Youth unemployment – The Statesman

The pros and cons of the scheme must have been studied in detail by the armed forces before launch. It cannot be a matter of public debate.
Representaional Image (iStock)
The Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE), an independent economic think-tank, in their latest report ~ of June 2022 ~ showed the unemployment rate of the country as 7.80 per cent. In certain areas, the situation is more alarming than the national average viz. Haryana (30.6 per cent), Rajasthan (29.8 per cent), J&K (17.2 per cent), Assam (17.2 per cent), Bihar (14 per cent) etc. Estimation of unemployment is one of the most difficult tasks for applied statisticians. A person engaged for 100 days in a year under MGNREGA scheme may not recognize himself as unemployed as he is earning some amount in lieu of the labour offered by him towards maintenance or creation of a community asset. Another person earning Rs. 15,000 a month as a private driver in a city may recognize himself as unemployed.
The second person may be aspiring to own a vehicle, get a license of a cab and run it to earn more. This fallacy may perhaps explain why the unemployment rate is so high in Haryana or Rajasthan but low in Madhya Pradesh (0.5 per cent), Odisha (1.2 per cent) or Chhattisgarh (1.2 per cent). Nearly 45 per cent of the Indian workforce is engaged in the agricultural sector, though the agrarian productivity may not suffer if 80 per cent of them are syphoned off and engaged in other sectors. The count of unemployed does not include this enormous volume of disguised unemployment in the agrarian sector. However, from the socio-political point of view most important is youth unemployment and in India it is estimated that 25 per cent of the young men and women seeking a job are unemployed today. The Union government on repeated occasions stated that the priority of the government should be to facilitate youth in productive work rather than to provide superfluous salary-based jobs.
It is expected that the youth should engage themselves in productive work and earn their livelihood. But everyone can’t be an entrepreneur. Self-employment needs, in general, much higher mental strength, skill and support of capital. In this background we need to read the significance of two recent announcements of the central government: launch of Agnipath and Prime Minister’s direction to fill up 10 lakh vacancies in various central government departments in the next one and a half year. The Agnipath scheme envisages that sepoys in the armed forces will be hired only for a period of four years. The hired soldiers will be initially imparted rigorous training of six months and after four years, at the time of exit, they will be given a severance allowance of Rs 11.71 lakhs. The initial outburst against the scheme has now subdued. Government stated that a maximum of 25 per cent of such hired soldiers ~ the Agniveers ~ will be absorbed after four years in the annual vacancies arising out of permanent cadres of the armed forces and they will be entitled for pension after retirement.
It is expected that Agnipath, after a cycle of four years, will provide a kind of temporary relief to a number of job-seekers which is 75 per cent more than the number that would otherwise have been employed every year and that will continue for about a decade. Once the scheme stabilizes, say by 2035, the armed forces of India will have nearly six lakhs Agniveers and two lakhs of Sepoys/Rifleman or regular recruits in equivalent cadres. If recruitment of Agniveers is 55,000 per year on an average to start with, that will increase to almost 95,000 from 2026 onwards, once the recruits of the first cycle exit from the forces. By 2035, the country will have a reserve army of 5,80,000 exAgniveers and the number will increase exponentially thereafter. Perhaps nobody other than the professional army generals can comment whether the Agniveers will be as effective as the regularly recruited sepoys. Whether there will be unhealthy competition amongst the Agniveers in their fight to get absorbed in the force permanently and what will be the dynamics of relations between the Agniveers and the regular sepoys are not known.
The pros and cons of the scheme must have been studied in detail by the armed forces before launch. It cannot be a matter of public debate. Such a major structural change in the forces can never be an ad-hoc political decision. However, we need to explore how best the exAgniveers, who in their early twenties are made to exit from the forces with a lump sum amount, can be led to resettle in their careers. A small number of them is likely to be absorbed in the Central paramilitary forces, in the State Police or in the corporate sector. But what about the rest? Will the Directorate General of Resettlement, which facilitates resettlement of ex-servicemen, guide the ex-Agniveers in reemployment and self-employment? Will they be considered in the quota of ex-servicemen in government jobs? Will they come under the purview of the Sainik Boards? Perhaps these issues will get clarified only with time.
If as a nation we succeed in effectively engaging the millions of well trained, disciplined manpower in the work of nation building, that can do wonders. But how to facilitate that process is a challenge to the government. As regards filling up of ten lakhs civilian vacancies in the central government, first we need to introspect why the vacancies accumulated to almost 25 per cent of the sanctioned strength? Unless we introspect, we will never be able to accomplish that target. The process of recruitment over time is getting increasingly complicated in the governmental system. Millions apply against a few hundred vacancies. In organizations where the recruitment system is decentralized, often suitable infrastructure is not available to handle the millions of applications leading to inordinate delay in filling up the vacancies. Secondly, suitable candidates in reserved categories are often not found even in extended zones of consideration for filling up the vacancies of departmental-quota (posts filled up by promotion from ranks).
Even in open market recruitments, sometimes qualified candidates in the quota under either of the reserved groups (depending on the demographic composition of the State) are not found. Unfilled vacancies are then carried forward in the next year and even year after. Thirdly, the attrition rate is high in lower grades for high-quality candidates. Finally, the perception of irregularity or corruption quite often led aggrieved candidates to go to court and seek ‘stay’ on the recruitment process. Because of many such reasons, it is hardly possible nowadays to complete the process of recruitment within a reasonable period of time. It’s no wonder that in some government organizations vacancies in lower cadres reached as high as 35 per cent in recent decades. Given these complications, filling up ten lakh central government vacancies in 1.5 years is possible only if the departments are made to work in a missionmode towards that and there is centralized monitoring at the highest level.
Centrally monitored special recruitment drives yielded good results in the past. With computerization, there has been a substantial decline in government recruitments in the last two decades. Outsourcing has been done wherever possible. There has been massive downsizing in the workforce of the central government in the first decade of this century. If vacancies of the reduced sanctioned establishments are not filled up, that gets reflected in the performance of the organizations. If the unprecedented level of unemployment has stimulated the government to fill up the existing vacancies, besides enhancing the quality of work, that will send the message that the authority is serious in addressing the issues of youth unemployment


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