India does not have enough jobs. Or does it just not have enough jobs data? Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his government would have you believe it is only the latter. “If someone opens a ‘pakoda’ shop in front of your office, and he earns 200 rupees every day, does that not count at employment?” Modi asked in an interview in 2018, referring in Hindi to the deep-fried fritters sold street-side. “Now till me which register will capture this data?”
This argument, that Modi’s government has created the conditions for millions of people to be self-employed with the only problem being that officials statistics cannot take note of, has come to be known as ‘pakodanomics.’ On Tuesday, Railway Minister Piyush Goyal added to the discipline when asked about a recent report by the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy that said unemployment was at a 27-month-high in December 2018 and that India had lost 11 million jobs over the course of that year.
Goyal’s response? Question the veracity of this data. “We don’t know where the CMIE gets its data from,” he said, adding that it was at “complete variance” with the data that the government has collected. This stance is already problematic considering Modi has himself said that the government does not have adequate data.
But also, Goyal’s interpretation about variance seems inaccurate. A Business Standard report this week revealed that unemployment rose to a four-year high in 2016-17, according to the Employment-Unemployment Survey.
Moreover, this was the last Employment-Unemployment report on jobs available, meaning the CMIE data concurred with the trend shown by current government statistics on increase in unemployment. That report has been discontinued, with the government instituting a Periodic Labour Force Survey in its stead. But the data from that survey for 2017-18 has yet to come and few expect it to be available before the 2019 elections.
Another report released by the Centre for Sustainable Employment of the Azim Premji University also said that the rate of unemployment in 2015 alone was the highest it has been in the last 20 years. Most indicators, indeed, seem to say the same thing: India is not creating enough jobs, a sentiment that was echoed by no less than Union Minister Nitin Gadkari last week.
This of course, does not mean that lndia has great jobs data. A committee has recommended changes to the way India measures employment, citing lapses in previous approaches. And no less than the Chief Statistician of India Pravin Srivastava said last year that newer data Modi has been citing to claim healthy job numbers, from the Employment Provident Fund Organisation, should not be used as a proxy for employment generation.
In other words, it seems likely that India does not have enough jobs and it is clear that the country also does not have robust enough job data. Fixing both will have to be the priority of whoever wins the next election. But this conclusion also brings up an important question: For a government that came into power promising to create a massive number of new jobs, how come it only discovered in its final year that the jobs data is inadequate?