Mr Jaitley, One Thing Direct Tax Collections Show is That Acche Din are Here for CAs

A little over a week back, the numbers for the direct tax collections for 2017-2018, were released. The net direct tax collections have improved by around 17.1% to Rs 9.95 lakh crore. The direct tax collections consist of corporate tax, personal income tax and other direct taxes. This is the gross direct tax collection. After, refunds are deducted from it, what remains are the net direct tax collections.

The finance minister attributed this increase in net direct tax collections to demonetisation and Goods and Services Tax, which had resulted in a higher formalisation of the economy. The interpretation being that with increased formalisation people paid more tax.

The trouble with looking at just the absolute direct tax collections is that they do not take into account the fact that the size of the economy has also grown. Hence, any tax collection, should always be looked at as a proportion of the gross domestic product. How do things look when we look at the direct tax to the GDP ratio?

Take a look at Figure 1, which plots that.

Figure 1: 

Source: https://www.incometaxindia.gov.in/Documents/Direct%20Tax%20Data/Time-Series-Data-2016-17.pdf.
For 2017-2018, the figure has been arrived at using data from http://pib.nic.in/PressReleseDetail.aspx?PRID=1527290
and http://pib.nic.in/PressReleseDetail.aspx?PRID=1522059.

What does Figure 1 tell us? It tells us that the direct tax to GDP ratio in 2017-2018 is likely to be at 5.94%. We use the word likely because right now what we have is a GDP estimate for 2017-2018, which will change when the actual numbers come out, later this year.

The direct tax to GDP ratio in 2016-2017 was at 5.6%. Hence, there is an improvement of 34 basis points (one basis point is one hundredth of a percentage), year on year. If we look at historical data, such a jump happened almost every year between 2001-2002 and 2007-2008. And no demonetisation or GST happened back then.

In 2007-2008, the direct taxes to GDP ratio peaked to 6.3%. The stock market was rallying big time back then. Once it crashed, the direct taxes to GDP ratio fell over the next few years. What this basically means is that when the stock market is doing well, the investors pay a lot more short-term capital gains tax than they do otherwise. And this improves the direct taxes to the GDP ratio of the government.

This is a factor that needs to be taken into account for the jump in direct tax collections as 2017-2018 as well. The stock market has been rallying over the last few years, and there is bound to have been some jump in the short-term capital gains tax collections. Given that an exact breakdown of different kinds of taxes is not available in the public domain as of now, we cannot adjust for it. These gains need to be adjusted for simply because they are temporary in nature.

But, we are sure, the mandarins at the finance ministry have this data, they can very well adjust for it and then tell us, what has been the real growth in direct tax collections.

There is another factor which makes the data look a lot better than it perhaps actually is. The net direct tax collections as mentioned earlier are arrived at by subtracting refunds from gross direct collections. Let’s take a look at Figure 2.

Figure 2: 

Source: Author calculations on data from https://www.incometaxindia.gov.in/Documents/Direct%20Tax%20Data/Time-Series-Data-2016-17.pdfhttp://pib.nic.in/PressReleseDetail.aspx?PRID=1527290
and http://pib.nic.in/PressReleseDetail.aspx?PRID=1522059.

The refunds have fallen from 1.07% of the GDP in 2016-2017, to 0.89% of the GDP in 2017-2018. This is the second biggest fall in refunds between 2000-2001 and 2017-2018. It will be interesting to see what portion of the returns filed still remain to be processed. The larger point being that the direct tax collections data does not pass this basic smell test.

Further, if we look at GDP growth, 2017-2018 has seen slowest GDP growth (in nominal terms without adjusting for inflation) since 2011-2012. The government collecting higher taxes while the overall economy is slowing down, is not something to be proud of.

Let’s look at another data point that the Modi government keeps tom-tomming about at any given opportunity. That the number of tax returns being filed has been going up at a rapid pace. As the press release accompanying the announcement of direct tax numbers pointed out: “During FY 2017-18, 6.84 crore Income Tax Returns (ITRs) were filed with the Income Tax Department as compared to 5.43 crore ITRs filed during FY 2016-17, showing a growth of 26%. There has been a sustained increase in the number of ITRs filed in the last four financial years. As compared to 3.79 crore ITRs filed in F.Y. 2013-14, the number of ITRs filed during F.Y. 2017-18 (6.84 crore) has increased by 80.5%.”

