By Dr Santosh Kumar Mohapatra*
Addressing from the ramparts of the Red Fort in New Delhi on the occasion of the country’s 76th Independence Day, Prime Minister Narendra Modi threw light on the Centre’s “Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav”, and described the present time as ‘Amrit Kaal’ which has brought a huge golden opportunity for us to fulfil the aspirations of that aspiration society. Of course, he first used the term ‘Amrit Kaal’ in 2021 during the 75th Independence Day celebrations. Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had repeatedly referred to the term “Amrit Kaal” while presenting the Union Budget 2022.
It is not the first time, but the umpteenth time Prime Minister and his party give catchy slogans like “Achhe din”, “New India”, and “Atma Nirbhara Bharat” to camouflage failures and divert the attention of people from real issues. Despite the deplorable condition, people are hoodwinked to believe that they are leading the best possible lives in a given condition and coerced not to raise their voices against anti-people, pro-rich policies of the government.
But what does it mean? Amrit Kaal is a Vedic astrology term that signifies the perfect time or Shubha muhurta or auspicious time to start a new venture. This is the time when bigger success can be achieved with proper efforts. But the question creeps in mind: ‘Amrit Kaal’ for whom. Certainly not for the poor and vulnerable section of society.
Is it not preposterous to talk “Amrit Kaal”. when the economy is being ravaged by the Corona pandemic, with concomitant people being decimated by soaring inflation, unfettered price rise, privatisation of health, education and essential services? More than 5 lakh people have succumbed to the pandemic as per the official figure. Actually, it will be much high. Indeed, it is not “Amrit Kaal” but “noxious time”, poisonous times as India witnessed record 1.64 lakh suicides in 2021. It means about 450 people committed suicide every day and about 18 people committed suicide every hour. Hatred has been created against critics and minorities especially on television channels in such a way that the supreme court has to ask the government not to be a mute spectator.
How can prime Minster talk of “Amrit Kaal” when India has the ignominy of being home to the highest number of hungry, homeless and poor people in the world? Around 27.9 per cent of Indians are multidimensionally poor as per the Multidimensional Poverty Index of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI). The country ranked 62nd out of 109 nations on the index. This index was based on 10 indicators such as lack of improved drinking water, adequate nutrition, or at least six years of schooling.
Even according to Niti Aayog, 25.1 per cent of Indians are multidimensionally poor. What is reprehensible is that India ranks 101 out of 116 countries in the Global Hunger Index, down from 55th rank in 2014. This means India is behind 100 countries in eliminating hunger and its level of hunger is serious. According to the report “The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2022”, around 70.5 per cent or 97.33 crore Indians were unable to access healthy food, and 22.4 crores or 16.3 per cent of Indians are undernourished.
According to the 2011 census, India has about 1.77 million homeless people, of which about 52 per cent live in urban areas of the country. India has the highest number of slaves in the world, with estimates ranging from 14 million to 18 million people.
PM Modi’s pompous claim of “Amrit kaal “Is belied by the grim fact that India is ranked 121 out of 163 countries in the Sustainable Development Index 2022 of the United Nations; 132 out of 191 countries in the Human Development Index (HDP) of 2021 of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP); 136th out of 146 countries in World Happiness Index 2022; global peace index (135 out of 163 countries), corruption perception Index (86 out of 180 countries) ; 35 out of 165 countries in the world in 2021 for Quality of Life, according to the CEOWORLD magazine 2021 report.
The World Economic Forum had come out with its first-ever Global Social Mobility Report, in January 2020 which ranked India a lowly 72 out of the 82 countries profiled. According to the report, in India, it would take 7 generations for a member of a poor family to achieve an average income. What portends ominous time now is that in most of indexes, India ‘s position has declined since Modi rode into power in 2014.
The PM in his speech kept talking about the aspirational youth and how they always want to go for more during their lifetime, and don’t want to wait forever for better facilities and resources. But, the UN’s Sustainability Index report 2021 assesses the capacity of 180 countries to ensure that their youngsters can survive and thrive, India ranks 77th on the and 131 on the Flourishing Index, Flourishing is the geometric mean of Surviving and Thriving.
