A grim-faced young man rustles up a quick egg snack on a pushcart at a quiet residential corner in a suburb of the Indian capital, New Delhi, as he meticulously enquires about his patrons’ tastes.
Sagar Kumar, a 21-year-old undergraduate in commerce at an open university in Noida, a city adjacent to the national capital in Uttar Pradesh – the country’s most populous state in the Hindi-speaking heartland – is angry.
He has been working as a roadside food vendor for a year to pay for the school fees of his younger siblings and the kidney dialysis of an ailing father. He is impatient for a government job.READ MORE
“I study at night, the rest of the time I tend to this food cart and earn 500 rupees [$7] a day. What use is a commerce graduate degree to sell eggs by the roadside?” Sagar said.
In New Delhi’s Tughlakabad slums, around the remnants of a medieval era fort, 24-year-old Seema is a part-time cook, but hopes to get a job as an office secretary.
“My typing speed is very good and I can add numbers. My family came to Delhi from Badayun [in Uttar Pradesh] where I wanted to get a clerical job at a government office. But I have had no luck yet. There are also safety concerns to consider when looking for a job as a woman here,” she said.
But warnings about a brewing jobs crisis are not new. In December, the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) said labour participation rate, a measure of adults who are willing to work, has fallen to 42 percent.READ MORE
In March 2018, data from the CMIE, a portal that tracks economic activity, said 31 million Indians were looking for jobs.
A report released last month by the All India Manufacturers’ Organisation said 3.5 million jobs had been lost since 2016, when Modi banned about 85 percent of currency notes.
Government jobs in India are the most sought after. India’s railway network recently received 19 million applications for 63,000 jobs as cleaners and track maintainers.
Sagar, son of a migrant family from Madhepura in Bihar state, says he applied for several government jobs, including at the railways which does not mandate a college degree.
Old enough to vote for the first time, he says “whoever forms the next government must help us”.
“We need jobs. If you can’t do that, then help us earn. I tried to get a loan for entrepreneurs, but that is a nightmare as well. So there is nowhere to turn. Neither jobs are available nor is it easy to get bank loans to fund a small business,” he added.
Sagar is among the 133 million young adults who will cast their ballots when the world’s biggest democracy holds a general election due in less than 100 days.
The election comes as India struggles through a period of what economists call “jobless growth”.
“The jobs crisis is really bad. The medium and small scale industries and agriculture are major employers in our country. These sectors have suffered due to policy-induced shocks like a badly-implemented national services tax GST and a note ban in 2016 that broke the backs of small businesses and the informal sector,” economist Prasenjit Bose