Between 2013-2014 and 2017-2018, the number of income tax returns being filed has gone up 80.5%. During the same period the direct taxes to GDP ratio has gone up from 5.62% to 5.94%, by around 32 basis points.

What does this tell us? It tells us that more and more income tax returns are being filed, without any tax being paid. Why? Simply because the taxable income is not enough to be taxed.

The Economic Survey of 2017-2018 acknowledges this: “Analysis suggests that new filers reported an average income, in many cases, close to the income tax threshold of Rs. 2.5 lakhs.”

The Survey believes that “as income growth over time pushes many of the new tax filers over the threshold, the revenue dividends should increase robustly.”

Basically, what the Economic Survey is saying that a bulk of new tax filers are close to the income threshold of Rs 2.5 lakh. Income tax needs to be paid by individuals only if taxable income is more than Rs 2.5 lakh. The Economic Survey believes that as these people earn more, cross the Rs 2.5 lakh limit and pay tax. But the assumption here is that the Rs 2.5 lakh limit will continue to be the same.

Logically, it will have to go up in the years to come, simply because inflation needs to be taken into account. Hence, this argument doesn’t quite hold.

To conclude, the chartered accountants (CAs) in the business of filing returns are basically having the last laugh. The good thing at least someone is seeing the promised acche din.

The column originally appeared on Equitymaster on April 10th, 2018.

India’s Investment Conundrum

road
The Economic Survey released by the ministry of finance every year before the budget is by far the best document on the ‘real’ state of the Indian economy. The latest Economic Survey released in late January, discusses the poor state of investment in India in great detail.

The investment to gross domestic product (GDP) ratio (a measure what part of the overall economy does investment form) peaked in 2007 at 35.6%. It has been falling ever since and in 2017, it had stood at 26.4%. No other country in the world has gone through such a huge investment bust, during the same period, the Survey suggests.

Further, the Survey remains pessimistic about whether India will be able to bounce back from here. For one, India’s investment slowdown is not yet over. As the Survey puts it: “Cross -country evidence indicates a notable absence of automatic bounce-backs from investment slowdowns. The deeper the slowdown, the slower and shallower the recovery.”

Evidence from other countries which have gone through a similar investment slowdown seems to suggest that a full recovery rarely happens. Further, a fall in private investment accounts for a bulk of the investment decline. This is something that can be seen from the fact that new projects announcement in the period of three months ending December 2017, came in at a 13-year low (as per data from Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy).

A fall in the investment to GDP ratio also suggests that enough jobs and employment opportunities are not be created. A recent estimate made by the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy suggests that in 2017, two million jobs were created for 11.5 million Indians who joined the labour force during the year.

With sufficient jobs and employment opportunities not going around, it has impacted the earning capacity of many Indians, especially, the one million Indians entering the workforce every month.

Ultimately, enough jobs and employment opportunities not being created has translated itself into a lack of growth on the consumer demand front. This can be seen in the capacity utilisation of manufacturing firms which has varied between 70-72% for a while now. This lack of consumer demand has finally translated into falling corporate profits, over the last decade.

Take a look at Figure 1.

Figure 1:
graph
Source: Economic Survey 2017-2018.

Figure 1 plots the corporate profits as a proportion of the GDP since 2008. The Indian profits are represented by the blue line, which has gone down. As the Economic Survey points out: “India’s current corporate earnings/GDP ratio has been sliding… falling to just 3½ percent.” Indian corporate profits have halved since 2008. This is a clear impact of a falling investment to GDP ratio.

Of course, no relationship in economics can be totally linear.

A falling investment rate leads to fewer jobs and employment opportunities, in turn leading to lower consumer demand and lower corporate profits.

Lower consumer demand obviously has a negative impact on the investment rate, which again has an impact on jobs, employment opportunities and corporates profits. And so the cycle works.

John Maynard Keynes, in the aftermath of the Great Depression of 1929, had suggested that when the private sector is not investing, the government needs to step in, up the ante, spend money and create consumer demand.

