Originally Published 2011-02-28 00:00:00 Published on Feb 28, 2011
The unemployment rate is now around 10.1 per cent in the rural areas and 9.4 per cent across the nation. This means that around 40 to 50 million youth are without jobs. Unless they are given proper training, and higher education, they will not be fit to join the service sector or the manufacturing sector.
Joblessness: A bomb ticking away in rural India
Today in terms of GDP growth, India seems to be doing better than most other countries and the government expects around 9 per cent growth in the next one year. But is this growth translating itself into rural jobs? Is it benefiting the common man? The story of "trickle down" did happen to a great extent in rural India and boosted rural incomes. Indeed, rural demand has boosted industrial demand in recent years, but there is a scarcity of jobs in the rural areas. And with 54 per cent of the population living in our villages, there is a huge pressure on land, creating an adverse land-man ratio, which means there is not enough work for young people in the farms.

This lack of adequate work has created much restlessness among the youth in the villages who do not want to work in the fields and are lured by the news of the outside world through mobile phones, the satellite TV and Internet. Rural youth is aware of what is going on in the rest of India, especially the lavish lifestyles of people living in towns. It makes them want to migrate to towns and even undertake travel for hours in order to get paid jobs. The recent incident in which 18 disappointed young job-seekers died while travelling on the rooftop of a train, which was taking them back to their villages from the small town of Bareilly (Uttar Pradesh), is a glaring example of the kind of desperation the young people are facing. Even for menial jobs like cleaners, washermen, barbers and water-carriers in the Indo- Tibetan Border Police force, there were 100,000 applicants when there were only 416 jobs available. The remuneration was only Rs 5200 per month.

This incident shows not only the desperation of the village youth to get jobs in towns but also their willingness to accept even the most menial jobs. Most of the applicants were semi-literate and school-dropouts, but they now consider themselves as literate and want jobs which would give them some wage-income and job security (that made public sector jobs like those in the Indo-Tibetan Border Police all the more alluring). Another revealing fact is the utter recklessness of the rejected youth because while travelling back they flouted all rules of the railways. Since sitting on top of the train would save them the train fare, hundreds climbed on the top which is dangerous under any circumstances. But in this case, they were also not warned sufficiently in advance by the railway authorities of the low bridges ahead. Even if they had been warned, would they have listened? The complete lack of implementation of any safety laws is also highlighted by this incident. What is scary is the paucity of jobs to absorb the rural youth in India's 638,000 villages and thus it is difficult to hazard a guess about their future.

India will continue to have a youthful population of 500 million in the next 15 years as compared to other emerging economies. But this can turn the situation into a nightmare in which semi-skilled and semi-literate young population may not find a place in the job market as manufacturing and service sector jobs are growing very slowly.

There are also not enough food processing factories to employ the young people locally. The slowdown in manufacturing since December 2010 to 2.5 per cent is an indicator of the possible further slackness of industrial growth.

This is because all input prices have risen in the last few months. The rising oil prices will affect industry's fuel cost. There have also been several hikes in the interest rates to combat inflation in the past one year which makes industrial expansion difficult to finance. Only with more factories in the rural areas can the unemployed youth coming out of the villages be absorbed in gainful employment. The situation is volatile today because food inflation has been running at a double-digit level for nearly two years and is enough to drive out people from rural areas to seek jobs in towns.

The unemployment rate is now around 10.1 per cent in the rural areas and 9.4 per cent across the nation, and this means that around 40 to 50 million youth are without jobs. Unless they are given proper training, and higher education, they will not be fit to join the service sector or the manufacturing sector. According to the Labour Bureau, most of the job growth in the manufacturing sector in the recent past has been slow and public sector jobs have not grown at all. Often to retain flexibility, companies have opted for high-tech which is also required to retain the competitive edge. Unless more labour-intensive industries are set up or labour-intensive processes are encouraged by government policy, the future will see very slow job expansion.

So, what will the young job-seekers in their twenties and thirties do when rural jobs are not available and what if they are turned down for the few openings as was seen in Bareilly recently? It will become a big problem in a few years unless they are engaged in studies and are given vocational training that will enable them to find jobs.

This task of educating and training the young entrants to the labour force cannot be left to the private sector alone and, therefore, the major task of the state governments would be to launch skill training programmes and ensure that all boys and girls finish at least their secondary education. It is perhaps not enough to have universal primary education as a goal because to implement it, there will have to be better schools with proper teaching facilities by teachers in classes so as to ensure that the dropout rate is low.

There is a big danger that the unemployed and disgruntled youth may join the Maoist movement or some other type of anti-social activity in the states that are poor and underdeveloped. To keep the youth gainfully employed in the villages, students should be encouraged to complete their education and training. There should be better implementation of Centrally-sponsored training programmes for rural youth, and for rural jobs labour-intensive factories in food processing could be set up. The youth can be trained to start their own small enterprises that can supply parts to factories in nearby towns. Making loans available from banks to youth for starting their business is also important.

Unless serious thought is given to the question of providing employment to the youth in the villages, widespread joblessness will remain like a bomb ticking away in our villages that may explode anytime.

(The writer is a Senior Fellow at Observer Research Foundation)

Courtesy: The Tribune

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David Rusnok

David Rusnok

David Rusnok Researcher Strengthening National Climate Policy Implementation (SNAPFI) project DIW Germany

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