One cheer: Creation of NRA is a positive step but real reform will step up job creation

Making good a Budget promise, the Union Cabinet on Wednesday approved the creation of the National Recruitment Agency (NRA). The NRA will encompass the role of three independent agencies and conduct a nationwide preliminary test for non-technical jobs (Groups B and C) in the government, Railways and banks. The underlying idea is to use advances in communications technology to conduct a common eligibility test (CET). This addresses two challenges. It allows conducting the preliminary test in a geographically dispersed manner, and reduces the number of tests aspirants take.

This is undoubtedly an important step in making life simpler for millions of job aspirants, while lowering associated costs as the CET score can be used for multiple jobs. About 25-30 million candidates take these tests, which makes the creation of NRA a praiseworthy move. Another benefit is that it minimises the risk of malpractices which crop up in the current system. NRA has also been charged with another important task, to help aspirants prepare through mock tests. If this objective is carried out efficiently it will be of immense help to poorer job aspirants.

Jitendra Singh, the junior minister in the PMO, referred to the creation of NRA as a “revolutionary reform”. That is far fetched. The development has to be located in a larger context. A mere 1.25 lakh vacancies are available, which means that up to 240 aspirants compete for each job. From the standpoint of the national economy, these jobs are not the most productive ones. The sheer number who apply is a pointer to the lack of adequate alternatives. Enthusiasm for NRA, unfortunately, also shows up the shortcomings in our economic policy.

CMIE this week provided an update on the employment situation after four months of lockdown. It is worrisome. The economy has witnessed a contraction in salaried jobs and a growth in informal sector jobs. This suggests that the quality of jobs has deteriorated. This can only put more pressure on the aspirant for the non-technical posts that the government fills. The government cannot solve India’s jobs crisis directly. Genuinely revolutionary reform will come when the government creates an enabling environment that offers millions of aspirants for government jobs better alternatives in the private sector. That requires policies to unleash India’s entrepreneurial potential and rouse ‘animal spirits’. NRA is a positive step but not a revolutionary one.

This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.