One of the best sectors to invest in, in order to create demand is housing. The sector has many forward and backward linkages, which can have a huge multiplier effect. As the finance minister Arun Jaitley said in his budget speech: “Under Prime Minister Awas Scheme Rural, 51 lakhs houses in year 2017-18 and 51 lakh houses during 2018-19 which is more than one crore houses will be constructed exclusively in rural areas. In urban areas the assistance has been sanctioned to construct 37 lakh houses.” A few months back, the government had announced a huge road building programme as well.

These programmes will definitely help. But the government can only do so much, given the fact that India’s investment to GDP ratio has been falling for more than a decade. The government doesn’t have access to an unlimited amount of money, and the private sector needs to start investing if the investment rate has to revive.

The private sector won’t do so, at least not immediately, because of a lack of consumer demand and also because it is just coming out of a huge borrowing binge. The government can only facilitate this situation by pushing through ease of doing business at every level.

As Jaitley said in his speech: “To carry the business reforms for ease of doing business deeper and in every State of India, the Government of India has identified 372 specific business reform actions.” These reforms need to be quickly implemented, if there has to be any hope of breaking India’s investment conundrum.

The column originally appeared in Daily News and Analysis on February 13, 2018.

Stop Fighting, Mr Taxman

Sometime in mid-2016, the revenue secretary Hasmukh Adhia, quoted the prime minister Narendra Modi as saying: “You should behave like mentors to people, rather than invaders. Don’t presume that every one is tax evader.”

The “you” in this case were tax administrators. Prime minister Modi was speaking at a two-day annual conference of tax administrators. He also asked taxmen to be soft and sober in their approach towards those who pay tax.

The Economic Survey for 2017-2018 released yesterday reveals that the taxmen across board are anything but soft and sober towards taxpayers. And that they love to litigate and then lose.

As of March 2017, more than 1.37 lakh direct tax (individual income tax, corporation tax etc.) cases were pending at the level of ITAT, various High Courts and the Supreme Court (See Figure 1).

Figure 1: Pending Direct Tax Cases.

Source: Economic Survey 2017-2018.

As the Survey points out: “Just 0.2% of these cases constituted nearly 56% of the total demand value; and 66% of pending cases, each less than Rs 10 lakhs in claim amount, added up to a mere 1.8% of the total locked-up value of pending cases.” Basically, this data shows that the cases where the amount of the tax dispute is really large, form a very small part of the whole.

A similar situation exists for indirect taxes (customs and excise) as well. Take a look at Figure 2.

Figure 2: Pending Indirect Tax Cases.

Source: Economic Survey 2017-2018.

As of end March 2017, a total of 1.45 lakh appeals were pending with the Commissioner (Appeals), CESTAT, various High Courts and the Supreme Court.

As of end March 2017, the total claims for both direct and indirect taxes stuck in litigation amounted to Rs 7.58 lakh crore or 4.7 per cent of the GDP. This value of total claims stuck in litigation has been going up over the years.

Imagine the kind of things that the government could do with this money. The trouble is that the taxmen do not have a great record at litigation. Their success rate is extremely low. Take a look at Table 1.

Table 1:

Source: Economic Survey 2017-2018.

As can be seen from the above Table, the taxmen tend to lose a bulk of the cases. In case of the Supreme Court, their success rate is 27 per cent in case of direct tax cases and 11 per cent in cases of indirect tax cases. This also tells us the strength of the cases brought upon the assessees are fairly week.

In fact, over a period of time, the success rate of the taxmen has been going down, the Economic Survey points out: “The [taxman] unambiguosuly loses 65% of its cases. Over a period of time, the success rate… has only been declining, while that of the assessees has been increasing.”

Despite, this lack of success, the taxmen are big litigants. As can be seen in Table 1, the petition rate is very high. The petition rate is basically defined as “the percentage of the total number of appeals filed by” the taxmen. The remaining appeals are those filed by the assessees. In case of indirect taxes, the petition rates are lower than that of direct taxes.

