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12th September '2009
The Explosive Unemployment

According to information provided by the Employment Department of J & K, there are 1.2 lakh educated unemployed registered with various employment exchanges in the State. As there are no incentives from these exchanges, therefore, not many people come forward to register. Recently, there had been a spurt in registrations triggered by the news that the government was going to release some dole through employment insurance schemes. However, this was subsequently denied by the government. According to some reports, a team from Government of India conducting an economic survey estimated the number of educated unemployed at 4 to 5 lakhs. Recently it was stated in the state legislature that there are 350574 government employees in the state and out of which 78,100 are the personnel of the police force. An additional 6,000 persons were being recruited in the Police taking its strength to about 85,000. The figures exclude the employees of the corporations, public sector units, contractual employees, casual labour, and ad hoc workers. The annual pay of these employees exceeds Rs 3,500 crores. This must be probably the highest number of government employees in proportion to the population of an area anywhere in the world! However, there is a limit to the creation of jobs in the Government sector. Even at present most of the government departments and organisations especially corporations are over staffed. Most of the corporations are in the red, unable to pay the salary of their staff for months together. Over the years a mindset has developed among Kashmiri youth that a government job is the most secure proposition. It is a life long social security. Even after retirement one is entitled to a pension. Recently there has been a move from Government of India to abolish the system of official pension for persons to be recruited from 2010. It is pathetic to see highly educated persons aspiring for a class IV job (orderly) in any Government department. Government itself has started a policy of keeping highly trained professionals on a monthly dole without any work. There are thousands of Rehbars (Guides) in different fields. We have Rehbar-e-Taleem, Rehbar-e-Ziraat, Rehbar-e-Bijli, Rehbar-e-Sayhat and so on. It would be better to engage all the unemployed youth as Rehbar-e-Kashmir!

There are many reasons for this clamour for government jobs at any level. Kashmir has been facing a situation of uncertainty right from 1947. This atmosphere of uncertainty has become worse in last 20 years or so. The uncertainty has prevented sizeable outside investment in various fields in Kashmir. Before 1990 there were still some big houses interested in setting up industries especially food and agriculture based but after that the investments have completely dried up. Unfortunately, government too has been slow in tapping some of the productive employment generating sectors such as Commercial Floriculture, Fisheries, Forest and Agriculture based industries etc. No doubt many initiatives were taken but due to the prevailing circumstances most of these ended up in failure. Maximum concentration has been on Tourism, which in normal situation could be the most important sector but in the present scenario is the most undependable proposition. It is universally known that Tourism is a peace time activity. Same has been the case with the private sector. They have also been investing in unproductive sectors such as real estate. It is very tragic that our non-resident Kashmiris having colossal resources are busy constructing rows upon rows of houses which they hardly occupy. For just one month or so in a year they come to Kashmir and stay in these houses. Rest of the eleven months these are occupied by watchmen! Another fad these days which has generated competition among the private investors and even the government agencies like the Development Authority and the Municipal Corporation is construction of shopping malls. How useful and productive it would have been if all these investments of hundreds of crores were made in productive industries!

The other handicap has been the placement disadvantage. After 1947, the connection of Kashmir has been totally severed with the outside world except through Delhi. In the earlier times, Kashmir had trade links on all sides including Central Asia and Chinese Turkistan. Regular trade caravans used to operate between Kashmir, Yarqand, Samarqand, and other places in Central Asia. There were also trade links through the famous Jhelum Valley Road. In spite of these circumstantial disadvantages, Kashmiris were able to adapt to changed situation by spreading all over India and even abroad through this single opening of Delhi. However, after the turmoil of nineties and the consequent suspicion about the antecedents of all Kashmiris, this channel too got blocked to a great extent. The other blockade has been the inability of Kashmiris to go abroad in spite of a wide job market in the Gulf Region. It is next to impossible for a young Kashmiri to get a passport. There are umpteen agencies which must give clearance before the Passport Officer can issue a passport. Normally, in other parts of India a passport can be issued on the certificate given by any government officer of the rank of a deputy secretary and above. Not in Kashmir. The address and antecedents have to be verified for last 20 years of militancy! It is sometimes a nightmare to get a passport issued even for babies! It is a pity that the government is unable to stop Kashmiri youth crossing over the Line of Control and returning with guns to create havoc but is totally reluctant to give passports to genuine persons trying to get some gainful employment abroad. They would be earning precious foreign exchange to the country.

