Manoj Kumar, who was handling loans for a private sector bank before COVID struck, has seen it all. He lost his Rs 35,000 a month job and sold vegetables as livelihood and to pay the EMI for his housing loan. The NOIDA resident says that he even considered going to a village and trying for a MNREGA job during the lockdown days.
Manoj is emphatic that Budget 2022 has ignored the whole segment comprised of the urban unemployed. “I have not met anyone who feels things will improve by way of jobs for the young, educated, unemployed. No one is sure if the small industrial units here will open and create jobs. Where is the support for such entrepreneurs?”
“The hit taken by city dwellers who lost jobs or suffered huge income losses is invisible,” says Manoj, who limped back about a year ago to become an independent financial consultant. He does not have a fixed income, and says “all this talk of everyone becoming an entrepreneur and providing jobs is bakwas (rubbish). There has to be a formal job or income in lieu”.
Manoj is not speaking just for himself and his friends. While Budget 2022 seemingly promises a whole lot of jobs, none of them seem within reach of urban residents like Manoj who need them the most, at least not in the immediate to short term. The kind of jobs that large infrastructure projects could generate will take time to materialise, may not be where people live and want work, and will most likely not match their qualification or skill. A recent case in point is the controversial railway board exams where post graduates were ready to apply for jobs that required candidates to have just passed school.
In the run up to Budget 2022, trade and industry bodies and economists had two main expectations. One, was enabling trade and industry to get back to its pre-pandemic state, and the other was job creation, rural and urban. “We were expecting a higher MGNREGA outlay and a similar scheme for the urban poor,” said FICCI vice president Subhrakant Panda. “It is very important to provide support to MSMEs which are the main job-creating machine of the economy. And it is important to put money in the hands of consumers for demand generation. We feel the government should maintain its focus on spending until the private sectors kick in”.
Spending spree on infrastructure
There is no mention in the budget of an urban employment scheme. But there is, for the first time, the admission of the need to prepare for an “orderly urban development” being of critical importance, as nearly half the country’s population would likely be living in urban areas by 2047. “We plan to steer a paradigm change,” Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had declared.
Budget 2022 reflects the government’s belief that if it spends more on infrastructure and continues existing schemes that incentivise MSMEs, new jobs will automatically follow. Hence the 35.4% increase in capital expenditure – Rs 7.50 lakh crores as against Rs 5 lakh crores last year.
Called “PM GatiShakti”, the infrastructure development programme for economic growth covers roads, railways, airports, ports, mass transport systems, waterways, and logistics infrastructure. Investments in these, the government believes, will take care of job creation. And so, the thrust of the budget is allocations for these, for which the government’s horizon is the next 25 years.
Broadly, the following are the spends and areas expected to create job opportunities:
- Rs 20,000 crore on roads; 25000 kilometres of highway to be built in 2023.
- Rs 48,000 crore on affordable housing under the PM Aawas Yojana, in rural and urban areas
- The Emergency Credit Line Guarantee Scheme (ECLGS) that provides additional credit to 130 lakh MSMEs extended upto March 2023, with an additional guarantee cover of Rs 50,000 crores “earmarked exclusively for hospitality and related enterprises”– taking the total guarantee cover to Rs Five Lakh Crores.
- An additional infusion of credit of Rs 2 lakh crore under the Credit Guarantee Trust for Micro and Small Enterprises (CGTMSE) is aimed at expanding employment opportunities.
- Accelerating MSME Performance (RAMP) programme with outlay of Rs 6,000 crore over 5 years.
- The period of incorporation of eligible start ups extended by one more year for purposes of tax incentives.
- An Animation, Visual Effects, Gaming and Comic (AVGC ) promotion task force to be set-up to recommend ways to realize the employment potential the sector offers and build domestic capacity for serving domestic markets and global demand.
- Telecommunication in general, and 5G technology in particular, is seen as loaded with job opportunities. Spectrum auctions to be conducted in 2022 to facilitate rollout of 5G mobile services within 2022- 23 by private telecom providers.
- The Productivity Linked Incentive (PLI) in 14 sectors for achieving AtmaNirbhar Bharat has the potential to create 60 lakh new jobs and an additional production of Rs 30 lakh crore during next 5 years.
- Contracts for implementation of Multimodal Logistics Parks at four locations through PPP mode will be awarded in 2022-23.
- An additional PLI allocation of Rs 19,500 crores for manufacture of high efficiency personal vehicle modules
- The Circular Economy transition is expected to help create large opportunities for new businesses and jobs. The focus now will be on addressing important issues of infrastructure, reverse logistics, technology upgradation and integration with informal sector. This will be supported by active public policies covering regulations, extended producers’ responsibilities framework and innovation facilitation.
Experts however say that the promised jobs happening soon depends entirely on implementation and execution of the above points. And many wonder about the kind of people who will actually get some of these jobs.
According to the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE), 7.9% of Indians, or 35 million people, who were actively looking for jobs were unemployed in December 2021. In its weekly analysis of January 22nd, the CMIE said India’s path to prosperity is in finding employment for nearly 60% of the population.
“Given the current employment is at 406 million, to reach global employment rate standards India needs to employ an additional 187.5 million people,” says CMIE. But Budget 2022 does not mention anything else other than projecting employment for 60 lakh people over the next five years.
According to Rakesh Mohan, President of the Delhi-based Centre for Social and Economic Progress (CSEP), there is no pragmatic approach to increase employment, which is a “big, big issue”. A former deputy governor of the RBI, he is concerned that there is “very little mention of the high unemployment that has resulted from COVID in the last two years and what we are going to do about it in particular.”
But not all are so pessimistic about job creation. Naina Lal Kidwai, chairman of Advent Private Equity said in a TV talk that infrastructure projects will create jobs, and mentions a UNICEF study that reported 75 lakh new jobs were created by the Swach Bharat programme.
It may not exactly be like waiting for Godot. But the jobs that the Budget 2022 expects to create will take a long gestation time. So, stressed out by COVID and rising prices of most essentials, a big city resident without a job or a living can hardly be faulted for feeling totally let down by Budget 2022.
Hope remains that the old low skill urban jobs will return if only COVID would go away. “Broadly speaking urban jobs that were hit would be security, restaurants, health and hospitality, and tourism,” says P Sivaram , a private equity finance consultant. “If COVID were to go away, these jobs would be back without the government having done a thing.”