Is it not outrageous to say “Amrit Kaal”, Sabka Sath, Sabka Vikas, Sabka Vishwas, Sabka Prayas’ when youth are roaming on the street without jobs or attending a political rally for skimpy money? Many youths’ hopes and aspirations have been shattered and shrivelled due to the reduction of jobs. The present job scenario is so precarious that youths are not searching for jobs as reflected in the declining labour force participation.
According to the CMIE’s report, now, more than half of the 90 crore Indians of legal working age — roughly the population of the US and Russia combined — don’t want a job. Between 2016-17 and 2021- 22, the overall labour participation rate dropped from 46 to 40per cent. Among women, the data is even starker. In 2016-17 about 15 per cent of women were employed or looking for jobs; this metric dipped to 9.2 per cent in 2021-22.
Unfortunately, ruling class politicians are describing tea or pakoras selling as jobs and indicators of AtmaNirbhara Bharat. In India, employment in the organised sector, quality employment is declining which is necessary for aspiring youth . Only we see vulnerable employment.
According to the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE), ‘the Unemployment Rate in India averaged 8.35 per cent from 2018 until 2022, reaching an all-time high of 23.50 per cent in April 2020 during the pandemic and a record low of 6.50 per cent in November 2020. The Modi government, which promised 2 crore jobs every year back in 2014, has, in fact, heightened the unemployment crisis. Before the Pandemic struck, the country’s unemployment rate was 6.1 per cent in 2017-18, a 45-year high, as per the Indian government’s periodic labour force survey (PLFS) data.
According to data by the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE), the joblessness rate in the country has touched 7.71 percent as of August 14, driven majorly by urban unemployment which has crossed 9 percent , standing at 9.12 percent as of August 14. Actually, the unemployment rate will be much high if more youth will search for jobs. Those who don’t search for jobs are not considered unemployed.
For India’s employment-to-population ratio to be at the global average, nearly 60 crore people need to be at work. Currently, only a little more than 40 crores are. So, India still needs to create additional 19 crores of employment to reach the global average. According to a 2020 report by McKinsey Global Institute, India needs to create, at least, 9 crore non-farm jobs by 2030.
The government had in February this year informed the Rajya Sabha that there were an estimated 8.72 lakh vacancies in various Central ministries and departments as of March 1, 2020, in respect of regular civilian employees.
However, other sources reveal that at least 30 lakh sanctioned posts under the central government (including those under various bodies and institutions run by the Centre) and an estimated 30 lakh posts under various state governments are lying vacant.
The rush for government jobs continued unabated over the last eight years but less than 1 per cent of applications received were selected. Of the 22.05 crore applications received from 2014-15 to 2021-22, only 7.22 lakh or 0.33 per cent were recommended for appointment in different Central government departments, the government informed the Lok Sabha on July 28, 2022.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi hailed ‘Nari Shakti and’ said that respect for women is an important pillar of India’s growth. Stating that women in India face many challenges, he gave a message to the nation to take a pledge to stop disrespecting women or do nothing that lowers the dignity of women.
His statement reveals women don’t enjoy dignity and there is no Amrit Kaal for women too. This can be corroborated by a poll of global experts released by Thomson Reuters Foundation, in 2018. According to a report India is the world’s most dangerous country for women due to the high risk of sexual violence and being forced into slave labour, In India, violence against women is rampant too. The real face of “Amrit Kal “or new India is seen when 11 people were convicted of rape and murder in the Bilkis Bano case of 2002 Gujrat riots within hours of his praise of Nari shakti.
The disconcerting news is that over a 15 percent rise in crime against women in 2021 portends how Nari Shakti was annihilated, and the “ NarituNarayani” concept smothered. According to National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), in 2021, cases of crime against women rose to 4,28,278 in 2021 showing an increase of 56,775 cases or 15.3 percent from 3,71,503 cases in 2020.
Crimes against women include cases of rape, molestation, acid attack, cruelty by husband/his relatives, and domestic violence, among others. The NCRB report also noted, “Majority of cases under crime against women under IPC were registered under ‘Cruelty by Husband or His Relatives’ (31.8 percent) followed by ‘Assault on Women with Intent to Outrage her Modesty’ (20.8 percent), ‘Kidnapping & Abduction of Women’ (17.6 percent) and ‘Rape’ (7.4 percent). The NCRB report also corroborates the National Family Health Survey (NFHS)-5 report. According to (NFHS), nearly one-third of women in India have experienced physical or sexual violence.
