Why young Indians are so enraged about Agnipath is explained by government data: Employment with salaries is rarely growing.
Outrage has spread throughout the nation over the Agnipath temporary military service scheme of the Modi administration. Young people have flocked to the streets and destroyed public property, including trains that have been set on fire, from Bihar to Uttar Pradesh and Telangana. But why do so many Indian youth appear to be upset with the program?
The answer may be found in the government’s most recent Periodic Labor Force Survey (PLFS), which was released last week and covers the time period between July 2020 and June 2021 (during the pandemic).
According to the poll, “regular/salaried employees” are “persons who worked in others’ farm or non-farm enterprises (both home and non-household) and earned a regular income or pay in exchange” (i.e. not on the basis of daily or periodic renewal of work contract).
This category contains both full-time and part-time paid apprentices. According to the most recent PLFS, 13% of rural families earn a regular income or wage, up from 9.6% in 2011-12.The urban salaried class currently accounts for 42.5% of the workforce, up from 41.7 percent in 2011-12.
The National Sample Survey Organization (NSSO), which is a division of the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation, provided the data for 2011–12. The National Statistical Office first deployed the PLFS in 2017–18.
In 2017–18, the salaried class made up, respectively, 41.4% and 12.7% of the urban and rural populations. The Indian armed services are recruiting young individuals between the ages of 17.5 and 21 (or 23 this year) as part of a four-year short-term recruiting strategy known as Agnipath. After four years, the new policy’s detractors claim that the military will only accept 25% of those who were recruited in a batch.
In contrast to regular military personnel, these recruits sometimes referred to as “Agniveer,” will not be entitled for a dearness allowance or a pension. According to reports, young people who have been studying for defense recruiting examinations in hopes of finding secure jobs are the main critics of the idea.
According to Professor Archana Prasad of Jawaharlal Nehru University’s Centre for Informal Sector and Labor Studies, the apparent increase in the share of the salaried class in the PLFS is deceptive since it now includes gig workers and drivers (for example, delivery executives for food aggregators).
The gradual formalization of work that has taken place over the past ten years is what’s responsible for the little increase in the percentage of salaried/regular wage-earners, she said. “You see, these wage employees just get paid a salary; they don’t get any benefits like Provident Fund (PF), paid time off, stable employment, etc.”
She mentioned that these characteristics are what set the official and informal sectors apart. “In this context, the Agnipath initiative would fall short of young people’s aspirations.”
Slow increase in the number of high-quality jobs
The major government employers have traditionally been the Indian Railways and the Department of Defense. However, during the last six years, the railways have cut 72,000 employees. Because of COVID-19, the Army stopped recruiting for two years. Slow or nonexistent recruiting has caused protests to break out.
About 4 lakh people and more than 1 lakh families are included in the most recent PLFS (55,300 rural and 44,950 urban). 54 percent of rural households engaged in any economic activity in 2020–21, according to the survey, were self-employed.
An estimated 24.2 percent of the workforce was made up of casual employees, sometimes referred to as “those working in others’ agricultural or non-farm operations and receiving paid according to the conditions of the daily or periodic work contract.”
The 13% salaried class in rural regions is a national estimate. According to PLFS 2020-21 data, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, which are now the epicenters of the Agnipath demonstrations, are also states where the salaried class constitutes a minority of the working class.
The salaried class makes about 6.5 percent of all working people in Bihar, according to PLFS data. In metropolitan areas, just 24 percent of households in the state—the lowest in the nation—receive a regular salary or pay.
In compared to 2017–18, the salaried class’s size shrank in 2020–21. In Bihar, around 25 percent of urban households and about 9.5 percent of rural families received a regular wage or pay in 2017–18.
In Uttar Pradesh, the state with the most population in the nation, 7.2% of people in rural areas got a regular income or wage in 2020–21, an increase from 7.3% in 2017–18. Urban regions’ share increased from 32.1 percent in 2017–18 to 35.1 percent in 2020–21.
A substantial majority of defense recruits are expected to come from the salaried class in rural areas. Approximately 78 percent of the 54,431 Army recruits in 2018–19 were from rural India, according to information provided by the Ministry of Defense in response to a Lok Sabha inquiry. 77% of the 80,000 new recruits in 2019–20 were from rural regions.
Pressure to produce
Another aspect of the pressure on these young hopefuls that the PLFS underlines is the need to provide for their families. According to the survey, states with low regular pay employees also have the greatest rates of the non-working population, such as children (0–14 years old) and seniors (65 years and older), per 100 working individuals (15–64 years old.
This ratio is greatest in Bihar, where there are 58 persons who rely on every 100 working people. This ratio is greatest in Bihar, where there are 58 persons who rely on every 100 working people. According to Prasad, a plan like Agnipath is unlikely to alter the unemployment situation if ordinary job growth continues modest.
Since there are so many unemployed youths, labor is fundamentally cheaper, which reduces their prospects of earning more money. When the number of well-paying employment isn’t increasing quickly, I don’t think training unemployed youths for the military for four years before releasing them back into the workforce is the answer.
Self-employment is not as profitable.
The majority of people who work in an economic activity in rural India and around one-third of those in urban India are self-employed, according to PLFS figures. The national government has encouraged self-employment to aid in job creation under Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
For the salaried class, 30–40% of wages come from self-employment, such as selling pakoras or starting a grocery shop in one’s home, according to PLFS data on the average monthly income earned by employees.
A regular wage/salary employee in rural India, for example, made little more than Rs 15,000 per month, whereas a person who was self-employed made just under Rs 10,000 in the month prior to the election.