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India in 2017: A graveyard of jobs?

I belong to the pre-liberalisation kind whose middle-class dreams were woven around a five-digit monthly salary. By the time we managed to reach that ‘big-fat’ salary, probably a decade later – in early 2000’s, it had lost the glamour quotient. Dreams grew bigger to six digits, and then, seven digits. Many chased dollars and dinars in multi-national companies only to attain the seven-digit nirvana. A few nerds from India’s premier institutes marched their way to Google, Microsoft and the like, with seven-digit joining salaries, making several Indian CXOs salivate.

That is the story so far. The year 2017 but promises to deflate all those puffed dreams.

The IT sector, savior of Indian youth for two decades, is fast turning a graveyard of employment. Software engineers are as redundant as electricians and plumbers. There is a late realisation that India can’t blindly emulate the Chinese model of export-led growth on massive infrastructure and investments, amid the continuing global slowdown. Decelerating domestic demand has hit capacity utilization across several sectors in the country and inevitably, job creation. As per the government records, 1.35 lakh jobs created in India in 2015 was the lowest in seven years, much lower than 4.19 lakh in 2013 and 9 lakh in 2011. The slow rate at which India’s job market grows looks pretty scary, at a time when an increasing number of youngsters come out of professional colleges and scout for jobs.

India may soon lose its lure as a leading global market as unemployment spreads.

Since Narendra Modi-led government took charge in May 2014, job creation has been its top priority. Campaigns such as Make-in-India and Start-up India were meant to enhance the employment potential. But two years later, in June 2016, Modi was candid: “The middle class has its aspirations. We have to create jobs. How will job creation happen? Till I invest in the development of infrastructure, there will be no job creation.”

The media industry, which weathered even the global economic recession in 2008-09, is facing its toughest challenge in 2017. Everyone is a broadcaster on social media today, while reading as a habit is on a steady decline. TV journalism, fast replacing the reckless social media, has lost its narrative completely in the political cacophony. On the flip side, readers of newspapers are paying a heavy price as they refuse to pay for quality news, forcing newspapers to depend on advertising revenue for daily sustenance. As the economy takes a plunge, the fourth pillar of democracy, propped up by the generous India Inc, goes down on its knees. The printed word then merrily drowns in the political and corporate etiquettes.

Stock markets have ended 2016 in a smothered whimper. Leading stock brokerages, which predicted a huge jump at the start of 2016, are now hiding behind a `double whammy’: the interest rate hike in the US that left emerging markets reel in fund outflow, and the likely short-term economic slowdown in the wake of demonetization. The BSE Sensex, which gained as much as 30% in 2014 to close at 27499 on the Modi wave, has subsequently seen two dismal years. It ended at 26626 on December 30, much below the 2014-end level.

2017 offers too little options for the government. India’s huge workforce can’t be a force without work.

The writer is editor, DNA Money.

He tweets @AntoJoseph