Gaya/Muzaffarpur/Samastipur/Vaishali/Patna: Vijay Prasad Gupta, head of Parsanwan village in Bihar’s Gaya district, reminisces about the time a young man from his village got a government job. It was six years ago and the youth was the last in his village to achieve the feat.
But not because of lack of education. Comprising around 2,000 residents, Parsanwan village has plenty of graduates and high school pass-outs who are all struggling for jobs.
Raj Prakash, owner of a coaching class in a village in the state’s Muzaffarpur district, reports that almost every week he is approached by at least two-three unemployed persons looking to work as teachers. They are willing to work for as less as Rs 3,000-4,000 a month.
“I get approached by graduates and even postgraduates who want to teach for just a little salary… not only people from my village but those from villages as far as 10 km away come looking for a job,” he said.
Radha Kumari, 25, who teaches at Prakash’s institute, is one such example. She is a postgraduate in science and has also qualified the National Eligibility Test, but instead of working as a teacher in a college, she is working for Rs 4,000 per month in a small coaching institute.
“I wanted to teach in college, but there are no vacancies, neither in private nor government institutes. What am I supposed to do? I have no option but to be a coaching teacher,” she told ThePrint.
Many such stories of struggle tell the sordid tale of unemployment in Bihar, a state which has more than 10 crore population and a literacy rate of nearly 60 per cent, according to the 2011 Census.
In a report released in 2020 on unemployment data from January to April 2020, the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) said the unemployment rate in Bihar for the period was 17.21 per cent.
A more recent CMIE report citing data from September to December 2021 showed that the rate of joblessness in Bihar has come down to 13.3 per cent. The situation on the ground is quite different though.
According to the same report, there are currently 38.84 lakh unemployed job-seekers in the state while the number of unemployed job-seekers all over India is around three crore. In terms of absolute numbers, Bihar has the second largest population of unemployed youth after Rajasthan, which has 66.19 lakh unemployed looking for a job.
Comparing the unemployment rate in Bihar to the rest of the country, Mahesh Vyas, Managing Director and CEO of CMIE, told ThePrint: “The unemployment rate in Bihar is higher than India as a whole. In 2021, the state had an unemployment rate of 12.8 per cent, while India’s unemployment rate was much lower at 7.7 per cent.”
He cited the Covid pandemic and resultant lockdowns as having adversely impacted job conditions across the nation. “Prior to the pandemic, in 2019, 34.3 per cent of Bihar’s working age population was employed,” he said. Vyas explained that a large chunk of the rest of the population was out of the labour force, which means they were not actively seeking jobs.
Similarly, he added that “in 2021, only 31.2 per cent of Bihar’s population was employed. The corresponding figures for India are 39.6 per cent in 2019 and 37.2 per cent in 2021”.
ThePrint travelled to a number of places in Bihar to understand the ground situation and found that young, educated men are not just unemployed but also underemployed. The recent protests in the state by Railways job aspirants are a reflection of the anger and frustration felt by the jobless youth.
Everyone wants a govt job
Aspiration for a government job, especially in the Railways, was common everywhere ThePrint team went.
In Gaya’s Parsanwan village, Praveen Kumar and his elder brother have been unemployed for the last three years and have been studying for government job exams.
Speaking to ThePrint, Kumar said: “My brother and I are both science graduates but there are no good jobs for us near our village or even in the city, so we are looking for a government job that can give us more stability and better income.”
A private job would pay them not more than Rs 5,000 to Rs 10,000 per month and they will have to work for more than 10 hours, but a government job would come with fixed hours and better pay — this is why they are seeking employment with the government, the young men explained.
Similar is the case of Pankaj Kumar, an agriculture studies graduate from a university in Bihar. “I graduated in 2019, but have been jobless since then. There are no vacancies in the state agriculture department, so I am trying to get a job in the Railways or the Staff Selection Commission (SSC),” he told ThePrint.
Lakhs of such men throng capital city Patna every year, live in small rooms and prepare for government job exams.
Those fortunate enough to clear the exams, still don’t have a job. Many keep awaiting a joining letter from the government and hence remain unemployed.
