The new data released by the Census of India on identifying households which have individuals who are “seeking” or are “available for jobs” – a phraseology, apparently, used for identifying households without jobs – has found huge intra-state variations in Gujarat. The data, released on September 23, 2014, show that while in Surat there are just six per cent of households which have someone who is jobless, in the neighbouring tribal districts the situation is many times worse. Thus, in the Dahod district, a whopping 28 per cent of households have someone seeking job, followed by Narmada (24 per cent), Panchmahals (21 per cent), the Dangs (18 per cent) and Valsad (18 per cent).
What is particularly shocking is that a few of the “developed” districts of Central Gujarat have higher incidence of joblessness than the districts in Saurashtra-Kutch, which have long been regarded as “backward” and “neglected.” Thus, in Kheda and Anand districts there are 14 per cent households having someone who is seeking job, and in Vadodara there are 13 per cent such households. Interestingly, the state capital Gandhinagar is far behind many states; it has 13 per cent households having someone who is jobless, and Ahmedabad is equal to the state average – 12 per cent.
The districts which seem to be doing quite well in provisioning of jobs, following Surat, mainly belong to the Saurashtra – Rajkot has eight per cent households having someone who is seeking a job, followed by Kutch and Jamnagar (nine per cent each), Junagadh and Bhavnagar (11 per cent) and Amreli (10 per cent). It is not known whether those identified as seeking jobs include the underemployed sections as well – the job aspirants who are unable to jobs throughout the year regularly. The Census of India does not give any explanation on this.
The intra-state comparison of Gujarat acquires significance against the backdrop of the Census of India’s countrywide data, which suggest that Gujarat has the lowest percentage (12) of households with someone seeking job compared to the rest of Indian states. The all-India average is more than twice as high, 28 per cent. The next best performing states are Maharashtra and Karnataka with 14 per cent households having someone seeking job. Even the most urbanized state of India, Tamil Nadu, has 18 per cent job-seeking households, and the state which has long been considered a model of social development, Kerala, has a huge 43 per cent such households.
The data have come at a time when there have been strong expert views suggesting that in a country like India it is not joblessness that as important as underemployment. The “India Labour and Employment Report 2014”, prepared by the Academic Foundation, New Delhi, with the help of the Institute for Human Development, has said that “as is typical for a poor and developing economy, most workers in India cannot afford to be unemployed, hence the level of open unemployment is quite low.” Seeking to pinpoint the problem, the report states, “In reality, the problem is not primarily one of unemployment but lack of productive employment”, suggesting the need to find out how many workers are underemployed, instead of suggesting an unemployment rate.
The National Sample Survey Organization (NSSO) survey report, “Employment and Unemployment Situation in India, 2011-12”, released in January 2014, suggests that in rural areas Gujarat’s underemployment rate (116 persons per 1000) is higher than Andhra Pradesh (88), Assam (85), Himachal Pradesh (90), Jammu & Kashmir (70), Karnataka (48), Maharashtra (103), Odisha (98), Punjab (58), Tamil Nadu (99), Uttarakhand (97), and Uttar Pradesh (84), with the all-India average being 106. In the urban areas, 58 persons out of every 1000 were found to be underemployed in Gujarat, which is higher than Andhra Pradesh (30), Assam (53), Haryana (29), Himachal Pradesh (44), Jammu & Kashmir (55), Punjab (32), Tamil Nadu (54), and West Bengal (52), with the all-India average being 57 per cent. It can be seen that the NSSO data suggest Gujarat has a higher rate of underemployment than the national average both in rural and urban areas. The NSSO data pertain to those who did not work “more or less regularly throughout the year”.
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