With an eye on elections, and in light of the grim employment scenario faced by job seekers today in the country, the union budget has seen a renewed focus on employment generation and skill development. The promise is, however, not so warm and welcoming if you belong to disadvantaged communities, for whom the government hasn’t loosened it’s purse.
The area in which the government has chosen to focus its energy – “The Medium, Small and Micro Enterprises (MSMEs)”. “I have provided`3794 crore to MSME Sector for giving credit support, capital and interest subsidy and innovations,” the Finance Minister said in his budget speech.
There is a catch though. Even though the government is planning to spend heavily in the MSME sector, other schemes that provide employment to specific communities through other ministries have either seen cuts or have seen spending remain stagnant.
Among the employment generation schemes that have seen cuts this year or ones that have not seen any extra expenditure are the ones that focus on minorities, the Scheduled Castes, the OBCs, and women.
For example, the National Safai Karamcharis Finance and Development Corporation will, therefore, see expenditure decline from Rs. 50 crore to Rs. 30 crore. In fact, the corporation’s estimated expenditure by the end of this fiscal year too has been revised to just Rs.44.83 crore. Similarly, the employment generation programme of the Ministry of Labour and Employment which coaches young SC, ST, OBC people will also see a decline of Rs. 4 crore (Budget Estimate).
The flagship Stand-Up India initiative too will see funds coming to the Credit Guarantee Fund decline by Rs. 20 crore. Who does the fund give credit to? SC, ST, and women entrepreneurs. Another scheme that has seen a RS 36 crore reduction in its allocation is Nai Manzil, an educational and livelihood initiative of the Ministry of Minority Affairs. The scheme aims to, among other things, “engage constructively with the poor Minority youth and help them to obtain sustainable and gainful employment opportunities”,provide them market driven skills, and provide placements to at least 70 percent of the trained youth where they can at least get minimum wages.
The Finance Minister also emphasised the need of a “cluster based model” while announcing his expenditure plan for agriculture – a sector that has seen long-drawn and country-wide protests in the last year. The budget estimates for development of clusters in handloom and handicraft – which are supposed to make entrepreneurs out of artisans – have, however, seen a reduction. The programmes for the development of mega clusters in these sectors will see a Rs. 9 crore and Rs. 14 crore reduction.
Another issue that has become evident over time – this was the last full budget of the current union government – that there aren’t many takers for Make In India. The funds allocated to Make in India – another scheme that was supposed to employ the burgeoning workforce of the country – in the current fiscal year has been revised from Rs. 300 crore year to a mere Rs. 170.27 crore. The estimate for the year that starts in April 2018 is therefore Rs. 281.23 crore.
Ordinary workers, who don’t have the skill or wherewithal to start a business of their own, then might face a tough time. The push to individual entrepreneurs and small enterprises – something the middle class now demands and aspires to – might help the NDA alliance with votes. The question is whether this push will create jobs for everyone.