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India’s poor struggle to find work as slowdown bites

Published : Monday, 9 December, 2019 at 12:00 AM  Count : 30

NEW DELHI, Dec 7: The hunt for work becomes more desperate every day on Delhi's street corner labour markets as India's economic slowdown bites deeper, piling pressure on Prime Minister Narendra Modi just half a year into his second term.
Meanwhile, the central bank left the interest rate unchanged for a sixth time on Thursday because of high inflation, while it slashed its annual growth forecast as the government struggles to jumpstart the economy.
The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) said the benchmark repo rate - the level at which it lends to commercial banks - would remain unchanged at 5.15 per cent, a nine-year low.
With no cut in the lending cost with amid rising unemployment, which is at a four-decade high, the patience was running thin at the "labour Chowk", or market, in the packed, narrow streets of Old Delhi.
Among the hundreds of painters, electricians, carpenters and plumbers who anxiously gather at dawn each day, 55-year-old painter Tehseen has been a regular for three decades. But he is despondent.
RBI leaves interest rate unchanged for sixth time owing to high inflation
His monthly income has slumped from about $350 to $140 in the past three years. He is at least still earning. The unemployment rate, currently about 8.5 per cent, has hit a four-decade high in the past two years.
Tehseen blames government efforts to eradicate the tax-avoiding "unofficial economy". A government survey this year estimated that more than 90pc of the workforce are "unofficial".
Modi stunned the country in November 2016 by cancelling more than 80pc of the bank notes in circulation, and the introduction a year later of a nationwide goods and services tax dealt a new blow to business confidence.
Last week, official figures showed the economy grew just 4.5pc in the second quarter, the slowest rate in six years. Modi's rightwing government is struggling to convince the public that it has the answers to the slowdown.
"Companies have suffered since the note ban," said Tehseen.
"They do not want to think about getting their offices renovated when they have no business. We have to bear the brunt now." Raju, a labour market carpenter for 20 years, said he now goes for days on end without a job offer.
"The work and the money are 50pc down on what I used to get," he said.
And lower wages means a harder time to get a meal on the table.    -Reuters

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