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On jobs, a promise too big to keep: Punjab govt

Written by Jagdeep Singh Deep
| Chandigarh |

Published: March 15, 2018 12:52 am

Amarinder Singh on unemployment Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh (Express Photo by Kamleshwar Singh) 

Ghar Ghar Rozgar was a catchy Congress campaign slogan for the 2017 Punjab Assembly polls. The party distributed enrolment cards for the scheme and some 13.24 lakh people filled them in the hope of getting an employment. But the promise is proving to be hard to keep. According to the numbers compiled by the government, “employment in or through the Government of Punjab” now stands at 1.35 lakh placements from the time it took office in March 2017 to last week.

The government has included in this number campus placements; regular, contractual, outsourced and daily wage employment in government departments, placements through the Pradhan Mantri Kushal Vikas Yojana and the C-PYTE initiative to bring drugs affected youth back on the right track, and through self-employment schemes under various government arms. The number of placements is about 10 per cent of the number applicants for Ghar Ghar Rozgar scheme.

Punjab government officials estimate that the actual number of unemployed youth in rural and urban areas of the state put together could be as high as two million at present. Every year, Punjab adds about two to three lakh aspirants to the job market, and the gap between the promise and the placements will only get harder to close with each passing year. Officials said they were doing their best to generate jobs. There is even a new Department of Employment Generation. “Government intervention has ensured placement camps at small places like Budhlada, Mansa, Pattu and Fazilka with companies like L&T, Reliance and GMR,” said a top official.

But it is government employment that youngsters want for the guarantee of “job security” and several other benefits, including a pension on retirement that these jobs offer. Earlier this week, when Chief Minister Amarinder Singh inaugurated a mega job fair in Ludhiana, he exhorted youths not to look to the government for jobs as a state the size of Punjab could not make any more recruitment, and to seek jobs in the private sector.

While the government’s efforts to woo big private players to set up in the state have not yet succeeded, even the existing private jobs demand skills, including language skills, that many youth in Punjab do not have; these jobs are contractual, and low-paying, and are no match for the rising aspirations of Punjabi youth. Policy experts believe the crisis is actually located in education, and the government would fare better by improving the quality of education in the state, to make youngsters more employable, not just for jobs in Punjab but wherever they are available.

“Capital will go where they can make profits. So big industry is not going to come here if it can find a cheaper or better qualified, skilled work force in some other state. The government should focus on creating a competitive work force that has skills and can by universally hired, “says Parmod Kumar, director of the Institute of Development and Communication.

While the job fairs have been opportunities for the government to demonstrate that it is making all efforts at job generation, it is unclear how many who received placement letters were actually given employment, how many took up the offers, and how many have stayed in those jobs.

The Indian Express spoke to some youngsters who received job placement letters with private employers, including some who had received their letters from the Chief Minister back in September 2017 at a “mega job mela” in Mohali and found a mixed bag, depending on individual circumstances, attitudes and aspirations, underlining how tricky it is for government to become the face of such job fairs even for the purposes of political optics: while some who got letters at the mela found their feet in the jobs they were offered, others did not take up the employment for one reason or another, including low-paying, change in salary from what was initially offered, or because of conditions they could not meet

Vikas Kumar, a 23-year-old who had finished a hotel management course at an industrial training institute, travelled all the way to the Mohali job mela from his home in Kauntarpur village in Pathankot district and got a placement letter from a hotel in Pathankot for a salary of Rs 4,500 per month.

“I was told by my teachers I would get an offer letter and a decent job. I went to the fair and received my offer letter there. But I did not join because of the low salary. My village is around 15 km from Pathankot, my petrol cost for the conveyance was working out to Rs 2,500 on petrol. What would I have done with Rs 2000,” says Kumar. Rahul, 23, who had got a placement at the job fair with a hotel in Madhopur in Pathankot, is working as a steward in the hotel even though his salary is Rs 2,000 lower than the Rs 8500 offered to him. “I am happy I got the job, though the salary is not according to my expectations. I feel I am learning a lot here. I can move from here once I have the experience,” he said.

Shilpa (22), a computer engineering graduate from Jalalabad in Ferozepur district, had got a campus placement at her Ferozepur college. The job was with an IT company. She was asked to attend the Mohali job mela in September 2017, where she received the letter from the chief minister. When she went to the company expecting to complete the joining formalities, she was told to deposit Rs 25,000 as security bond, and a declaration that she would not quit for one-and-a-half years. As she could not raise the money, she did not take up the job.

Shilpa now gives private tuitions to students from her home in Jalalabad. She has applied for a job at a private company in Mohali two months ago but has not got a response yet. “After doing my studies, I am sitting without any work. My father runs a saloon, and he paid my fees with great difficulty. I earn Rs 8,000 a month from the tuitions,” she said. Shikha, another 23-year-old B tech in Ferozepur City, got an offer letter from a Mohali-based IT company during campus placement at her college. She was offered Rs 10,000 per month, well below what she was expecting. She did not take up the offer. Unemployed, she has applied to a few IT companies in Mohali and Ludhiana but is yet to receive any call. “I can earn more if I start giving tuitions here at my home. A B. Tech. student should be offered at least Rs 18,000 per month as they have to spend much money on their education,” she said.

Parmod Kumar of IDC said the government trying to create jobs was “like a doctor treating the symptom and not the cause of the disease”. He said Punjab should focus instead on improving education from primary upwards by establishing model schools in every village, creating centres of excellence in education and equipping the young with “flexible work skills” so that they do not get left behind when technologies change.

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