Postcard from a Spicejet flight on youth job creators

The Asian Age, September 20, 2018

By Pradeep S Mehta

This was the young man’s first ever air journey, but he maintained calm and fastened his seat belt without any clumsiness.

I was sitting in seat 1B, an aisle seat on a Spicejet ATR flight from Jaipur to Delhi on September 8, with long leg space, when a young lad of about 28 years of age, came and sat next to me on seat 1A next to the window.

The journey turned out to be an interesting first hand conversation about our youth, their aspirations, hurdles and grit to overcome them. Is this anecdotal, perhaps not.

This was the young man’s first ever air journey, but he maintained calm and fastened his seat belt without any clumsiness. Only once he showed his unease by tightening his grip on the dividing arm when the aircraft dunked due to turbulence. Otherwise he was shooting a video clip of the take-off and outside with his cell phone.

Shyly, he told me it was his first ever flight. He introduced himself as Salim Ali (name changed) from a village near a tier-3 town in Rajasthan: Sawai Madhopur. He was travelling to Delhi to receive his father, a driver, who was returning from Saudi Arabia.

Salim decided to splurge by taking a flight to Delhi. Quite recently the Saudis raised the work permit fees to a steep Rs 1.5-2.0 lakhs per annum. This did not make sense to his father who was driving his own taxi as the earnings had also been coming down due to low oil prices.

He had already suffered a loss of Rs 7 lakh for unpaid wages by a local construction company, which shut down in the economic downturn.

Be that as it may, I asked Salim as to what does he do for a living. He runs an E-kiosk and assists people to get tickets, passport etc. His highest earnings come from assisting candidates to fill up vacancy application forms.

That business is seasonal as and when vacancies in the government are announced. Being ambitious, he wanted to get into some business which would give him a steady income flow. He was not one to get into a “sarkari naukri”, though he had been fully au fait with such opportunities.

He narrated an interesting experience when he applied to a bank for a loan of Rs10 lakhs to set up a drinking water distillation and bottling plant. He paid Rs 3,000 as bribe to the officer of the District Industries Centre to vet and approve his project proposal.

He had applied for a soft loan under the Mudra scheme of government of India, which sought to encourage entrepreneurship and create job creators. The bank manager sprung a surprise, by telling him that he can be given only Rs 3 lakh loan other than the government subsidy of 15 per cent of the project cost. But the bank manager asked him for a 10 per cent ‘commission’ to clear his Rs 3 lakh loan.

He did not want to pay as the sanctioned amount would not suffice as he would have to borrow the balance from the market at 18-20 per cent interest. This was not an easy task. The bank loan would have come at 14 per cent interest.

I asked as to why he did not complain to the seniors in the bank for the demand of bribe. He sanguinely responded that if he were to complain, he would not got even the reduced amount I would have been marked and no one would have cooperated with me for any loan.

All the officials in the industries centre and banks are together in the racket. He added that bribes have to be paid to the inspectors who visit after the project is operational to check if every thing is in order and business is being run as per the approved plans.

They have the power to find faults and get the subsidy cancelled. So much so for the ease of doing business. When I reflected about this I felt very sad. Here is a young ambitious youth who wishes to establish his own small business as a start up etc., but is faced with hidden costs and delays.

I asked a recently retired senior banker about corruption in banks. He said it is universal, particularly in mofussil and rural areas, and no one disburses soft loans without her/his gratification. This is part of a vertical chain in the bank. I don’t think they are afraid of anything including our PM’s credo and refrain: “I won’t eat, nor will I allow anyone to eat”.

Corruption is now settled as an indestructible termite army in our system or DNA. Rules and discretionary powers in the hands of the bureaucracy allow them these fringe benefits. It is also one of the main causes of the low ranking that India has in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business ranking (EODB). In any event, EODB is mainly judged on the time taken in getting approvals in our two metros: Mumbai and Delhi, rather than clearing the hurdles which arise during operations such as compliance inspections.

Of course, judicial delays are another story, but our courts are also riddled with inertia and corruption. It is street smart youngsters like Salim who would like to stay away from our courts and settle their grievances through bribes/gratification.

It is the youth like Salim which will take our country forward. He could have easily employed 10 more youth directly in his small drinking water plant in an area where jobs are scarce. But time is flying and one hopes that he will succeed soon. The writer is the Secretary General of CUTS International, a global public policy research and advocacy group.

(The writer is secretary-general, CUTS International.)

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