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It’s poll season in Punjab & it’s time for same promise: Jobs. Here’s why they can’t keep it

According to data from the Centre's Periodic Labour Force Survey 2019-20, Punjab's unemployment rate of 7.4% was higher than all-India figure of 4.8%.

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Patiala/Sangrur: Satveer Singh, a resident of Rajo Majra village in Punjab’s Sangrur district, has a bachelor’s degree in education, two master’s degrees as well as a diploma in computer science. What he doesn’t have is a job.

The Congress’ flagship campaign for the 2017 elections under the leadership of Captain Amarinder Singh, titled ‘Har Ghar Ton Ikk Captain‘, promised a job to one person in every family. At the time, the 32-year-old Satveer said he filled out many forms in the hope of finding employment. He also registered for the ‘berozgari bhatta‘ or unemployment allowance for the jobless. The Congress had promised to implement both within 100 days of winning the 2017 elections. It did, but five years later, Satveer says he is yet to receive the benefit of either scheme.

“I have cleared all teacher eligibility tests, but I’m still jobless,” rued Singh. “There are no openings anywhere. I have a debt of Rs 4 lakh and am currently running the house on the paltry sum I earn by offering private tuitions,” he told ThePrint. Satveer’s father died by suicide four years back, and he is the only earning member in his family of six.

Satveer is not the only one to be faced with this problem. According to figures available on the Ghar Ghar Rozgar website of the Punjab government, there are 12,946 government jobs available in the state (as of 22 January 2022), for more than 13 lakh registered job seekers. The number of available private sector jobs is 10,910, while the total number of registered employers is 12,041.

For years now, unemployment has been a key poll issue in Punjab. Across party lines, elections campaigns have centered around the promise of generating jobs in the state.

In the 2017 assembly elections, the Congress’ twin promises of providing jobs for one member of each family and unemployment benefits for the jobless (Rs 2,500 per month for up to 36 months), are believed to have played a crucial role in the party’s victory

Five years before, the Shiromani Akali Dal-Bharatiya Janata Party alliance had promised to generate 10 lakh jobs in the state if voted back to power, and won that election.

As Punjab again goes to the polls on 20 February, employment generation has predictably emerged as a key poll promise, yet again.

While Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi has promised to generate one lakh jobs every year if the Congress is voted back to power, SAD chief Sukhbir Singh Badal has announced that 75 per cent quota for the state’s youth in private jobs. Employment was also a  focal point of the Aam Aadmi Party’s 10-point agenda for the state, released by party convener and Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal on 12 January.

Political parties may promise jobs in a bid to win elections, but Punjab-based political economist Dr Pramod Kumar, who is associated with the Institute for Development and Communication, Chandigarh, said employment generation is not something the state government can achieve, “especially when it has privatised everything”.

“They can make tall promises if they like, but they won’t be able to do anything,” warned Kumar.


Also read: Sidhu says Congress ‘may spring surprise on CM face’, talks of ‘character crisis’ in Punjab


7.4% unemployment rate in Punjab, against 4.8% nationally

Punjab’s unemployment rate is higher than the national average.

According to data from the Centre’s Periodic Labour Force Survey 2019-20, released in July last year, Punjab had an unemployment rate of 7.4 per cent, compared to the national figure of 4.8 per cent.

The state’s unemployment rate has remained unchanged since the Periodic Survey of 2018-19, though the national unemployment rate dipped from 5.8 per cent back then to 4.8 per cent in 2019-20. In 2017, when India’s unemployment rate, according to the National Statistical Office report, was 6.1 per cent, Punjab’s unemployment rate stood at 7.8 per cent.

Baljeet Singh, with Krantikari Pind Mazdoor Union, alleges that he's found that nobody got employment under govt schemes out of the 70 villages he's surveyed in Sangrur | Shubhangi Misra | ThePrint
Baljeet Singh, with Krantikari Pind Mazdoor Union, alleges that he’s found that nobody got employment under govt schemes out of the 70 villages he’s surveyed in Sangrur | Shubhangi Misra | ThePrint

According to Lakhwinder Singh, professor emeritus, economics, Punjabi University, Patiala, the main reasons for the high unemployment rate in the state are mechanisation of agriculture, low rate of industrialisation and lack of government jobs.

