The gripping problem of unemployment is so gigantic that it becomes the main issue of hustling in all the State Legislatures and Parliamentary Elections. The prosperity of the nation is dependent on the level of employment, output and income. Punjab is number one state in agricultural production but faces the severe problem of unemployment.
Though about 5 lakh people are stated to be unemployed in the state, the recent recruitment drive for constables in the state refuted this number. For the available 7,418 posts, more than 7 lakh persons applied, out of which which 1.5 lakhs were Graduates and Post Graduates and about 3,000 were holding professional qualifications like MCA and MBA, completely ignoring the fact that their qualifications — to acquire which they invested a number of years — are incompatible with the job.
This makes explicit the feelings of disgruntled youth. The conjectures have shown that this number could be much more if the minimum qualifications for the post was not 10+2. If the less educated and the illiterate were also be counted in it, the number would go up to about 75-80 lakhs.
Inspite of the free and compulsory education up to 14 years of age, the rate of literacy in Punjab is 72 percent which means 28 out of 100 children drop out even before completing middle school. These children are compelled to work either as domestic workers or in some business enterprises because of the fact that while there is a lack of jobs for the adults, there are lots of jobs for children, thanks to the present social set up of unequal pay.
On the other hand, it is a hard fact that government jobs alone can not ameliorate the situation of employment. It is much difficult to augment the government jobs at the cost of the tax payer’s burden. It can be observed that in 1980 there were 2.59 lakh government jobs and those escalated to 3.75 lakhs in 2011 but again got depleted to 3.26 lakhs in 2013. It is a point to ponder over that even by doubling government jobs, the problem will not be solved. Moreover, this doubling is out of question and next to impossible.
The employment exchanges also presented a different picture. In 1980 there were 4.5 lakh unemployed registered with these offices. That number got depleted to 3.54 lakh in 2011 and further to 3.52 lakh in 2013. It does not mean that large number of people got employed during this period. Actually, the less educated or illiterate form a major portion of the population seeking employment and they do not register themselves with these offices. Even otherwise, many professionals and others do not get themselves registered keeping in view the inability of these offices to generate jobs. The number of applicants for the police jobs proved that the number of registered unemployed in exchanges cannot be taken as the actual number of unemployed.
The desperation of unemployed can be seen in the fact that number of young men have gone abroad for the sake of employment even by selling their land and property. Stories of them being exploited by unscrupulous agents keeps appearing in the papers every day. That is why Punjab is the second state after Kerala whose maximum people are working abroad.
It is also reported that all these applicants had to pay some money for these jobs as application fee and crores of rupees were collected by the government. How far is it justified for the government to charge fees from unemployed people?
In 1977 when Janta Party came to power, it took the matter of unemployment seriously and launched an auspicious employment plan that envisaged to generate 10 million jobs every year to accomplish the goal of 100 million jobs in 5 years, but as the Janta Party government ruled out of power, and the plan got scraped the problem remain anchored in the same position. In 1980 when Congress swept into power, the unemployment problem was again taken as a crucial issue but more stress was laid on generating self- employment through training, credit and subsidy, but the results remained unimpressive.
Punjab is an agricultural state where agriculture is the mainstay of about 50 percent of the population but the contribution of agriculture in the state gross domestic product (SGDP) has decelerated to 28 percent in which 9 percent is contributed by dairy — the main subsidiary occupation with agriculture. It makes vivid the big gap between farm and non-farm income.
While looking at the development of all developed countries of the world, it becomes didactic that population from agriculture should be shifted to non- agricultural sector. The efficacy of the policy makers can be observed by the rate of shifting of agricultural problem to the industrial and services sectors. Being an agricultural state, there is a lot of potential for Agro Processing Units and those can be installed in the small scale sector. But lack of raw materials for these seasonal units is a hindrance.
The cropping pattern of wheat and paddy that is covering 70 percent of the cultivated area needs diversification. There is a need of coordination between state and central government to delineate the promotion of agro-processing industries and the impediments for diversification should be addressed that includes the assured and high prices of the products needed as raw material for the Agro-Processed Units.
Punjab being 1,500 kilometers away from ports and at 1,200 kilometers away from the sources of raw materials like coal and iron is performing well in exports, particularly hosiery, of which it is the number one exporter.
The Industrial department of the government should serve as a guide with friendly attitude and the big goal to generate more and more employment to secure the prosperity of the state.
Dr. S.S. Chhina is a Senior Fellow, Institute of Social Sciences, New Delhi