The government has tactfully shifted its focus from tackling black money to cashless economy in the absence of the impact demonetisation should have made on black money, counterfeit currency and corruption. It has now realised that the gamble has gone wrong.
The Indian economy is bearing the brunt of the ambitious drive. It has been on the negative slope when it comes to production of goods as well as consumer demand. The contraction in the output growth has started reflecting on the employment scenario. The formal and informal sectors of the economy were already struggling with depressed demand and investment and now the demonetisation impact is forcing them to cut jobs and freeze hiring.
Employment reacts quickly to changes in output, because the job market reacts to an increase in output in the same quarter. Weak output growth means lack of job creation. If we see the economic scenario of India just before demonetisation, it was struggling with slow demand, slow investment and, consequently, slow production. The industrial output had slipped to 1.9 per cent in October compared to an expansion of 9.9 per cent in the same month last year and this has happened due to the decline in production of capital goods and the unimpressive performance of the manufacturing sector.
The manufacturing sector, which constitutes more than 75 per cent of the Index of Industrial Production (IIP), recorded a contraction of 2.4 per cent in October. Similarly, the capital goods output shrank by 25.9 per cent and the mining sector by 3.1 per cent.
Then came the demonetisation blow which led to further contraction of the economy. From manufacturing to service, all sectors of the economy were adversely affected at a time when they were already exposed to the vulnerability of the market. If the Purchase Managers’ Index (PMI) of the service sector for November is any indication, there has been a sharp contraction of demand in the sector.
The index has reduced to 46.7 in November from 54.5 in the preceding month. Similarly, the PMI for the manufacturing sector has reduced to 52.3 in November from 54.4 in October.
Demonetisation has adversely affected manufacturing growth because of the slowdown in production as well as domestic consumption. Manufacturing production growth lagged amid cash shortages.
The adverse impacts demonetisation had on the economy in its entirety were reflected on the employment potential of the economy. Large sectors like information technology, BPOs, automobile, transport, gems and jewellery, handloom and leather industries had witnessed negative job growth during 2015.
Demonetisation would only add to their existing woes. For example, how will the textile sector, which employs nearly seven million people as daily labourers, pay to them in absence of cash supply?
Industries like handloom, leather and automobile face the same situation. The construction industry has also been badly hit with significant wage implications for its casual workforce. How will contractors pay labourers who are primarily daily wagers?
There is every likelihood that the country’s industrial production will shrink further because of the impact of demonetisation. Companies have already delayed production and cut down on targets. Manufacturing is the leading sector in output growth. To revive employment growth, we need to revive the manufacturing sector.
If employment in the manufacturing sector suffers the brunt, where would people find jobs? Every year we add 15 million job seekers to the market, but as per latest assessments, we would be losing four lakh jobs next year – because economic slowdown is a corollary of demonetisation. The e-commerce sector alone is expected to shed two lakh employees. Where will they go? The immediate concern is that if employment growth has been poor during a period of high output growth, it will probably worsen in the years to come, when the GDP growth is expected to weaken.
Sensing the reality, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has revised growth estimates to 7.1 per cent from 7.6 per cent. Some economists predict the growth rate will remain below 7 per cent.
The reluctance of the central bank to reduce the repo rate indicates the economy is likely to face inflationary pressure. Economic slowdown accompanied by inflation paints a dangerous picture of the economy post-demonetisation.
Apart from the formal sectors, demonetisation has severely affected the informal sector, which accounts for 45 per cent of the GDP and 80 per cent of employment.
As some economists have rightly remarked, a permanent dent has been made to the informal sector by virtue of the demonetisation. The consequences have already begun. Small business establishments are facing great inconvenience leading to job loss in the unorganised sector.
A jute mill in West Bengal’s Howrah district has to be shut down because the mill management can no longer pay wages to the workforce.
All the 2,500 workers of the mill have been rendered jobless. Hundreds of labourers have been rendered jobless in the bangle factories of Firozabad, Uttar Pradesh as 90 per cent of the factories have shut owing to a cash crunch. The knitwear units in Ludhiana are winding up their businesses too. Many tea garden workers in West Bengal and Assam are jobless. The diamond and ceramics industry of Gujarat is also bearing the brunt of the note ban with 60 per cent of the ceramics factories shutting shop.
The state’s textile industry has been paralysed after the demonetisation move led to thousands of workers losing their jobs. The adverse impact of demonetisation on the MSMEs, which account for 20 per cent of the GDP, will hit the job market the hardest in the long run. Sectors like FMCG, consumer durables, and retail too have stopped hiring as consumer goods sales are reported to have dropped by a third.
Ten million jobs per year is what BJP promised the youth of India in 2014. The reality is the number of jobs created in 2015 was much less than what it was a few years ago. Job creation is at its lowest in the last seven years. Large traditional sectors are not where jobs are being created. The agriculture sector is expected to see a decline of 25 million jobs by 2023. At this point, the slowdown of the economy will render lakhs of people jobless and millions will be deprived of their livelihood.
The objective of transparency in financial transactions and creating a cashless economy is a good one, but not in sync with the state of our economy. The strengths and weaknesses of our economy ought to have been taken into consideration before taking the decision.
The shock therapy we are witnessing in the form of demonetisation – without structural transformations – is capable of denting the momentum of job creation in the long run.