Vivek Kumar, a 28-year-old living in Patna and preparing for the Railways exam, is one such example. He got through the Bihar SSC exam in 2014, but never got a joining letter. Failing to get employed and still hoping for government service, he is now writing other government exams, like those for the Railways and public sector units.
Counselling for the Bihar SSC exam has been pending since 2014 due to some legal issues. It was supposed to be held in November last year but was postponed again in December.
Kumar is one of thousands of aspirants awaiting their counselling date. Speaking to ThePrint, he said: “I have been waiting for counselling for seven years now. I cleared the exam when I was 21 and now I am 28 years old. Life has been a constant struggle, but I do not want to give up hope. I am preparing for other exams and appeared for the Railways exams recently.”
Several people ThePrint spoke to, who have been engaged with previous and current state administration and political parties, said that the absence of private industry in Bihar is one of the biggest reasons behind mass unemployment.
Amit Kumar, who worked in the employment exchange in Patna and Jehanabad a few years ago, reiterated this. “When I worked in the employment exchange five years ago, I would see graduates registering themselves for the posts of delivery persons for Zomato and others. The lack of industries in the state is one of the biggest reasons behind this situation,” he said.
Status of industry
A report by India Brand Equity Foundation (IBEF), a trust established by the commerce department under the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, noted that the fastest growing industries in the state are food processing, dairy, sugar, manufacturing and healthcare.
Stating that the Gross State Domestic Product of Bihar grew at a compound annual growth rate of 10.73 per cent from 2015-16 to 2020-21, the report added that Bihar was one of the strongest agricultural states and nearly 80 per cent of the population was employed in agricultural production.
“It is the fourth largest producer of vegetables and eighth-largest producer of fruits in India,” said the report released in September 2021. Horticulture crops and sugarcane are widely grown in the state.
Experts ThePrint spoke to also agreed that agricultural production is huge in Bihar, but pointed out that the state could not capitalise on it in the form of an employment-generating industry.
“The soil in Bihar is extremely fertile and provides an immense opportunity for a robust food processing industry to grow. There is a food processing industry here but it is not big enough to generate huge employment,” said a senior official in the Bihar government who did not wish to be named.
He added that the food processing industry in the state is part of the micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) and is limited to processing rice, pulses and juices.
The Bihar department of industries’ annual report of 2020-21 said the state had allocated Rs 1,285 crore for 2021-22 for MSMEs. It noted sericulture and khadi as the major industries in the state.
Talking about the reasons behind the absence of other industries, the officer — who has been associated with the state government for a long time — cited unavailability of land.
“Most people in Bihar have small land-holdings. To set up an industry, a company will have to get land from at least 40 people, and it’s almost impossible to get so many people to agree to give their land at the same time. This is the reason why the state has not been able to offer land to industries,” he said.
“People do not want to part with their land because it’s fertile and a small holding. Such problems do not occur in states where land is not so fertile. Industries operate easily in such states,” he added.
The officer also cited poor law and order as another deterrent to the setting up of industries. From small-time goons to an organised network of extortionists – industrialists have to deal with them all, he said. “Politicians claim there is little crime in Bihar, but the ground reality is the opposite,” he added.
Professor Subodh Mehta, national spokesperson of RJD and Delhi University professor, recommended opportunities in the agriculture and tourism sectors in Bihar.
“If we need progress in Bihar, we need to generate employment and from the 90s onwards, employment has mostly become market-driven. Lack of industry, which means a lack of conducive market in the state, has been hindering opportunities for the youth here,” he said.
“There can be agriculture-related industry in the state. It’s rich in natural resources with immense opportunity for an agro-based economy. Then there is scope for the tourism sector here. We have Gaya and Nalanda, where tourists from all over the world visit. All this can be economised,” he added.
He further pointed to government apathy as one of the reasons behind Bihar’s unemployment crisis. “Failure of policymakers and governments in the past have led Bihar to this condition. Every successive state government thinks of how to win the next election, instead of working for the betterment of people,” the professor observed.
Political apathy and mass migration
A former Bihar government officer spoke about the failure of successive governments to generate employment and bring industries to the state. Bihar was long ruled by the RJD led by Lalu Prasad and since 2005 it has been governed by the JD(U) led by CM Nitish Kumar.
