The government today narrowly escaped facing an embarrassment in the Rajya Sabha, as the House rejected by just three votes a private bill seeking to guarantee employment to every citizen above 18 years of age or provide them unemployment allowance.
The private member bill was rejected by 21 votes in favour and 18 against, after Vishambhar Prasad Nishad of the Samajwadi Party refused to withdraw it twice, necessitating a division and voting on it.
There were about 40 members in the House when the bill was being debated. The present Rajya Sabha has 245 members. Nishad, while moving the Constitution (Amendment) Bill 2016 (insertion of new article 16 A), sought the support of the House for it, emphasising that due to lack of employment opportunities, the youths were being forced to indulge in criminal activities.
In his intervention during the debate on the measure, Labour Minister Santosh Gangwar said “Government is committed to create new avenues of employment despite the fact that it is not a fundmental right. There are well-crafted policies.”
Listing out government initiatives to create jobs, the minister urged Nishad to withdraw the bill. Replying to the debate and the minister, Nishad said Gangwar has not answered his queries and was going by the BJP’s mainfesto which promised creation of 2 crore jobs every year.
When Deputy Chairman P J Kurien asked Nishad whether he would like to withdraw the bill, the SP leader insisted on moving it for voting.
After a voice vote, the House went for a division in which 18 members supported the bill and 21 opposed it. Earlier moving the legislation, Nishad had said that “as per this bill, any citizen of the country who has attained the age of 18 years should have a right to emplyment and if he does not get it, there should be a provision of unemployment allowance which should be decided by Parliament.” He said there were various reasons for rise in joblessness in the country, including rise in population, industrial closures and lack of irrigation in various parts.
“Unemployment has negative impact on the growth of the country leading to rise in poverty,” he said. Supporting the bill, Ananda Bhaskar Rapolu of Congress said UPA regime in its 10 year rule provided stipend to around 14 crore people in the agrarian sector.
However, the BJP-led government had promised in 2014 that it would provide employment to over 2 crore people every year but in reality, only around 80,000 jobs were being generated, he said.
Rapolu said economic inequality in the country was rising and it can lead to serious challenges like agitations and even civil war. “If employment can be provided to all deserving people, only then peace can be maintained,” he added. Opposing it, Mahesh Poddar and Vikas Mahatme (both BJP) said the focus should be on making people employable rather than making them dependent on government allowance.
Vijila Sathyananth (AIADMK) said it is the right time to amend the Constitution making employment a right. SP member Alok Tiwari supported the bill saying lakhs of vacancies were not being filled by the government, which also “does not know about the exact situation of unemployment in the country”.
He said employment should be made a fundamental right and a commission be set up to fill the vacancies.
Anil Kumar Sahani (JD-U) also supported the bill, while D Raja (CPI) said if the government fails to address the problem of unemployment, then it will also fail.
Similar views echoed by Chhaya Verma (Congress) who said that as per estimates made by different bodies, 15 to 20 crore people lost their jobs due to demonetisation.
She also raised the issue of charging GST on workers’ wages in some states. Neeraj Shekhar (SP) supported the bill saying the people having BTech and MBA degrees were not getting jobs. He criticised government for changing its stand on creating 2 crore jobs and now saying that it would create job-givers.