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Dear Editor, Why paint a rosy picture?

Oct 19, 2016

Reports on unemployment fears and an undernourished nation have failed to stroke the right kind of discourse on the subject in the media.

Bijoy Patro, Director- Programmes & Editorial, OneWorld Foundation India

New Delhi: Surfing the world wide web over the weekend gone by brought to the fore a couple of news copies that individually and together tell a tale of the grim future for an average Indian – the Aam Admi.

Unfortunately, the stories, well-treated as each one is, have not influenced discourse in India. Sadly, because each story foretells a grim tale.

According to a Wall Street Journal survey (59 economists were polled for their view), there is a 60 percent likelihood of a recession in the next four years. The economists surveyed by WSJ “put the odds of the next downturn happening within the next four years at nearly 60 percent.”

(True, India has managed to do better than the US during bad global economy spells in the past, but it has not remained unaffected.)

And while the respected business newspaper caters to those in the United States with 'The Luxury of Choice' of interpreting it in the backdrop of the presidential elections there, a country like India should take this survey seriously.

But not our media!

One needs only to juxtapose the WSJ report with a PTI (Press Trust of India) feed on Sunday quoting a study that warned of seven million jobs disappearing by 2050. (The population is forecast to grow by 600 million in this span of time). The study comes from a civil society group’s calculation of 550 jobs disappearing daily over the past four years, analysing data released by the Labour Bureau earlier this year that said India created just 1.35 lakh jobs in 2015.

Sunday's PTI news brings to mind the stories on jobless growth that the business of infotainment would like to erase from public memory.

These reminders of the woes that await a burgeoning population of young Indians also need to be seen in the light of a well-researched UNDP report brought out in May this year. Called 'Shaping the Future: How Changing Demographics Can Power Human Development', the voluminous report says that in the space of four years (approximately the same span of time WSJ predicts a recession in the US), India, with a working population of about 87 crore people will stand on the brink of a precipice overlooking joblessness, when the country's much publicised demographic dividend will threaten to bust.

The PTI story over the weekend is but an echo of the UNDP study, according to which, less than half the Indians who sought jobs got them in a period of time coinciding with over two decades of ‘unprecedented economic growth’ (following the economic liberalisation of 1991). The authors of UNDP’s report feel that India will need to generate 280 million more jobs by 2050.

According to UNDP, "This (rise in unemployment) is because sectors which are the largest contributor of jobs are worst-affected. Agriculture contributes to 50 per cent of employment in India followed by SME sector which employs 40 per cent of the workforce of the country."

And, can we ignore World Bank data that reveals that the percentage of employment in agriculture in India has come down to 50 per cent in 2013 from 60 per cent in 1994.

What does all this mean in the light of India's not-so-hunky-dory record on food and nutrition security?

According to the eleventh ‘Global Hunger Index’ report released last week, India ranks 97th among 118 developing countries and two of every five Indian children aged below five years are stunted.

This is no improvement. In the first Global Hunger Index report, brought out in 2006, India ranked 96th among 119 countries.

All of these weekend readings point to a sad litany of poor employment prospects and citizens not getting enough nourishment.

As P K Joshi, the regional director of the International Food Policy Research Institute that brings out the Global Hunger Index every year, says “India is slated to become the world’s most populous nation in just six years, and it’s crucial that we meet this milestone with a record of ensuring that the expected 1.4 billion Indians have enough nutritious food to lead healthy and successful lives.”

Government spin doctors will paint a rosy picture. They will point out that overall scores in the hunger index have improved; that the 'Initiatives by Government will bring prosperity to farmers', as the latest statement from the agriculture minister being circulated by the Public Information Bureau says or, worse, use the tension on the country’s borders to distract the media discourse.

Getting a true picture, though, is only possible if the media gives the space for a proper discourse on the subject.

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