“Lalu Prasad was never interested in bringing any industry to the state. In fact, the industries that were already flourishing here — the Birlas and Dalmias had set up industries in the state in the 90s — too vanished because of political apathy. The silk industry in Bhagalpur used to be famous all over India, but machines replaced handwork, and thus employees,” he told ThePrint.
The officer added that things took a turn for the better during Nitish’s tenure, but haven’t exactly reached where they should have. “When Nitish Kumar came to power, his first job was to provide roads and electricity in the state. He spoke about development initially but then lost track and got involved in caste-based politics,” he added.
“To bring in any industry or business that generates employment, the government needs to provide basics like electricity, roads and land. All that together has been missing in the past, that is the reason why there are no private industries in Bihar,” he added.
The absence of a robust industry has led to lack of private sector jobs for the youth who have resorted to migrating from Bihar to Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and other parts of India for better opportunities.
A report published by International Institute for Population Sciences (IIPS) on migration in eastern Uttar Pradesh and Bihar said that people in this region have been migrating for better livelihood opportunities since the first quarter of the 19th Century.
Based on a survey conducted in 2018-19 in the Middle Ganga Plain, the report found that almost 50 per cent of families in Bihar and UP have been affected because of migration. The survey covered 27 districts from UP and 37 from Bihar.
“More than 57 per cent of households have at least one member who migrated for employment or business in the year preceding the survey. Of these, 50 per cent of households have split families, where males migrate to different destinations for employment and their wives, children and parents stay back in villages. The remaining 7 per cent of households were found locked due to migration of the entire family,” the report said.
Limited education and skills
Education and skill opportunities in Bihar are also limited, which affects the Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER). According to education ministry data from 2019-20, the GER or percentage of 18-23-year-olds attending college in the state was 14.5 per cent. This means that out of 100, only around 14 men and women attend college.
The data also shows that college density per lakh eligible population in Bihar is 7, which means that for every 1 lakh eligible persons (aged 18-23 years) there are 7 colleges in the state. Fewer institutes means overcrowding. There are roughly 1,700 students per college in the state.
According to state government data from 2018-19, there are 17 universities in Bihar, 54 polytechnic colleges, 36 engineering colleges including the Indian Institutes of Technology and National Institutes of Technology, 14 medical colleges, 6 dental colleges and 44 teacher training institutes.
This leaves the youth with little avenue for skill-based job opportunities and they go for government jobs. Explaining the craze for a government job in Bihar, a senior bureaucrat who did not wish to be named, said: “There has been a feudal mindset in Bihar and people from the lower castes have been downtrodden for years. They look for some kind of alleviation for themselves, when they cannot change their caste or financial status, and think of being a government employee as a status symbol,” he said.
Men, from their early 20s to mid-30s, keep trying to get a government job. It could be anything — from a Railways job to SSC to other state jobs or in public sector units, or teaching jobs in government schools.
“Working as plumbers and electricians in their own state is insulting for these people. They can go to other states and do the same job, but will not do it in Bihar,” the bureaucrat added.
There is also the problem of underemployment, which has been explained by Professor Craig Jeffrey from the University of Melbourne. He has written a book, Timepass, on India’s unemployed youth and worked in various parts of the country on the unemployment issue since the 1990s. “Educated youth in India are working for less money and doing jobs that are below their qualification… this is what is being underemployed. The young here are not just unemployed but also underemployed,” he told ThePrint.
Amrish Malakar, 38, from a Muzaffarpur village, is one example. The graduate spent years preparing for government exams to get into the Railways and SSC, but all his efforts went in vain.
In 2012, he opened a small flower shop in his village of Mustafaganj, where the business is seasonal and he barely manages to earn Rs 2,000 to Rs 3,000 per month.
“I am a political science graduate from Patna University but I have been jobless. I could never get a government job and private ones are not available in Bihar. I cannot leave the state because of my family. There is no industry here which can generate private jobs. What will the educated men do?” he asked, echoing the thoughts of millions of youth in Bihar.
(Edited by Nida Fatima Siddiqui)