The taxmen don’t give up litigating easily and even if they lose at lower levels, they continue to appeal at higher levels. But as we saw earlier, at least in case of direct taxes, a bulk of these claims are of less than Rs 10 lakh. And given that the taxmen lose a bulk of these cases, this is basically nothing but the harassment of people who pay their taxes honestly.

Gurcharan Das explains one reason for this in his book India Grows at Night. As he writes: “The problem [lies] in the fact that the decision to litigate [is] made at the lowest level in the bureaucracy but the decision not to litigate [is] made at the highest level. If this process were simply reversed, government litigation would come down.”

In fact, the fact that taxmen love to litigate increases the workload on the Courts and this is something that can be well avoided. Even though, the “strike rate [of taxmen] has been falling considerably over a period of time, it is undeterred, and persists in pursuing litigation at every level of the judicial hierarchy.” And this impacts the functioning of the Courts.

As the Survey points out: “Since tax litigation constitutes a large share of the workload of High Courts and the Supreme Court, Courts and the Department may gain from a reduction in appeals pursued at higher levels of the judiciary. Less might be more.”

This is something that the Narendra Modi government needs to think about if it wants the tax to GDP ratio to go up in the years to come. The taxmen need to litigate less and concentrate on the bigger cases to be more effective and deliver more bang for the buck. But this isn’t happening currently. And most importantly, who reads the Economic Survey?

The column was originally published in Think Pragati on January 31, 2018.

One Learning from Economic Survey: India’s Future is Pakodanomics

One issue that I have regularly written and discussed in my columns is India’s investment to gross domestic product (GDP) ratio, which has fallen dramatically over the years. The latest Economic Survey gets into great detail regarding this issue and paints, what I would call a very bleak picture of India’s economic future.

India’s investment to GDP ratio “climbed from 26.5 percent in 2003, reached a peak of 35.6 percent in 2007, and then slid back to 26.4 percent in 2017.” This is a huge fall of 9.2 per cent from the peak.

As the Economic Survey points out: “And while it is true that the past 15 years have been a special period for the entire global economy, no other country seems to have gone through such a large investment boom and bust during this period.”

Why has this dramatic fall in investment as a proportion of the overall economy happened? This is something that has been analysed to death. Nevertheless, as the Survey points out: “India’s investment slowdown is unusual in that it is so far relatively moderate in magnitude, long in duration, and started from a relatively high peak rate of 36 percent of GDP. Furthermore, it has a specific nature, in that it is a balance sheet related slowdown. In other words, many companies have had to curtail their investments because their finances are stressed, as the investments they undertook during the boom have not generated enough revenues to allow them to service the debts that they have incurred.”

It is well known that companies tend to invest and expand when they are unable to meet the demand from their current production capacity. The Reserve Bank of India carries out capacity utilisation surveys of manufacturing firms every three months. The latest survey for the period April to June 2017, found that capacity utilisation stood at 71.2 per cent. In fact, capacity utilisation has varied between 70 and 72 per cent for a while now.

As economist Madan Sabnanvis writes in his new book Economics of India-How to Fool all People for all Times: “The capacity utilisation rate has gotten stuck in the region of 70-72 per cent which means two things: first demand is absent, and second, even if it does increase, production can be scaled up without going in for fresh investment.”

While, it is easy to hope that this is something that can be unravelled, history tends to suggest otherwise. The Economic Survey looks at many other countries which, in the past, have gone through what India is currently going through on the lack of investment front. The Survey specifically looks at “cases in which the rate of investment has fallen by at least 8.5 percentage points from its peak over a 9 year period are considered.” It then goes on to find out, “what is the investment rate 11, 14 and 17 years after the peak?”

The results are far from encouraging. As the Survey points out: “Investment declines flowing from balance sheet problems are much more difficult to reverse. In these cases, investment remains highly depressed, even 17 years after the peak… India’s investment decline so far has been unusually large when compared to other balance sheet cases.”

The Survey further points out: “The median country reverses only about 25 percent of the decline 14 years after the peak, and about 40 percent of the decline 17 years after the peak.” This conclusion is based on a sample of 30 countries where the investment to GDP ratio fell by 8.5 per cent from its peak, over a 9-year period. As we have seen earlier, the investment to GDP ratio in the Indian case fell from a peak of 35.6 per cent in 2007 to 26.4 per cent in 2017.

