By Arun Sinha One of the strongest pitches of the BJP marketing in recent years has been that the Modi government has given to the poor many times more than any government ever before did. Free rations, a gas connection, a pucca house, drinking water, electricity, a toilet, medical insurance and more — a long […]
By Arun Sinha
One of the strongest pitches of the BJP marketing in recent years has been that the Modi government has given to the poor many times more than any government ever before did. Free rations, a gas connection, a pucca house, drinking water, electricity, a toilet, medical insurance and more — a long list that might make you believe the poor are now living in paradise.
Leave aside the implementation part. With the media and the civil society under severe constraints in the Modi regime and with unfavourable official statistics not allowed in public, we do not have a true picture of how much of these welfare measures actually reached the poor and in what sizes and shapes. But let us assume they all did.
Where’s the Money?
Are these measures enough to remove poverty? A family that gets a gas connection and a free LPG cylinder needs money to buy at least one cylinder every month. A family that gets free or subsidised ration needs cash to fulfil other needs. A family that has got electricity needs money to buy kitchen equipment and a fridge. A family that is entitled to Ayushman Bharat for serious ailments needs money to pay for doctors’ fees and medicines for other ailments.
Where does the family get the money for all that, leaving aside weddings, festival purchases, personal transport and much more? Not from the government. The government does not support the family beyond the welfare handouts. The family has to find the money for itself. The family can do it only if the members of working age are working — and working securely and permanently, because these are growing needs. And the family must keep increasing its income in order to meet the rising costs.
Where are the Jobs?
Are jobs available? The answer is: fewer and fewer. Take Uttar Pradesh, for instance. According to the Centre for Monitoring of Indian Economy, of the total population of 70.99 million youth in the 15-29 age group in the State, only 12.17 million (or about 17%) were employed in September-December 2021. For the same period, only 1.51 million of women out of their total population of 80.47 million in the age group of 15 years (merely 1.88%) were employed. It clearly shows that the number of dependents in the average family was high, and that of earning members low. Besides, not all employment means secure, permanent employment. It could be contractual and seasonal, which means months without income.
Instead of creating jobs, the government is giving the poor welfare handouts. Handouts seek to provide a political solution to poverty, not an economic solution. They might help political parties win elections. But they end up failing to lift the poor out of the marshland of poverty. The poor remain where they are — poor. Their children inherit poverty from them.
Secure employment with a fair income is the economic solution to poverty, and that solution the Modi government is not providing; nor did the UPA regimes.
The poor are mostly from the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, Backward Classes and minorities. During elections, political parties often promise government jobs to the youth. But there are very few government jobs actually. The governments are now mostly appointing people on a contractual basis or outsourcing work. With disinvestment, jobs in the public sector undertakings are also decreasing. Even though the SCs, STs and Backward Classes have reservations, it is becoming meaningless in view of the shrinkage in public employment.
The poor can hope to get jobs only with private employers. More than 90% of employment is in the private sector. The Modi government, instead of giving freebies to the poor, should drive the private sector to provide more and more employment to the socially disadvantaged sections of society.
The private sector is opposed to job quotas on the ground that it hires people on the basis of merit and if it is made to compromise on that, the organisation will suffer. Fine, there should be no quotas in the private sector. But the private sector must voluntarily appoint as many people as possible from the socially disadvantaged sections. The private sector’s employment policy has only perpetuated the social hierarchy. The upper castes are also on top in the private sector. Being in senior positions, they do the hiring and exclude applicants from the socially disadvantaged sections against whom they have a negative bias.
The private sector must change its attitude. The government provides quotas for socially disadvantaged sections in public employment with a view to undoing the ‘historical injustice’ done to them. The private sector has to share the responsibility with the government. It must incorporate the concept of undoing historical injustice in its hiring policy. That would be true corporate social responsibility.
In 2006, the Manmohan Singh government set up a Coordination Committee for Affirmative Action for SCs and STs in the Private Sector. The committee asked trade bodies FICCI, CII and Assocham to get their member-companies to increase the share of Dalits and tribals in their employment. The committee, which is headed by the principal secretary to the Prime Minister, continued through the UPA-I and UPA-II governments and continues with the Modi government.
In the 15 years since the committee was set up, the trade bodies have shown no serious commitment to the cause. Data available in 2018 suggested that the private sector had employed only about one lakh persons from SCs/STs in the decade preceding that year. The trade bodies have about 18,000 members. Which means that on average, they hired five Dalits/tribals each in 10 years – that is one Dalit/tribal every two years. This is not commitment, it is indifference.
The private sector is incorporating the concept of undoing historical injustice in its hiring policy for women and transgender people. Recently, Tata Steel hired 14 transgender persons. Companies such as Infosys and KPMG are also considering hiring transgender people. If the private sector is coming to apply the criterion of historical injustice for the inclusion of women and transgender people, why cannot it do so for the socially disadvantaged sections? It is here that the Modi government needs to push the private sector— if it wants to lift the poor from the marshland of poverty.
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