The railway recruitment controversy is a symptom of a jobs crisis that the government must recognize and act on

Following violence perpetrated by anxious job seekers, Indian Railways has suspended the ongoing recruitment drive for Non-Technical Popular Categories (NTPC). IR has also set up a committee to look into the doubts raised by some of the 125 lakh applicants vying for 35,281 jobs. IR, which employs about 12.27 lakh, is India’s largest employer and probably the largest employer of low-skilled workers. Although the arson is inexcusable, the deep concern over the integrity of the IR recruitment process is actually a manifestation of an employment crisis, particularly in Bihar and UP, states where the violence has occurred.

The employment scenario in India is grim. Consider the latest available GoI report on urban jobs from January to March 2021. During this quarter, there was a regression in job quality compared to January to March 2020, the last pre-pandemic quarter. Salaried employment fell by 2.4 percentage points to 48.1%. These jobs have moved into the casual worker and self-employed categories. The crisis is particularly acute among young people (15-29 years). In January-March 2021, only 38.4% of the young population was in the labor market, 1.1 percentage points less than the previous year. There was no gender disparity, with roughly the same proportion of men and women leaving the labor market.

This trend among young people was more pronounced in Bihar and UP. Both states lagged the national average, with Bihar particularly bad. Here, barely one in four young people, or 25.5%, was available for work. This employment data is an approximation of the opportunities in these states, as in Gujarat and Tamil Nadu, about 44% of young people are in the labor market. All of this underscores the need for the Indian government to remain strongly focused on India’s jobs crisis. At a time when even Apple and Nike have embraced a fabless model, India is expected to seize labor-intensive manufacturing opportunities. The Union budget provides a platform to signal India’s intention.


This article appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of the Times of India.