Scheme – National Urban Livelihood Mission. When there was no scope for mega job fairs, the department organised virtual job fairs and successfully placed 3000 candidates. Similarly, the department developed the Skill Connect Job portal to connect job seekers with prospective employers and it benefitted several job aspirants.
By addressing the subject of lives and livelihoods simultaneously, the state government has successfully brought down the unemployment rate to 5.3 per cent.
For all state governments who have employment enhancement programmes planned, there is no better time to roll it out than now. For those who already have these plans running, it would be imperative to speed them up and look at reskilling the working population, so they could live a better life. This is the only way we can find a road to recovery!
The writer is Deputy Chief Minister of Karnataka and Minister of Skill Development, Entrepreneurship and Livelihood