Hooghly: Manas Choudhary, in his mid-50s, who opened a restaurant two months ago in Sugandha village on Hooghly-Kolkata Road in West Bengal, is seeing low turnout these days due to state elections.
Choudhary claimed he had faced a tough time opening his restaurant as the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) “goons” would allegedly pressure him to dish out ‘cut-money’ and to also buy cement, sand from them.
“The state doesn’t not have the environment for business and industry,” said Choudhary, who said he voted for Mamata Banerjee in the 2016 assembly elections, but this time he has “poriborton” in mind.
Like Choudhary, many others, including college graduates who are looking for jobs, say Banerjee’s record in creating employment and setting up industries is dismal.
Arindam Dev, who lives in Singur’s Kamarkundu village, is pursuing B.Com from a college in Tarakeswar, but he says he will have to do some business for a living.
Sitting at a tea stall in his village, Dev says there are no jobs in the state. The tea stall owner adds, “If Mamata didn’t make a fuss about Tata, the whole area would have been developed.”
Tata Motors had to shift its Nano car project from Singur to Gujarat after Banerjee led an agitation for the farmers who refused to give up their land. The land movement propelled Banerjee to office and ended the 34-year Left Front rule in 2011. The Singur agitation, in a way, became a symbol of Bengal’s failed industrialisation.
Aparajita Paul, who is pursuing biomedical engineering from an institute in Kolkata, says her biggest concern is that her parents won’t allow her to migrate to another city in search of jobs.
“In our domain, companies are ready to pay double salaries in Hyderabad and Bengaluru, but they negotiate on half of that amount in Kolkata. I will vote whoever will give priority to jobs and employment creation,” she says.
Some are even considering going abroad for a living.
“I am waiting to go to Saudi, formalities are stuck due to Covid and lockdown. There is nothing to do here, we’re getting unemployment allowance, but we need jobs. She has not created jobs for youths,” said Maksood Jamadar, a native of Uluberia, North Howrah, who just completed his graduation. He, however, added he would vote for the TMC.
TMC manifesto focus on jobs
Sensing that the issue of employment can damage TMC prospects in the elections, Banerjee in her party manifesto promised several provisions such as 5 lakh job creation, and ‘Monthly Basic Income’ of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 to women heads of families for general castes and SC/ST/OBC families, respectively.
The manifesto also added that students would be able to avail of Rs 10 lakh loan using Student Credit Card at 4 per cent interest rate. It promised setting up of 10 lakh MSME and 2,000 big industrial units too.
The BJP, meanwhile, has promised one job in every family, 33 per cent reservation in government jobs for women, implementation of 7th pay commission, MSMEs to get loans of upto Rs 10 lakh, and establishment of nine tourist circuits, among others.
The Bengal government claimed they created 10 million jobs, but so far, the state employment exchange reportedly has nearly 3.5 million job-seekers registered. There are also 2,00,000 permanent jobs across various government departments, besides 1.5 lakh vacant teaching posts.
Around 1.3 million applicants for clerical jobs have not got calls since 2018, while 6 lakh aspirants, who had applied for the posts of sub-inspectors and inspectors also didn’t get calls.
The Banerjee government has a debt burden of Rs 4.31 lakh crore and over Rs 55,000 crore spent on debt servicing in 2019-20.
Instead of generating jobs, the Bengal government focussed on rolling out unemployment allowance. Under the Yuvasree scheme, as many as 1,81,000 unemployed youths receive Rs 1,500 allowance per month.
But voters say unemployment allowances have made job-seekers in the state “idle”.
Meanwhile, the BJP says Banerjee invited many companies to the state through business summits, but actual investment didn’t happen.
Trinamool, however, has refuted the claims, saying Bengal’s unemployment rate is less than the national unemployment, and that the state’s growth is good as compared to other states.
Unemployment allowance made youths ‘idle’
In Howrah and Barrackpore, there is a good presence of small-scale industries, but these areas were once dotted by many flourishing jute factories, most of which have now been shut due to various factors such as unpaid wages and exploitation of workers.
“We don’t need 5 kg ration and health card, here youths need jobs, they can then fulfill their needs. Didi’s development is all hogwash, she is providing (street) lights and roads, but the main issue is unemployment here,” said Tapas Paul, who works with Reliance Jio in Kolkata.
“Youths are roaming without employment, Didi has just given them berojgari (unemployment) allowance. Now, they have become idle. Civil defence forces have not been given salaries. My home is in Tarakeshwar, if the Tatas were allowed to establish the factory in Singur, jobs would have been created,” he added.
Ranjeet Das, an engineer, told ThePrint that although the state government’s performance hasn’t been “too bad”, it has lagged behind in creating jobs.
“She (Mamata) has made roads, installed lights, ensured water supply, opened schools and colleges. It is better than the Left Front government, but she lacked in creating jobs. She should have paid more attention to creation of jobs,” said Das, a native of Howrah who travels to and from Kolkata everyday on a ferry.
Snigdha, who is pursuing hospital administration from Tamluk, said, “Kolkata has no jobs in my field. I am scared about what will happen after completing my course, After Covid, the employment situation is already dismal.”
TMC, BJP trade barbs
BJP spokesperson Ritesh Tiwari said Bengal has a huge talent base, but in the last 10 years, Banerjee didn’t take the risk of inviting industries where land acquisition is required.
“She invited many companies through business summits, but actual investment did not happen. Even Infosys and Wipro promised to build campuses but they are yet to start the construction. In east India, Bengal is the only place that can match Hyderabad and Bengaluru,” he added.
But TMC MP Sajda Ahmed said there is good growth in MSME industries in Bengal and the chief minister has promised to focus on setting up of big industries in her next tenure.
Experts said most of the jobs provided by the state government were low-paying jobs, mostly on contracts.
“They are not quality jobs or regular jobs. There is no land policy. How come industries will be established without land? Many jute industries have been shut due to absence of modernisation and competition. Moreover, jobs are in the manufacturing and knowledge sectors, which should be the focus of the government, but due to political reasons and land agitation, it was not touched,” said Sukanta Bhattacharya, associate professor of economics in Calcutta University.
(Edited by Debalina Dey)
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