Sunday, December 6, 2009

Neither good politics, nor good economics

Politicians, Economists Debate Omar’s Job Policy


Politicians say it is not a good politics, economists say it is not a good economics –the ambitious employment policy of the National Conference led government will have to bear tests of the times before it can be called as a historic initiative.

A day after the Chief Minister Omar Abdullah announced the mega-employment policy, the reactions coming in are not entirely unexpected but there are technical and policy points which are being debated. Arguably, it is third time in the state that an allowance based job policy has been formulated. The first such is reported to have come from Syed Mir Qasim in early 1970s and the second during first tenure of Dr Farooq Abdullah in early in 1980s when he created such a provision for Engineers.

It is not unusual for the opposition parties to criticise what the governments do and the criticism coming in is not out of place. However, when asked what they would have done, the consensus answer is that instead of allowances and jobs the best route to be taken is always creating avenues in the job intensive sectors.

What Omar has done on the eve of birth anniversary of his grandfather and National Conference founder Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah appears to be loaded with politics –of election and image –but how far it goes to deliver him results is a hard question to answer. It is a difficult economics to explain as finances of the state are not too stable to support one lakh jobs, allowances and investment supports. As far as the politics of the policy is concerned, assembly elections are five years away and expecting people to hold on results for as long time is bit too risky.

Veteran economist and Director of JK Bank, Prof Nisar Ali allays the fears of financial indiscipline. Ali, who has worked with many Finance Ministers on budgets and policy formulations, says, “since the scheme comes into effect in April it is expected to be fully budgeted”. Isn’t it a burden still? Ali says, “it is all about resource mobilisation, if government is able to mobilise then nothing bad about the idea”. “There are many areas where taxation is long overdue as they were often skipped in budgets for a variety of reasons”, says Prof Ali, who is also member of the high powered State Finance Commission.

Describing the Sher-e-Kashmir Employment and Welfare Policy as repackaging of existing schemes, Nayeem Akhter of the Peoples Democratic Party says that allowance can’t be a substitute of jobs which youths are looking for. Mockingly describing the allowance scheme as “Rs 500 subject to many terms and conditions”, Nayeem alleges a political motive behind the announcement at this stage. He argues, “one the one hand the Chief Minister is talking about Panchayat elections and on the other he suggests engaging youths under Voluntary Services Allowances in the process of Panchayat elections which clearly suggests that they (government) for immediate political gains”.

Contradicting Nayeem, Dipanker Sengupta, an economist, says that allowance is not a bad idea altogether. Sengupta is perhaps the only respondent, this writer spoke to, who supports the allowance scheme “to an extent”. He says, though meagre, the allowance scheme does two things –it saves many a youths from the routine embarrassment of pocket money they undergo and it does not hurt the state finances much. After all, says Dipanker, whosoever is getting few hundred rupees from the government is also rendering some service.

“It is an insult for the educated youth and the Chief Minister has hurt all badly”, says Ashok Khajuria, the state president of BJP. A graduate or postgraduate was expecting a descent job but he has been insulted with Rs 1100 offer”, alleged Khajuria. Admitting that unemployment is a problem in Jammu and Kashmir, when asked imaging in place of Chief Minister how he would have tackled, Khajuria said, “Unemployment can’t be a problem anymore if the government looks inwards”. How? “Cut the wasteful expenditures, mobilise funds on schemes and employ educated youths on the projects”, this is how Khajuria says the system can be made to work. The BJP president stressed to add that National Conference-Congress combine has always spoiled Jammu and Kashmir and this is what they are engaged in at the moment.

So what is the best employment policy for Jammu and Kashmir? “Wait for a while, I promise, that is what we will deliver”, says Nayeem Akhter with an added emphasis that Peoples Democratic Party believes in an employment policy which neither hurts the state finances nor the public sentiments.

Former Minister and Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Forum, Hakeem Mohammad Yaseen has an honest confession to make. “It is very difficult to work out a comprehensive employment policy, we failed to do it, our predecessors failed to do it but what Chief Minister Omar has announced Saturday is far below the expectations”, says Hakeem Yaseen. If the government meant by an allowance it should have been something around Rs 2000, to begin with, till an educated youth is gainfully employed. “I don’t think anyone is going to apply for this Rs 500 trouble”, believed Hakeem Yaseen.

Dipanker Sengupta feels voluntary allowance scheme is a workable proposition but the promise of creating one lakh jobs over next five years is “disastrous”. Where it does not hurt the finances it is tokenism where it hurts it is disastrous, says Sengupta, who teaches at the University of Jammu. Taking a poor view of overall economic policy, Sengupta regretted, “the present government has no care for the financial discipline and they are not even talking about it”. Recalling the initiatives taken by the previous coalition of PDP and Congress, Sengupta says, the previous government always appeared on tenterhooks streamlining finances, organising power sectors and mobilising resources but the present government is taking things too easy”.

Ashwani Sharma, an independent MLA, agrees with Nayeem that the employment scheme is more or less a repackaging of various ongoing state and central schemes. If the government is a bit serious about honestly addressing the unemployment problem, “they should make the self employment schemes workable as at stage people often give up to norms and procedures”.

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