The data points stated above do not give us much hope. It basically means that over a period of 11 years after the investment to GDP ratio peaked, the median country in the sample tends to improve its investment to GDP ratio by 2.5 per cent from the lowest level achieved. As the Survey points out: “A ‘full’ recovery is defined as attainment of an investment rate that completely reverses the fall, while no recovery implies the inability to reverse the fall at all or worse.”

The trouble is in the Indian case, more than a decade has elapsed, and the investment to

GDP ratio has continued to fall.

Take a look at Figure 1.

Figure 1: Count and Extent of Recovery from India-Type Investment Decline*Note: *T is the peak time Period *: A fifty percent recovery implies that the country attained an investment rate that reversed half of the 8.5 percentage point fall. The dots imply the percentage of the total fall that the median country namaged to reverse.

Figure 1, basically points out that over a period of 17 years after the investment to GDP ratio peaked, 10 out of the 28 countries were able to make a recovery of more than 50 per cent. Given that the Indian investment to GDP ratio has continued to fall, this does not give us too much hope. Despite this large fall in investment, India has had to pay a moderate cost in terms of growth. As the Survey points out: “Between 2007 and 2016, rate of real per-capita GDP growth has fallen by about 2.3 percentage points-that is lower than the above 3 percent decline in growth noticed, on average, in episodes in other countries that have registered investment declines of similar magnitudes.”

It is a given that unless this investment slowdown reverses at a very rapid rate, India’s hopes of providing jobs and decent employment opportunities, to a million Indians who are entering the workforce every month and the 8.4 crore Indians who need to be moved out of agriculture to make it economically feasible, remains just that, a hope.

India’s hopes of a double digit economic growth, also remain just a hope. As the Survey points out: “A one percentage point fall in investment rate is expected to dent growth by 0.4-0.7 percentage points.”

What does the Economic Survey think India’s chances are? “India’s investment decline seems particularly difficult to reverse, partly because it stems from balance sheet stress and partly because it has been usually large. Cross -country evidence indicates a notable absence of automatic bounce-backs from investment slowdowns. The deeper the slowdown, the slower and shallower the recovery,” the Survey states.

But given that it is a government document, it ends on a note of hope. “At the same time, it remains true that some countries in similar circumstances have had fairly strong recoveries, suggesting that policy action can decisively improve the outlook,” the Survey states. While this sentence suggests hope, there is nothing in the analysis carried out in the Economic Survey, which gives any hope.

The trouble is that the policy action has had next to no impact on the investment to GDP ratio for more than a decade now. The ratio has simply continued to fall.

So, what does that leave us with? Without an increase in investment there will be very few jobs and employment opportunities being created. Basically, any industry that is set up in any area, first provides jobs to people who work for it. It also creates jobs for the ancillary industries which feed into it. Over and above this, it creates other employment opportunities in the area.

When the IT industry took off in and around Bengaluru, other than providing jobs to engineers, it provided employment opportunities for drivers, cooks, maids, shop keepers, and so on. At the second level, as the engineers earned more, and demanded good residential spaces to live in, it created demand for builders. That in turn created employment opportunities in the construction and the real estate industry. And so cycle worked.

To conclude, the question is what will feed India’s huge demographic dividend of one million youth entering the workforce, every month, if investment doesn’t take off? The only answer right now is: Pakodanomics.

And to distract attention from Pakodanomics, given that it is not a great way to make a living, we will keep having more and more Padmavats, for distraction.

(You can read in detail about pakodanomics here and here).

The column was originally published in Equitymaster on January 30, 2018.

[email protected]: Where are the jobs?

indian flag

On August 9, 2017, lakhs of people belonging to the Maratha caste poured into the city of Mumbai for a silent march. 57 similar marches had already taken place in the state of Maharashtra, starting from Aurangabad on August 9, 2016. This was the 58th. The rallying cause behind the marches was to protest against the rape and murder of a teenaged girl belonging to the caste in Ahmednagar district in July last year. Other than the rallying cause, the Marathas have demanded quotas in government run as well as aided educational institutions. They also want reservations in government jobs.

