Unemployment scenario could get worse in 2021

Amir Ullah Khan and Nahia Husain

The year 2020 has been about containing the outbreak of COVID-19 with governments across the world dedicating the maximum proportion of their resources and time for the same. The Indianlandscape was no different with the pandemic dictating policymaking decisions. There is now great vaccine excitement and the roll-out will be watched with great attention across the world. The Indian government is yet not clear on its stance – will everyone get the vaccine? Who will pay for it?
How soon will two-thirds of the population be covered? Approvals are being given now. There is equal amount of scepticism and optimism with regard to the vaccine. However, the virus still looms large and needs to be treated with great caution.

To add to the turmoil that came in terms of the impact on healthcare and mortality, the year also saw some major calamities wreaking devastation across India. Cyclone Amphan and Nisarga, major floods in Assam, gas leaks in Assam and Vishakhapatnam, landslides in Kerala and an air crash also contributed to the mayhem. All in all, enormous challenges and minor hiccups did not present a smooth road for development in India. In Hyderabad, we had rains like haven’t been seen in the last
several decades. Floods in 1908 had reportedly killed 15,000 and people still remember accounts they had heard about that great deluge.

On the economic front, GDP shrunk by 23.9% at the end of the first quarter of 2020, the first contraction since 1980. The stringent lockdown cost the Indian economy US$4.5 billion each day during the 21-day lockdown and stifled more than three-fourths of India’s $2.8 trillion economic activities. Estimates suggest the economy will shrink by at least 12 percent for the entire year; that is a loss of at least 18 lakh crores. This means we will continue to see dismal employment, when at
least a 100 million in the informal sector have lost their jobs in addition to at least 5 million salariedworkers who lost their jobs just in the month of July. While informal workers do find jobs after a while at reduced wages, salaried jobs don’t come back every quickly, if at all they do.

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The Indo-China skirmishes across the LAC and subsequent border tensions have added to turbulent 2020 for India. There were some hits on the diplomatic front as well. India and US signed defence deals worth $ 3.5 billion and a critical military deal symbolising stronger ties. The Quad comprising Australia, India, USA and Japan conducted a naval exercise, giving a fillip to Indo-Pacific cooperation. India made quite a few foreign policy manoeuvres in the region as well. Bangladesh with a vaccine deal, Operation Vanilla in Madagascar, and an attempt at rapprochement with Nepal after the Kalapani territorial dispute. Across the societal spectrum, 2020 was an anguishing one. With communal riots in Delhi at the beginning of the year to Palghar Mob lynching, the Hathras rape caseand finally, farm law protests at the end of the year.

The lockdown also presented one of the most disturbing humanitarian crises of a mass exodus ofmigrants to their hometown. The precedent set by NRC/CAA of controversies and protests continuedthis year with the farm bills and the ‘anti-love jihad law’. India also saw a drop in economic,
democratic and internet freedoms in the year 2020. However, there were some landmark judgements and directive issued by the courts. The Supreme Court ordered parties to publish the criminal history of Lok Sabha and Assembly candidates. Moreover, the court ruled in favour of
women getting Permanent Commission in the armed forces. The Supreme Court also granteddaughters equal rights in their father’s property.

A special court acquitted all accused in the mosque demolition case, a year after Supreme Courtsettled the land case in favour of a Ram temple. This year also saw the genesis of the very innovative and a rather vague New Education Policy 2020. It continued the trend seen in recent times with the Union government centralising almost everything and taking over issues of health, labour and education, considered by all federal systems across the world as state and provincial issues. The yearalso witnessed the media become heavily polarised and politicised. Whether it was the Tablighi Jamaat debacle that was communalised or the suicide of Sushant Singh that received invasive coverage or the decline in press freedom, 2020 has been a defining period.

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The calendar has changed. However, the debacles for the previous year are not over yet. In some sense, the problems of economic contraction and unemployment appear as if they are getting worse. Elections in Assam and West Bengal are due and these would further render the climate vicious, like what we saw during the GHMC elections in Hyderabad. In another unprecedented move, our top leaders who flew in from Delhi, spoke about Kashmir and Article 370, the Ayodhya victory
for the right wing, and the focus on changing names of cities and towns everywhere. An incredulous voter population seems to have bought this narrative and the nature of politics in Telangana seems
set for some disturbing changes.

The New Year will hopefully bring us some cheer by way of vaccines and a reduction in morbidity. It will also allow our students to get back to schools and colleges, as like millions of students across the
world who are beginning to go back to their campuses. The changes that have already been ingrained will change work and life significantly, even after the battle with coronavirus is won. Workfrom home will be even more popular; and blended education seems to have taken root, where our educational institutions will open their classrooms but will supplement their coaching with online content too. The political spectrum remains toxic and might just get worse. The future is always uncertain, but the past one year has been a disturbing one.

Amir Ullah Khan and Nahia Hussain are researchers at Centre for Development Policy and Practice (CDPP) based in Hyderabad.

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