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Panels to deliver on job promises

New Delhi, Aug. 29: The Congress-led government plans to set up two high-powered commissions — one on employment and the other on catalysing growth in the small and informal sectors — to fulfil two electoral promises: 100 days work for all able-bodied persons and revitalisation of lakhs of sick small-scale factories.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who has promised to create these two commissions, will be appointing well-known economist and Sonia Gandhi loyalist Arjun Sengupta to head the first, with the rank of a minister.

The commission on employment will try to get around a legal hurdle which has stopped the government from enacting a legislation to guarantee 100 days’ assured work to all men and women, on the line of a similar act in Maharashtra.

The panel’s job will be to work out a new method of getting state governments and various ministries to pool together resources to see the job guarantee works without an act being drawn up.

Officials said organised sector employment has shrunk by a massive 4.2 lakh or 1.5 per cent in 2002. All economic ministries are also being separately asked to put together action plans to reverse the trend. This is likely to be co-ordinated by the commission.

The Prime Minister who seems to have been influenced by the Left on the issue, has also held a meeting of all top trade union leaders to discuss the matter. Among the worst affected are Uttar Pradesh and neighbouring Bihar — two states that hold the key to power in Delhi.

Sources said the decision on the high-powered body is a fall-out of a meeting of the National Advisory Council (NAC) held earlier this month and chaired by the Congress-led alliance leader Sonia Gandhi. The council decided that the draft National Rural Employment Guarantee Bill, 2004 has to be implemented in some way or the other by the government.

The problem with enacting the draft bill is that the law ministry envisages a spate of frivolous court cases claiming damages as a result, which could be filed by political opponents of the government, claiming jobs were not available, despite the law.

The act itself sought to safeguard the right to work by providing guaranteed employment at the statutory minimum wage to all adult persons who volunteer to do unskilled manual work in rural areas.

Top officials, who confirmed they had been asked to make employment growth one of the government’s main policy goals, said, “The unfortunate truth is that since 1998, when the BJP came to power, employment growth has been negative. It grew between 1991 and 1997 but started falling ever since.” The fall has been massive in 1997 — there were 282 lakh organised sector jobs, but in 1998, it fell to 281 lakh and by 2002 to 273 lakh.

To add to the government’s woes, data compiled also shows that of the country’s 3.5 million small-scale industries, some 1.8 lakh are rated sick. The sector, defined as part of the informal as opposed to the organised one, employs another 200 lakh people. And the huge sickness threatens to wipe out about a third of the jobs in this sector.

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