Marathas are not the only land-owning caste in the country demanding a reservation in government jobs. Similar demands have been made by the Patels in Gujarat, the Kapus in Andhra Pradesh, the Jats in Haryana and the Gujjars in Rajasthan. The question is why do land-owning castes suddenly want reservation in government jobs, seven decades after Independence?

A major reason for this lies in the fact that the average size of a farmer’s landholding has fallen over the years. As the State of Indian Agriculture Report of 2012-2013 points out: “As per [the] Agriculture Census [of] 2010-11, small and marginal holdings of less than 2 hectare[s] account for 85 per cent of the total operational holdings and 44 per cent of the total operated area. The average size[s] of [the] holdings for all operational classes (small & marginal, medium and large) have declined over the years, and for all classes put together it has come down to 1.16 hectare[s] in 2010-11 from 2.82 hectare[s] in 1970-71.”

Take a look at Figure 1.

Figure 1:  Decline in the average size of agricultural landholdings between 1970-1971 and 2010-2011.

Source: State of Indian Agriculture Report, 2012-2013.

The agriculture census is carried out every five years. Hence, the latest available data is as of 2010-2011. The situation would have only gotten worse since then. The trend of falling farm sizes can be clearly seen from Figure 1. As the same piece of land has got divided among more and more family members over the generations, the average holding has fallen dramatically. And this has made agriculture unviable for many in the land-owning castes. Hence, the demand for reservation in government jobs.

The trouble is that the government doesn’t create jobs anymore, neither at the level of state governments nor at the level of the central government. Hence, what will happen once the land-owning castes figure this out? Will they demand reservations in private jobs as well?

The rate of unemployment

The irony is that the huge demand for jobs among the land-owning castes and others is not reflected in India’s rate of unemployment. The Labour Bureau carries out the Annual Employment-Unemployment Survey. This Survey is hardly annual. It was first carried out in 2009-2010. It skipped a year and was carried out for the next three years. It skipped a year again in 2014-2015 and was carried out again in 2015-2016. The 2015-2016 Survey is what will be discussed here.

The Labour Bureau basically measures unemployment using two methods. The first method is called the Usual Principal Status (UPS) approach. In this approach, “the major time spent by a person (183 days or more) is used to determine whether the person is in the labour force or out of the labour force.”

As per this method, the rate of unemployment was just 5 per cent.

The second method is called the Usual Principal and Subsidiary Status (UPSS) approach. Here, “a person who has worked even for 30 days or more in any economic activity during the reference period of [the] past twelve months is considered as employed under this approach.” As per this method, only 3.7 per cent of the workforce was unemployed.

Such low rates of unemployment are hardly surprising given the definitions of unemployment that are being followed. In the first method, an individual might have been unemployed for close to half the year but would still be considered to be employed. In the second method, an individual might not have had a job for 11 months during the year and would be considered employed.

Given this, the rate of unemployment does not tell us anything about the desperate search for jobs. But there is another set of data points that the Labour Bureau puts out, and that rarely makes it to the media. Take a look at Table 1.

Table 1:  All-India percentage distribution of persons available for work for 12 months (UPSS approach).

Source: Report on the Fifth Annual Employment-Unemployment Survey, 2016.

Table 1 basically tells us what proportion of the population which is looking for a job all through the year is able to find one. Around 61 out of 100 Indians in the workforce looking for a job all through the year are able to find one. In rural areas, only around 53 out of 100 individuals who are looking for a job all through the year are able to find one. These numbers point towards the huge underemployment of India’s workforce.

This is hardly surprising given that in the last two financial years, agriculture has contributed around 14 per cent to the gross domestic product and employed close to half of the working population. There is a clear mismatch here. Around half the country’s workforce is only contributing 14 per cent of the GDP.

What this means is that there is huge disguised unemployment in the rural areas. Disguised unemployment essentially means that there are way too many people trying to make a living out of agriculture. On the face of it, they seem employed. Nevertheless, their employment is not wholly productive, given that agricultural production would not suffer even if some of these employed people stopped working.

So, the unemployment numbers might not point towards India’s distressing job situation but the underemployment number clearly does. This is also borne out in Figure 2, which has been sourced from a recent report titled OECD Economic Surveys India.

