By Geeta Chawla
If the government implements whatever has been promised in the National Rural Development Guarantee Bill, it will cost the exchequer in the range of Rs 38,000 crore a year. States would be required to foot 10 per cent of the cost.To be implemented in 150 most backward districts of the country, the Bill restricts itself to tackle the problem of the rural youth.
What about the unemployed youth, both educated and uneducated, in the urban areas? To say the least, the government does not even have a data on the number of unemployed youth present in the cities. This was a ‘confession’ by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh himself in Parliament. In fact, Dr Singh had to come to the rescue, in Rajya Sabha, of his Labour Minister, Chandrashekhar Rao when the Telengana leader was being grilled by senior BJP leader, Sushma Swaraj and CPI-M member, Nilotpal Basu on the last day of the winter session. “I must confess that the government does not have as much knowledge about the urban youth as it has about the rural areas,” the Prime Minister said. Basu wanted to know why the government had not included the jobless people living in cities and Swaraj wondered how could the UPA government meet the target of creating 50 million jobs in the Tenth Plan when it did not even have the preliminary data.
Where is it going to find Rs 38,000 crore? Are we in for another cess? Tax-payers must be prepared to shell out some extra money for employment cess on the lines of education cess.
Tossing the issue around, the Prime Minister left the job of finding jobs to the Arjun Sengupta Commission which is looking into the economy in the unorganised sector. Chandrashekhar Rao was more forthcoming, “I do not want to hide that we do not have any specific scheme for unemployed youth in cities.” The common message from the Prime Minister and his Labour Minister is clear. Those without jobs in cities and most of the villages (till the NRDG Act covers the entire country) should not look to the government for help. They would have to fend for themselves. It is another matter that providing employment is one of the main promises in the Common Minimum Programme of the UPA combine. Let’s give the devil its due! The government says it has made a beginning and as the Prime Minister says, “I want this programme to grow.” But the government would need to incur huge costs for this programme to start, leave alone grow. Where is it going to find Rs 38,000 crore? Are we in for another cess? Tax-payers must be prepared to shell out some extra money for employment cess on the lines of education cess. The government has been collecting the education cess for quite some time now on top of new and increased taxes like service tax which extends now to as many as 77 areas. You do any transaction—be it your LIC premium or sending your child to a coaching school, you have to not only pay the service tax of 10 per cent but a 2 per cent education cess on top of it. An ordinary middle-class family is made to pay thousands extra, believe it or not.
It was quite a pleasant surprise to hear from an industrywallah that the purchasing power of the middle class has seen de-growth rather than any increase. A senior adviser of the Confederation of Indian Industry had recently argued like this. He was so true when he said that let there be no subsidy on things like LPG but then, the middle class should be spared of a very high incidence of taxes. However, Manmohan Singh government, supported by his Leftist friends, does not want to buy any argument like that. We should rather be prepared for more taxes in the ensuing Budget since the government is not able to control its expenses. This is seen in a high level of revenue deficit as shown in the mid-year review of the economy. Those living in cities, no matter they do not have jobs, may have to pay for their rural brethren. But whether the money collected from the cities’ taxpayers would be spent for the purpose it is meant for, would be anybody’s guess. There could also be an additional tax burden at the state level. The Employment Guarantee Scheme entails 10 per cent contribution from the states which do not have funds. Most of the Centrally-sponsored schemes remain non-starters for want of the states’ contributions. The Centre always has this alibi for the states: Bring your contribution and take away your cheque. A state’s contribution does not come and the Centre’s money lies unused.