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India parliament to OK jobs quota for less well-off not covered by affirmative action

India parliament to OK jobs quota for less well-off not covered by affirmative action
FILE PHOTO: India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaks with the media inside the parliament premises on the first day of the winter session, in New Delhi, India, December 11, 2018. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi   -   Copyright  Adnan Abidi(Reuters)
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By Manoj Kumar

NEWDELHI (Reuters) – India’s parliament will pass a landmark bill on Wednesday reserving 10 percent of government jobs for the less well-off, a move criticised by some political analysts as a pre-election “gimmick” amid high unemployment rates in the country.

Joblessness in the world’s second most populous country shot up to a 15-month high last month, data from independent think-tank the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) showed, underlining the biggest challenge to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s bid to retain power in a general election due by May.

The data also showed that India lost as many as 11 million jobs last year with around 83 percent in rural areas, as operational costs surged for small businesses since the launch of a national sales tax in 2017 and an earlier ban on high value currency notes.

Under the bill to amend the constitution, floated by Modi’s party days after losing power in three heartland states and ahead of a national election, recipients must be classed as “economically weak”. Only people with an annual income below 800,000 rupees ($11,354) and owning fewer than five acres of land will be eligible.

The lower house of parliament has already passed the bill while almost all political parties have voiced their support for it in the upper house, meaning its approval was a formality.

India already has job and education quotas for socially backward classes but this is the first time upper caste Hindus and people from other religions will benefit from any affirmative action.

“There is no food but every hungry man is handed an empty plate, that’s what Modi government is doing with the youth of India,” Shahid Siddiqui, a political analyst and a former lawmaker, said on Twitter. “There are no jobs, but 10 percent reservation in the line of unemployed.”

Derek O’Brien, a lawmaker from the opposition All India Trinamool Congress, said the bill was “an acknowledgement of guilt, that we haven’t created any jobs in last four and a half years”.

But Modi said the bill “sets into motion the process to achieve an effective measure that ensures justice for all sections of society”.

(Reporting by Manoj Kumar; Editing by Krishna N. Das and Subhranshu Sahu)

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