By Dr. Gyan Pathak
Union Budget 2023-24 betrays India’s workforce though it sings its song of achievement under Modi rule since 2014 and eulogizing its “Big Tent accommodating all”. In contrast this “Big Tent” is too small to accommodate the majority of the workforce.
The budget tried to create hope for the workforce by simply telling that big infra push through capex and other proposals to push growth would generate jobs, but the reality is that all the proposals are not enough even to put break on the decline of the GDP growth, and hence it is not possible to generate more jobs with the prospect of downturn in the economy. Workforce needed social protection at this time and the budget betrayed them.
The country has been passing through an era of jobless growth since 2017-18when unemployment rate reached 45 years high to 6.1 per cent, which peaked even higher at 8.3 per cent in the beginning of 2023.No wonder, the entire workforce have been waiting to be rescued by the Union Budget 2023-24, which let them down.
Their suffering has taught them that the song of growth has no meaning for them in a “jobless growth” scenario. Numerous opportunities has been assured in the next 25 years of Amrit Kaal, but the question for the majority of them is how to survive now. Moreover, the Indian Economy is to decelerate in 2023, a prospect on which all authoritative estimates agree. The consolation of the budget that rise in capex would be able to keep up the growth momentum which would generate enough job is misplaced.
In fact, Budget 2023-24 does not indicate that Modi government has any concrete plan to successfully manage the labour market distortions. Labour market recovery has been fragmented across all economic sectors. Decent work for all promise given by Narendra Modi long back in 2013 during election campaign as PM candidate remains unfulfilled and now don’t even find mention. Budget has even decreased allocations in several schemes for the workforce.
The unkindest cut was made in the rural employment guarantee scheme MGNREGA. There is no employment guarantee scheme in urban areas, and the government did not indicate any intention to have one. The Centre has reduced allocation to Rs60,000 crore for 2023-23 as against 89,400 crore in 2022-23. It has been reduced for the second year.
Since the MGNREGA is a demand driven scheme, government adopts all sorts of discouragement to the jobless rural workforce including non-payment of wages for months, without considering how an unskilled labour can work without wages for months. Such a discouragement exposes the falsehood of the government’s claim as it has been made in the Economic Survey 2022-23, “Year-on-Year (YoY) decline in monthly demand for … work is emanating from normalization of the rural economy due to strong agricultural growth and a swift bounce-back from Covid-19.” Even though there is very high demand, which stood at 6.49 crore as on 24 January 2023.
Union Budget 2023-24 have even reduced the allocation of the Ministry of Labour and Employment from Rs 16,893.68 crore in the last budget to Rs 13,221.73 crore in 2023-24. Several central sector labour welfare schemes have suffered cuts. The budget for the Labour Welfare Scheme has been reduced to Rs 75 crore for 2023-24 as against Rs 120 crore for 2022-23. The little concern of PM Modi for the workforce is revealed even in the PM Karmyogi Mandhan Scheme. The allocation for this scheme has been reduced to paltry Rs 3 crore this year as against Rs 50 crore in 2022-23.
Atmanirbhar Bharat Rojgar Yojna has also seen a cut. It has been reduced to Rs 2,272 for 2023-24 as against Rs 6,400 crore in 2023-24. Allocation of the National Child Labour Project has been reduced to Rs 20 crore for 2023-24 from Rs 30 crore in 2022-23. Budget allocation of skill development and livelihood in the Ministry of Minority Affairs has come down from Rs 491 crore in 2022-23 to only Rs 64 crore for the fiscal year 2023-24. The Bima Yojana for Unorganised Workers, which saw an allocation of Rs 10 lakh in the last Budget, has been stopped. The allocation for National database for Unorganised Workers was also reduced by Rs 200 crore.
These are but only a few examples that are enough to reveal the little concern of the Modi government towards the workforce. In this backdrop the complete social security coverage to the workforce was out of question for the Union Budget 2023-24. We need no further proof of Modi government’s anti-labour attitude which has even got four labour codes ready to implement in the name of much needed and the biggest labour reform in the independent India, which the Central Trade Unions (CTUs) find anti-labour and pro-corporate.
CTUs are very unhappy since the issue of long-term employment and creation of quality jobs have not been addressed. They have been demanding Old Pension Scheme, social security to all, pension to all, regularization of schemed workers, minimum wages for workers of unorganized sector including the agriculture workers, etc.
AITUC general secretary Amarjeet Kaur said that the budget ignores the interest of its 94 per cent of unorganized workforce who contribute 60 per cent of the GDP. CITU general secretary Tapan Sen said that the budget has nothing for employment generation and support for the MSMEs. Even the pro-government BMS while welcoming the budget has cautioned against the support to Artificial Intelligence (AI) and expressed disappointment over neglect to EPS pensioners who are getting only Rs1000 as minimum pension. (IPA Service)