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Monday, August 03, 2020

Across the aisle: Want managers, not just watchmen

Governance, under the BJP, has become a circus. There is a ringmaster, but there are no lions or tigers. The whip is cracked on lambs and rabbits.

Written by P Chidambaram | Updated: March 24, 2019 1:42:05 am
Lok Sabha elections 2019: BJP releases second list of candidates, Sambit Patra to contest from Puri Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP National President Amit Shah during the BJP Central Election Committee (CEC) meeting. (PTI)

Being a chowkidar is honourable work that goes back many centuries. Watchmen came from all communities and backgrounds. They were individuals and the work was routine. Liberalisation spawned a new organised business of providing security guards to homes and businesses. These guards carry no weapons; only a few who guard banks are allowed to carry a side-arm. By and large, the days and nights are uneventful.

It would have remained so but for Mr Narendra Modi imperiously directing his party folk to adopt the prefix ‘chowkidar’ to their names. Within hours, we got another example of the BJP’s boasts: 25 lakh people had become chowkidars. It was announced that
Mr Modi will have a conversation with them. Next stop: the Guinness Book of Records, I suppose.

The circus goes on

Governance, under the BJP, has become a circus. There is a ringmaster, but there are no lions or tigers. The whip is cracked on lambs and rabbits. There are, of course, enough clowns who will say that there will be no elections after 2019.

While there are some who enjoy the show, the vast majority of the people are asking pertinent questions. Survey after survey has revealed that the main concerns of the people are (1) unemployment and (2) farmers’ distress, especially indebtedness.

The evidence on unemployment is mounting with every passing day. The shocking story of the National Sample Survey Office is well known despite the media blacking it out. The NSSO conducts a Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS). The previous survey was conducted in 2011-12 and another survey was conducted in 2017-18. The last report was approved by the National Statistics Commission in December 2018, but the BJP government has withheld the release. Protesting against the suppression of the report,

Mr P C Mohanan and Ms J V Meenakshi, the two remaining non-government members of the Commission, resigned in January 2019. There has not been a word of explanation from the government.

The contents of the report are tumbling out:

* The unemployment rate for males in urban India is 7.1 per cent and in rural India is 5.8 per cent.
* The size of the workforce (male and female, rural and urban) has shrunk by 4.7 crore from 42 crore to 37.3 crore.
* Job losses in the rural segment were 4.3 crore and in the urban segment were 0.4 crore.
* Women suffered more job losses in the rural segment and men suffered more in the urban segment.

The data affirm that there has been rise in unemployment and increase in rural distress. The government denies both, and hence has suppressed the inconvenient truth in the PLFS.

Unprecedented Unemployment

Other data confirm the conclusions of the PLFS. The CMIE reported that the total workforce (number of people employed) declined from 40.75 crore in February 2018 to 40 crore at the end of February 2019. The CMIE also reported that 1.1 crore jobs were lost in 2018. The Minister of Industry, Tamil Nadu, told the state legislature that 5 lakh jobs were lost in the state because of demonetisation and the GST.
Go to any city — Akhbar Nagar circle in Ahmedabad, Thadi market square in Jaipur or Khajrana square in Indore — you will find casual labourers earning less than half of what they were earning before, and reduced to penury. Underway now is recruitment to 62,907 posts of khalasi (or helpers).Over 82 lakh persons have applied. According to data, 4,19,137 are B.Tech graduates and 40,751 hold Master’s in Engineering!

The ruling chowkidars perhaps think that their job is to guard the houses; it is not their concern if people living in those houses are unemployed or losing their jobs.

Sins against Farmers

There is a similar story on growing distress in the agriculture sector. The last Economic Survey (2017-18) authored by
Dr Arvind Subramaniam severely indicted the BJP government: “In the last four years, the level of real agricultural GDP and real agricultural revenues has remained constant.” They were guilty of —

* denying a fair increase in MSP and thus keeping producer prices depressed;
* paying no attention to the procurement machinery: according to the Shanta Kumar Committee report, only 6 per cent of farmers benefited from the  procurement system;
* tinkering with the import-export policy: banning or restricting agricultural exports from India (e.g. onions and potatoes) and allowing imports into India that affected farmers’ prices (e.g. pulses).
* not taking steps to offset the effect of a relentless increase in prices of inputs such as seeds, fertilisers, diesel, electricity, water, hired machinery, etc;
* empty boast that farmers’ income will be doubled but not taking any measures to help farmers earn an income through non-crop agriculture;
* demonetisation that destroyed the micro and small farmer who got pushed deeper into debt; and
* not waiving farmers loans.

Having committed these sins against the farmers, the farmers were sought to be appeased by an election-eve sop of Rs 2,000 per family or Rs 17 per day! Given the scale of indebtedness (average Rs 1,04,000 per farmer, according to NABARD), a loan waiver was an economic and moral imperative. The BJP government flatly refused to consider a loan waiver and paid for the folly in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan.

The experience of the BJP government tells us that the need of the hour is competent economic managers, not just self-appointed watchmen.

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