Dualism, Labour Markets, [Dis]continuities in Education and Labour Policy Agendas in India
Prof. Veena NaregalIEG
For a while, India has topped the tables that classify economies according to the ‘degree’ and ‘intensity’ of their employment of informal labour. Equally the very large proportions of the Indian work force in vulnerable employment have been regarded as making for a distinctively Indian pattern of economic growth. Yet, through the migrant labour exodus of 2020, there was frequent mention of how the COVID lockdowns had exposed the ‘invisibility’ of Indian migrant labour to planners and policymakers. How could an overwhelming majority of the work-force have been rendered – metaphorically — ‘invisible’ to the public eye?
Fronting the moot question, Section 1 asks: If economic planning and policy is to be credited with patterns of economic growth, in what ways were they equally instrumental in producing this ‘invisibility’ of migrant, informal labour? How may we look beyond ideological differences espoused by particular governments to focus on (dis)continuities in policy agendas and contexts? To understand how (dis)continuities in policy agendas have yielded our ‘distinctive’ high reliance on employment of informal labour, however, would entail going beyond the analytical possibilities of human capital theory.
Drawing on quantitative, comparative and historical sources, Section 2 seeks to read in tandem India’s education and labour policy between 1950s and 2000s as a framework to throw light on choices leading to our distinctively ‘low-road’ strategy to economic growth through a dependence of more than 90% of our labour force in informal employment. The Nehruvian imaginary of social change saw a prioritising of higher education in the post-1947 decades. Endorsed by India’s policy-makers and intellectual elite, the sustained neglect of primary education until the 2000s significantly limited the size of the entry pool seeking access to higher education. However it had major implications for swelling the ranks of those in informal/precarious employment. Alongside from the late 1980s onwards, in contrast to its previous endorsement of tripartism and protection of organised labour rights, Indian labour policy discourse has sought to legitmise a deregulation of labour laws. Despite the traumatic migrant labour crisis of 2020, there have been persistent calls from industry lobbies to further reduce ‘over-rigidity’ of ‘unconducive’ labour laws. As policy analysts, how may we contextualise these trajectories, shifts, underlying priorities and implications?
Such overlapping, paradoxical consequences between education and labour policy agendas have not been adequately mapped and taken on board. Foregrounding socio-economic discontinuities and dualism and an interdisciplinary approach, the paper argues that policy choices structuring patterns of Indian economic growth and labour market trajectories may be better understood as structural ‘solutions’ to the problems of distributing economic uncertainty and preserving political stability.