Apart from these handicaps in employment generation resulting from the prevailing situation, we too have our own inherent social inhibitions. First is the total lack of dignity of labour. Manual labour is considered the lowest and meanest activity here. Most of the educated people prefer white collar jobs. While as in the west people who work with their own hands get very handsome hourly wages, here they are the lowest paid workers. One sees in the west engineers donning overalls and working in the field with other workers. Not in Kashmir. Here we prefer to sit in offices and work on paper on a table! If we want to reduce unemployment, we have to restore the dignity of manual labour here. No doubt a large number of highly educated youth are working on various errands in the field these days but it is out of compulsion and not of their own choosing. Second is our impatience. No body has the patience to put in hard and dedicated work and wait for results. We want a quick buck somehow. Means don’t matter, the end matters and the end in our case is shaped by impatience and extreme material greed. Finally, we don’t value time. We have plenty of it to waste on useless and unproductive things. Punctuality is not a virtue here. Time bound assignments and deadlines are a rarity. We take everything easy like the typical lotus eaters we are! The society has to reform itself before we can get rid of the ills that are plaguing it. Unfortunately, we have a tendency to leave everything to the Government which we basically disown except where our material interests are concerned! There we want them to set everything right. Well, whether the Government likes it or not, they have a very serious problem on their hands. This is the basic problem of unemployment from which all other problems emanate. It cannot be set right by creating hundreds of thousand of Government slaves on dole. Some practical steps need to be taken. The most important one is to change the placement. All traditional trade and travel routes need to be opened up. This opening itself will generate sizeable number of jobs. Recently there was some talk about setting up of an overseas employment corporation. This proposal has been in the pipeline for quite sometime. However, setting up a corporation will not solve the problem. There are already a host of Government Corporations in the red. It may be creating another white elephant with new avenues for corruption. It may be advisable to set up a special cell for overseas employment in the existing Employment Department. It should be headed by a young and dynamic young officer who can co-ordinate with foreign agencies to supply skilled manpower wherever needed through government channels. This would provide employees a guarantee against unscrupulous elements trying to exploit youth under the cover of providing employment abroad. It would also eliminate the necessity of antecedent verification for foreign companies as the government would be involved in sponsoring the prospective employees.

A large number of Kashmiri youth have been able to land some good jobs on their own especially in the Gulf Region. However, quite often they lose these opportunities due to delay in the issue of passports. There is an urgent need to have some sort of passport facilitation unit whereby passports to prospective employees abroad could be issued on priority basis. It is a pity that in other parts of India passports can be issued in three days and on urgent basis in a single day but not in Kashmir. Here one has wait a lifetime to get a passport. The other handicap is the character verification. For all government as well as private sector jobs in different parts of India Kashmiris need character certificates. These too take abnormally long time. This process too needs to be streamlined and speeded up. In fact, for jobs available in different corporations and private sector companies the state government itself could sponsor the youth fulfilling requisite criteria on merit in co-ordination with the human resource development sections of these organisations. There are many other avenues through which the government can assist and facilitate local youth in getting non-governmental jobs within the country and abroad.

However, the major initiatives of government are urgently needed in setting up major food and agriculture based industries which can give a boost to employment generation. The government instead of spending crores on Tulip gardens and other mega recreational projects should invest in some industries based on agriculture, horticulture, floriculture, fisheries, and so on. These have ample scope for consumption within the state as well as for export. In fact, government should encourage and motivate private investment both from within the state and outside in these ventures by giving some attractive incentives and fast track clearances. Non-resident Kashmiris can also be persuaded to invest in productive ventures rather than block their resources in dead investments like real estate. No doubt constructing houses is a deposit appreciating in value over a period of time but it has no social and moral value for the local people. For them it is a dead investment for all practical purposes. It needs to be emphasized that the growing unemployment is the greatest challenge and can overshadow all other problems. It cannot be tackled by slogans and ad hoc measures. It requires a definite and clear policy with a time bound blue print to tackle various possible avenues of employment. The government needs to realise the explosive dimensions of the problem. Almost half a million educated youth feeling under siege without any avenue of gainful and productive employment is surely a recipe for disaster! The frustration of the youth is increasing rapidly which apart from increasing their alienation is converting them into a readymade material for destructive exploitation. Someone needs to wake up and tackle the problem head on before it blows up in every one’s face with vengeance!

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