The mirage of government jobs
Once a status symbol, government jobs have been shrinking at a fast rate.
Government jobs are perhaps one of the most coveted things in India, a status symbol for a certain class of people. Competitive exams like that of UPSC (Union Public Service Commission) have created a cottage industry of coaching centres, churning out masses of people who appear for these examinations. Apart from the civil services, defence and central police organisation, there are also public sector undertakings (PSUs) that offer a different outlet to people.
Why are government jobs so coveted? Because they offer a sense of security, particularly in uncertain times. In a third world country like India, this sense of security is important. It changes how people see you, your marriage prospects, and so on.
Before liberalisation in the 1990s, government jobs reigned supreme. While the private sector was around, it could never match the benefits of a government job. Liberalisation in the 90s offered a new promise and captured the imagination of a generation tired of the staid and slow progress. It brought about changes that were celebrated then but have lost their sheen since.
The 2008 crisis in the world economy put brakes on that imagination. As the job market started displaying uncertainties again, the desire of government jobs came back with a vengeance. Nowadays, news reports of a huge number of people applying for whichever government job is advertised have become common, whenever it is advertised. There was even an instance of people with PhDs applying for the post of a sweeper. This is, perhaps, the best indication of uncertain times.
It has been argued in some quarters that this may be because population growth in India makes it impossible to provide enough jobs for people. But perhaps the greater question is whether government jobs have grown as well. The answer to that is that they have not.
According to Himanshu, an economist at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), government jobs have actually shrunk. In the last 20 to 30 years, over a million government jobs have been lost, he said. Thus, while the number of people wanting government jobs has increased exponentially, the number of jobs they can apply for has decreased.
Further compounding the situation, the government is also not actively trying to fill vacancies. Every year, several positions are left vacant. According to Jayati Ghosh, economist and professor at JNU, there are 2.4 million vacancies in the central government jobs that have not been filled. She estimates there would be several more vacancies if state governments are also included.
There is no doubt that the job scenario is really bad in the country. The NSSO job survey which was leaked painted a bleak picture. The Narendra Modi government is not ready to admit that demonetisation had an adverse impact on the job market in India.
A video went viral earlier this month, in which an employee of Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited, a PSU, was seen crying because salaries were not paid on time. According to media reports, the company is struggling to pay salaries on time and was forced to take out loans. This was once a very profitable company. Many PSUs are similarly facing problems. The biggest example is Air India.
While the desire for government jobs is stronger than ever now, in reality there not that many for people anymore. The crisis of government jobs reflects a larger one of jobs in India.