india fruit vendor
© AFP / Sajjad Hussain
For Pawan Yadav and millions like him April proved to be a cruel month. Yadav lost his job at the lathe machine workshop at Delhi's Govindpuri area, where he had worked for 12 years, starting at age 18.

"One day last month, the owner's son rang up and said I can take my March's salary but they were unsure how long they would be able to run their workshop and that was that," said Yadav.

He is not alone. According to statistics compiled by the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE), a privately run data firm, 122 million Indians lost their jobs last month, with the unemployment rate which was 6.7 per cent on March 15, falling to near 24 per cent in April.

"Even before the Coronavirus-induced lockdown, our unemployment rate was rising... April's huge jump was of course in line with global trends. In the US where they had a jobs boom just before the lockdown unemployment was down to 3.6 per cent in January and then rose sharply in April to 14.7 per cent," pointed out Biswajit Dhar, professor at JNU's Centre for Economic Studies and Planning.

However, the number of people offering themselves for employment increased by just 53 million in April, despite more than double the number losing their jobs, according to CMIE.

Dhar says this because believing jobs would be difficult to get in a slump situation, most who have lost their employment might be veering to work that economists classify as under-employment or disguised employment.

"For instance, millions of migrant labour are making their way home to small and marginal farms in villages. They will try to make a living from tiny farms which they had left behind because it was uneconomic for all members of the family to work them," he pointed out.

Economists point out that though agriculture adds just 16.5 per cent to the country's gross value added, the sector already employs half the workforce.

"The return of migrant labourers to the villages is not only a loss for industry, it means farm productivity will also go down as more people will till the same field and the amount of surplus food coming to the market will also come down as more mouths will now depend on the same field," Dhar observed.

Unlike many other workers who decided to quit the big city after losing their jobs, Yadav, however, has decided to stay put. He has his own home at a shantytown in nearby Tughlakabad fort and his family decided they needed to stay on and try their luck at something else.

Now, Yadav and his 10-year-old son steer a cycle cart filled up with egg cartons for sale at nearby tony neighbourhoods like Greater Kailash.

"I used to make about Rs 18,000 a month, sometimes more because of beyond hours work... Now I make about Rs 10,000 or so, and I have to sell within the first half of the day as no one comes out in the afternoon to buy from peddlers, but it's a living," he points out. But that again is underemployment and a loss to the contribution which 30-year-old Yadav was making to his and the country's income.