The Gender Inequality Index is generally considered the most definitive template for measuring gender inequality, which takes into account Maternal Reproductive Health, Parliamentary representation and Female Workforce participation. India is placed abysmally 122nd place out of 162 countries in 2022 gender inequity Index GII is a composite metric of gender inequality using three dimensions: reproductive health, empowerment and the labour market. A low GII value indicates low inequality between women and men, and vice-versa.
The Global Gender Gap Index which measures gender gaps across four dimensions: economic opportunities, education, health and political leadership ranks India at 135 out of 146 countries in the 2022 index. In 2021, India was ranked 140 out of 156 countries. India had ranked 114 among 142 countries in 2014. This is of concern considering India ranked somewhere in the middle, bagging the 87th position worldwide just six years ago, in 2016. India’s gender gap has been widening greatly since 2020, the analysis of the reports showed. According to this index, India requires around 200 years to close the gender gap.
Women in India also suffer from gender pay gap. According to Global Gender Gap Report 2021, the gender pay gap in India is among the widest in the world. Women, on average, earn 21 per cent of the income of men. Labour income is the amount that employed people earn by working. However, in India, where the gender ratio is almost as equal, men earn 82 percent of the labour income whereas women earn just 18 per cent of it, lower than the average for Asia, which was at 27 per cent in 2019, according to the first estimates of gender inequality in global earnings presented in the World Inequality Report 2022.
Actually, the present time is Amrut Bela for the rich, corporates, and powerful people. The extremely rich and powerful are profiting from pain and suffering. This is unconscionable. The system is so rigged, that whether it be the Covid recession or post-Covid inflation, the rich gain and the poor lose. Rich, corporates are benefiting from negative real interest rate, lower corporate tax and manipulation of stock market. The corporate profit to GDP ratio hit 10-year high of 2.63 percent in 2020-21. In 2021-22. Cumulative profits of top 500 companies as a percentage of the country’s GDP hit an 11-year high of 4.3 percent.
According to Oxfam India, based on the ‘Inequality Kills Report: during the pandemic (since March 2020, through to November 30th, 2021), when more than 4.6 crore Indians meanwhile are estimated to have fallen into extreme poverty in 2020 (nearly half of the global new poor according to the United Nations.), 84 percent family experienced a decline of income, the number of Indian billionaires grew from 102 to 143 during the pandemic period and the wealth of billionaires increased from Rs 23.14 lakh crore (USD 313 billion) to Rs 53.16 lakh crore (USD 719 billion).
The wealth of richest 98 same as bottom 55.2 crore. According to Credit Suisse’s 12th wealth report, in India, the richest 1 percent of the country has 33 percent of the country’s total wealth, while the 10 percent has 64.6 percent of the country’s total wealth. On the other hand, only 5.9 percent of the total national wealth remains in the hands of half the people of the country.Creating wealth at an unprecedented speed of Rs 1,612 crore per day, billionaire Gautam Adani has more than doubled his wealth in the last one year to beat Amazon Founder Jeff Bezos as the world’s second-richest man, according to IIFL Wealth Hurun India Rich List 2022 released few days ago.
Our tax system is so regressive that the poor pay more through indirect taxes. The government has reduced the corporate tax rate and abolished wealth tax to help the rich and corporate accumulate wealth unencumbered. But blatantly, it raises resources by privatising the public sector or monetising national assets and imposing a higher excise tax on petroleum products, GST on food items and insurance premiums.
While honest people are made to pay taxes even on their hard-earned savings, the rich/corporate behemoth stash away their black money in tax havens to evade taxes. The rich/corporate/powerful people plunder people’s money through banking fraud, loan write off, tax evasion, and tax exemption.
Once Gandhiji had told, “I will give you a Talisman. Whenever you are in doubt, or when the self becomes too much with you, apply the following test. Recall the face of the poorest and the weakest man whom you may have seen, and ask yourself, if the step you contemplate is going to be of any use to him. Really the true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members.
The rich cannot accumulate wealth without the cooperation of the poor in society. But the present time is an ominous, noxious period for poor and downtrodden even a large section of Indians which the government must admire and address.
The author is an Odisha-based eminent columnist/economist and social thinker. He can be reached through e-mail at [email protected]
DISCLAIMER: The views expressed in the article are solely those of the author and do not in any way represent the views of Sambad English