On the morning of March 20, I switched on my television only to find distressing shots of hundreds of students sitting on rail tracks demanding jobs from the government.
The students forced to resort to this extreme form of protest after a meeting with railways minister Piyush Goyal resulted in zero progress. It was not out of choice that these students decided to inconvenience commuters for close to three hours that morning, it was sheer desperation.
This week nearly 3,500 youths from across Maharashtra tried to march to the Vidhan Sabha in order to meet chief minister Devendra Fadnavis. They were stopped midway but due to the public pressure, Fadnavis was forced to meet them. Among the protesters were many youths from the rural belts who were demanding that the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act be implemented effectively across the state.
In February, job-seekers from across Maharashtra protested against the government for not conducting the Maharashtra Public Service Commission exams for the past two years and for not filling almost 45,000 vacant posts. This is just a glimpse of the real and bigger picture. The Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) says about 31 million jobless Indians are currently looking for work.
It is a crisis that is becoming more severe with each passing day. The figures are worrying to say the least. The unemployment rate by the end of January stood at 6.1 per cent, the highest in the last 15 months. What's worse is that the rate is growing steadily in rural areas. The unemployment rate in rural India stands at 5.65 per cent up from 4.11 in March 2017. In Maharashtra, the unemployment rate has reached 3.7 per cent.
As I travel across rural Maharashtra, I see the reason why more and more youngsters are turning away from agriculture and seeking jobs. The droughts, debts and lack of support from government have convinced a large section of youths that agriculture no longer is a "stable means of livelihood".
The plight of the 35,000-plus farmers who marched demanding a loan waiver among other things is being witnessed by the youngsters in their homes and many are unwilling to face the same hardships. First, it is the weather that plays havoc on their hard work. Even if they manage to fight the weather gods and get a good crop, there is a lackadaisical procurement policy of the government that plays havoc. Hundreds of tur dal and chana dal cultivators, who have had a bumper crop haven't managed to sell their crop because the government hasn't got its act together.
So a section of rural youth is looking for the jobs promised by the Narendra Modi-led BJP government, and coming back with the same question - Where are the jobs?
I read a report in a national daily recently that said 129 engineers, 23 lawyers, a chartered accountant and 393 postgraduates were among 12,453 applicants who were interviewed for 18 peon posts in the Rajasthan secretariat. Imagine the number who must have applied. This is alarming.
When the BJP government came into power in 2014, they emphasised that employment generation would be one of its biggest missions promising to create over 250 million jobs over a period of 10 years. The promise was to create 2.5 crore jobs every year. But the reality couldn't be further from truth. Only 4.16 lakh jobs have been created in 2017. Also, 1.55 lakh and 2.31 lakh jobs were created in the years 2015 and 2016, respectively. The rift between the desired job creation rate and the unemployment rate is ever increasing. This raises serious questions over the future of the youth, which looks bleak.
Enough has been written on how demonetisation ruined our small and medium enterprises and put hundreds out of jobs. My concern is that the current government seems to be ignoring what is staring them in the face.
It is not just the 31 million who are jobless, but come May and a fresh batch of graduates will join the job market. And optimistic estimates say only 6,00,000 jobs will be created in 2018. Only. Now just imagine what awaits the rest.