“Successive governments have failed to generate jobs because the government has been anchoring a high level of fiscal deficit. Punjab’s gross fixed capital formation is the lowest among 30 Indian states,” he said.

“The revenue generation of the government is very low. If you do not have capacities to generate output, how will you generate employment? Unless the government invests properly, employment rates will remain low,” he added.

Ironically, the government has been cutting jobs in the government sector recently “because of lack of revenue”, said Lakhwinder Singh.

According to Dr Pramod Kumar, “Under the Nehruvian framework, Punjab was developed as an agrarian state and not an industrial state”. Because the land here is fertile, land rates for industrialisation are also higher than in states like Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh, he claimed.

According to real estate site 99acres.com, land rates for industrial purposes average more than Rs 3,000 per sq ft in Punjab. For Maharashtra, they can be as low as Rs 495 per sq ft, while for Madhya Pradesh, the figure is Rs 350 per sq ft.

The higher land rates (which culminate in a higher installation cost and lower profit) act as a deterrent for many industry owners, translating into fewer jobs for Punjab, Kumar explained. 

There are many small units, he added, giving the example of the papad-making industry in Amritsar, which could have generated jobs and even helped exports from the state if developed properly.  But governments have failed to boost these or encourage skill development among labourers, he said.

Surprisingly, however, even though the unemployment rate in the state has not gone down in the past several years, the number of those seeking unemployment allowance has gone down significantly, according to state government figures.

According to annual administrative data for the financial year 2019-20, available on a state government website, only 42 people in the state had registered with the government for unemployment allowance that year. The report added that Rs 53,550 was disbursed as unemployment allowance.

The amount paid towards this allowance for the fiscal year 2018-19 was Rs 1,13,025, for 97 registered people, while in the 2017-18 fiscal, a total unemployment allowance of Rs 3,37,275 was disbursed to 212 people.

Calls for protest

Given the abysmal state of employment in the state, and the resultant discontent among people, it is not surprising that Punjab saw protests being held across the state last year, in the run-up to this year’s elections.

Even as farmers from the state were among those spearheading the agitation against the now-repealed three controversial farm laws brought in by the Narendra Modi-led central government in 2020, unions from across Punjab went on strike, to demand regularisation of jobs, employment opportunities or better salaries.

In Sangrur district, an unemployed youth climbed a water tank at a hospital in August to demand a job.

Residents of Rajo Majra village in Punjab complain about the lack of employment | Photo: Shubhangi Misra | ThePrint
Residents of Rajo Majra village in Punjab complain about the lack of employment | Photo: Shubhangi Misra | ThePrint

In another incident, unions under the umbrella of the Joint Force of Unemployed went on an indefinite strike on 31 December 2020 front of state education minister Vijay Inder Singla’s residence to demand government jobs. The protest shifted to the residence of Pargat Singh when he became education minister.

Similar protests by the unemployed were reported from districts across the state.

“Our youth are on the road because there’s no employment. Lack of employment has aggravated problems of drug addiction in Sangrur and Barnala districts,” claimed Baljeet Singh, a Krantikari Pind Mazdoor Union activist, in Dhuri, Punjab.

“Parties can stoop to any level in order to gain votes, but refuse to generate employment. I have worked in 70 villages in Sangrur district and I am yet to see anyone who got employment after signing the forms under the ‘Har Ghar Ton Ikk Captain‘ scheme of the Congress government,” Baljeet added.

Current Punjab CM Channi served as minister of Technical Education and Industrial Training in former CM Captain Amarinder Singh’s government, which included the Department of Employment Generation.

As the CM repeats his promises of generating employment in the state ahead of the upcoming state assembly elections, there are many like Satveer Singh across the state, awaiting either jobs, or the promised unemployment allowance.

Among them, is Gurmeet Singh, a resident of Shankerpur village in Patiala, who said he applied for the benefit multiple times. “I filled out forms to get employment and also the unemployment allowance. But I haven’t received either. Nobody in my village has received the allowance, though many of us have filled the required forms,” Gurmeet said.

(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)


Also read: Home of Punjab CM Channi’s nephew among 10 sites raided by ED in 2018 sand mining case


 

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