Figure 2:

This report puts the rate of unemployment among India’s youth between the ages of 15 and 29 at more than 30 per cent. These youths are neither employed nor in education or training.

Regular unemployment data

The Fifth Annual Employment-Unemployment Survey was carried out in 2015-2016. It has been close to a year and a half since then and we haven’t had any fresh unemployment data being published by the government.

As Volume 2 of the Economic Survey of 2016-2017 released earlier this month, points out: “The lack of reliable estimates on employment in recent years has impeded its measurement and thereby the Government faces challenges in adopting appropriate policy interventions.” It then lists out 10 ways used by the government to measure unemployment and the problems with them. The problems listed are: “Partial coverage, inadequate sample size, low frequency, long time lags, double counting, conceptual differences and definitional issues, rarely used for the purpose of employment estimation etc.” This, of course, leads to the question why have 10 wrong ways of measuring unemployment and not one right way?

The government has tried to correct this by setting up a task force headed by [now former] NITI Aayog Vice-Chairman Arvind Panagariya to generate timely and reliable employment data. This is a step in the right direction. The tragedy is that this should have happened many years back, even before Narendra Modi took over as the prime minister. Of course, the previous governments are to be blamed for this as well. The Modi government also took more than three years to initiate something to solve this problem.

The trouble is that close to one million Indians are entering the workforce every month. That makes it around 1.2 crore Indians a year. And the government is still struggling with counting the number of the unemployed.

What makes things worse is that most of the individuals who are entering the workforce are not skilled enough. Over the years, the government has tried to correct this by outsourcing skill development to the private sector rather than just depending on the Industrial Training Institutes or the ITIs. But the scale of operation continues to remain very small.

As the Economic Survey referred to earlier points out: “For urban poor, Deendayal Antyodaya Yojana National Urban Livelihoods Mission (DAYNULM) imparts skill training for self and wage-employment through setting up self-employment ventures by providing credit at subsidized rates of interest. The government has now expanded the scope of DAY-NULM from 790 cities to 4,041 statutory towns in the country. So far, 8,37,764 beneficiaries have been skill-trained [and] 4,27,470 persons have been given employment.” When one million Indians are entering the workforce every month, this is not even a drop in the ocean.

Other data points

While we may not know the right rate of unemployment on a regular basis, there is enough other data that suggests that job creation is not happening. Take a look at Figure 3. It basically plots the bank lending to industry.

Figure 3:

Source: Reserve Bank of India.  

The lending carried out by banks to the industry has fallen over the years. In fact, in 2016-2017, the lending to industry shrunk by more than Rs 50,000 crore. This basically means that on the whole, the banks did not lend a single new rupee to the industry in 2016-2017. The reason for this is very straightforward. The industry has defaulted on its past loans and banks are no longer in the mood to lend.

This also shows us that the industries are no longer borrowing and expanding and creating jobs in the process. Of course, banks are not the only source of borrowing for industry. If we were to look at the overall flow of financial resources to the commercial sector it was down by around 11 per cent in 2016-2017 in comparison to a year earlier (Source: RBI Monetary Policy Report April 2017).

Over and above this, demonetisation had a huge negative impact on jobs in the informal sector. The Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (a trade union affiliate of the BJP) estimated that nearly 2.5 lakh units in the unorganised sector were closed down. Then there is the latest Reserve Bank of India (RBI) Consumer Confidence Survey. More people now believe that the employment conditions have worsened over the last year.

The leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party like to claim that crores of jobs have been created through Mudra (Micro Units Development and Refinance Agency Bank) loans given out by banks. In 2015-2016 and 2016-2017, a total of 7.46 crore individuals were given Mudra loans. Hence, 7.46 crore jobs were created is the logic that is offered. But this is something that the CEO of Mudra does not confirm. As he told NDTV recently, when asked how many jobs had these loans created: “We are yet to make an assessment on that… We don’t have a number right now, but I understand that NITI Aayog is making an effort to do that.

The point being India has a serious jobs problem and we aren’t doing much to tackle it. And there are going to be no acche din without jobs.

The column originally appeared on Newslaundry on August 15, 2017.