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India's Lagging Manufacturing Sector Slows Job Creation


And you often hear about India having the world's fastest-growing economy. And it is growing at 7.6 percent. But beneath that headline is another reality. Manufacturing in the country is lagging, and that's hurting India's ability to create jobs and lift millions of people out of poverty. Let's go to New Delhi and NPR's Julie McCarthy.

JULIE MCCARTHY, BYLINE: Manish Dhariwal, chief financial officer of PPAP Automotive Limited, steps onto the factory floor as a downsized second shift punches in.

MANISH DHARIWAL: Each part has a different design.

MCCARTHY: He sweeps his hand across a display case of strips that seal car doors and windows, components he sells to the largest Japanese car manufacturers. PPAP enjoys a 90 percent market share, but Dhariwal says sales are flat, and his operation is running at just 65 to 70 percent capacity.

DHARIWAL: There's a big problem because facilities are already there, and they are not, then, getting fully utilized. And the cost of manpower increases on an annual basis. So how do I find the money for that if there's no sales growth?

MCCARTHY: Dhariwal's company is hiring no new workers. That undercuts Prime Minister Narendra Modi's pet project, to make manufacturing the engine of employment. Ten million Indians enter the workforce every year. But according to the Labour Bureau, eight labor-intensive sectors, including automobiles, created only 135,000 jobs last year, the lowest in seven years...

RAJIV KUMAR: It's a ticking time bomb.

MCCARTHY: ...Meaning social instability. Rajiv Kumar adds, if you have no new jobs...

KUMAR: You don't, therefore, address poverty in any real sense. And you exaggerate inequalities in our country.

MCCARTHY: Kumar is former head of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce. He says India's nearly 8 percent growth rate reflects a jump in the service sector but disguises sluggishness in manufacturing. Kumar urges the government to stop boasting about the GDP and focus on the number of jobs created.

KUMAR: Because that's what is the key. And if you have that as the key macroeconomic target, then growth will follow.

MCCARTHY: But Mihir Sharma, author of "Restart: The Last Chance For The Indian Economy," says India can unleash growth only if it becomes easier to do business. He says roads here are so bad, the bureaucracy so hidebound, it's often cheaper to fly raw materials in from overseas than to clear the hurdles within India. That includes, he says, India's labor laws, which make it hard to fire workers in shops with more than 100 employees.

MIHIR SHARMA: It might take months. It could take years. And that's to fire one person. We are not competitive because we just can't get the scale and get the flexibility that every other country in the world has.

MCCARTHY: Flexibility in the workforce is useful in the lean periods, says Vishal Lalani, whose factory churns out dashboards for commercial vehicles, a sector that tumbled. A recovery has kicked in. But Lalani says 6 to 8 percent inflation is eating at his bottom line. And Lalani echoes other entrepreneurs who say Prime Minister Modi's campaign, Make in India, is more slogan than substance.

VISHAL LALANI: That's the way I see it. And it's probably boosting India's image and giving people a feel-good factor. But there's not that much happening on the ground.

MCCARTHY: Demand in India's auto sector is picking up, but the number of new jobs created is negligible. Even in aspirational India, demand can only go so far without gainful employment. Julie McCarthy, NPR News, New Delhi. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Julie McCarthy has spent most of career traveling the world for NPR. She's covered wars, prime ministers, presidents and paupers. But her favorite stories "are about the common man or woman doing uncommon things," she says.