Ashok Kumar is 40 years old. For the last 15 years, he has been selling job application forms outside the employment exchange in east Delhi's Karkardooma area. On an average, he meets at least 100 unemployed youth every day, who come to register themselves to get intimations about various job openings, particularly in the government sector.
"Some people get jobs. Most job seekers come back disappointed and end up filling forms over and over again," says Ashok, who quit the race after filling a few forms himself.
Having followed the crests and troughs of a slice of the Indian job market, Ashok says the job market has gone from bad under the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led NDA government to worse during the two consequent UPA regimes under economist Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
Statistics confirm Ashok's observation. The Vajpayee-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government created 58 million jobs during its 1999-2004 tenure (with some spillover effect), according to data from the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO). The UPA government managed to add just a fraction, 15 million jobs — 14 million during its first term from 2004-2009 and the two years of 2011 and 2012 — in seven years, according to NSSO data.
The UPA government's various employment schemes failed to translate into concrete employment due to lack of implementation and rampant corruption in job allocation as well as in disbursement of funds.
BJP's prime ministerial candidate and Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi has accused the UPA government of "denting job creation which leads to corruption and bad governance".
"The performance of the UPA government has been completely unsatisfactory," said noted economist and senior fellow at Centre for Policy Research Dr Rajiv Kumar. "Besides, the figures can be much worse as most of the population is under-employed and some surveys even consider a self-employed cobbler on the street as employed."
The lack of job creation opportunities in the past hasn't stopped our politicians from once again making hollow promises about adding millions of jobs ahead of the 2014 general election. Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi is planning to promise 100 million jobs in the next 10 years if his party returns to power. BJP president Rajnath Singh, in one of the rallies, too promised that if voted to power, his party will ensure that one person from every family gets a job.
But it is likely that the unemployed youth, who fill out forms at employment exchanges across the country, will see through the poll promises considering India's labour landscape. It is estimated that one million people enter the Indian workforce every month. This means the government and the private sector must create 12 million jobs annually.
But India has been unable to add jobs to match the pace. Unemployment rate has been climbing since 2011, when it was 3.5 per cent, according to International Labour Organisation statistics. In 2012, it went up to 3.6 per cent and rose again in 2013 to 3.7 per cent. And is expected to rise for the fourth consecutive year to 3.8 per cent in 2014, according to the Global Employment Trends 2014 report. A close look at data from the Indian Labour Bureau draws the point home. Unemployment rate among Indian graduates in the 15-29 age group is 13.3 per cent; one of every three graduates in the country is unemployed.
"The present government is nowhere close to dealing with the problem of unemployment," said Kumar, warning that unemployment can pose a threat to the country's future. But despite the pessimistic outlook, Kumar says there is a ray of hope if economic policies are reviewed. "India, like many of its neighbours, has to undervalue the rupee to promote exports and thus boost a labour-intensive economy," said Kumar.