Himachal Pradesh Voters Have Said They're Concerned About Unemployment. Here's Why.

Of the 2.04 lakh unemployed in Himachal Pradesh, 1.76 lakh are in the 20-29 age group, which means that the majority of the unemployed in the state are young people.

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Chandigarh: When three academics conducted an online survey recently on what people thought was the biggest issue for voters in Himachal Pradesh, 39% of the 1,002 respondents said unemployment. Another 35% though inflation was the biggest concern, while 10% chose good governance.

The survey was conducted by three academics from Shimla – Baldev Singh Negi from Himachal Pradesh University, Devender Sharma from Government Degree College, Shimla and Ved Prakash Sharma from HP National Law University.

Respondents came from 66 of the state’s 68 constituencies, and 54% of them were below 45 years of age.

Opposition parties, including the Congress and Aam Aadmi Party, have raised the unemployment problem multiple times in an attempt to corner the incumbent Bharatiya Janata Party government in the state.

What has created this state of affairs?

Baldev Singh Negi, faculty member at the Department of Interdisciplinary Studies, HP University, told The Wire that there are multiple reasons why unemployment has been among the top issues before the upcoming elections.

Jobs in the public sector have always been a priority for people in Himachal, since the hilly state has limited scope for industrialisation. But over the years, liberalisation policies have reduced government jobs, even as there is a continuous increase in demand due to population growth, Negi said.

Based on the the number of seats in the state’s degree and professional colleges, Negi estimates that more than 60,000 young men and women enter the job market every year.

Negi added that the private sector too has failed to employ educated young people from the state, mainly as they lack the requisite skills and quality education. He also referred to the 2004 industrial policy incentivising reserving 70% jobs for locals, which was increased to 80% in 2019, and said the implementation of this policy is not being monitored.

Two lakh currently unemployed in HP: CMIE data

As per the May-August, 2022 unemployment report by think-tank Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE), 2.04 lakh people are currently unemployed in Himachal Pradesh, which is 9.5% of its total workforce (21.39 lakh).  This is higher than the national unemployment average of 7.8%.

Out of the total unemployed, 1.76 lakh are in the 20-29 age group, which means that the majority of the unemployed in the state are young people.

Also read: HP: BJP, Congress Grapple With a Rebel Problem as Scores of Leaders File Poll Papers Independently

The state’s support for unemployed people is very limited. As per the state economic survey report, only 51,000 were given an unemployment allowance in 2021-22, which is Rs 1,000 per month (Rs 30 per day). The unemployment allowance for people with disabilities is Rs 1,500 per month.

The limited allowance coverage is primarily blamed on the stringent eligibility criteria, in which the minimum education qualification is a 10+2 exam from any board, university or institution recognised by the Himachal Pradesh government.

Some also point out that CMIE data may not reflect the true unemployment picture in the state. The live register of job seekers maintained by the state’s Department of Labour and Employment already has more than 8.77 lakh entries (as on March 31, 2022). Of this, 1.41 lakh are graduates and 76,000 are post graduates.

How political parties are addressing the issue

In its 10-point election agenda, the Congress has promised five lakh jobs for young people in their government.

It also promised that Rs 10 crore would be spent in each of the 68 assembly segments to help the youth set up start-up units to create employment avenues.

In a media interview, Rajeev Shukla, in-charge of Congress affairs for Himachal Pradesh, alleged that the BJP government had failed to generate jobs during its five-year rule. “No efforts were made for resource mobilisation by tapping Himachal’s immense potential for tourism and food processing,” said Shukla, while promising a major focus on job generation both in the government and private sectors.

Congress’s youth president Nigam Bhandari also said that the BJP government often talks about a double-engine government, but it never published details on how many jobs it provided in the last five years.

On the other hand, BJP state in-charge Avinash Rai Khanna, in a media interview, called this promise Congress propaganda. He said the BJP government has launched projects in the state to generate employment.

“The bulk drug park, foundation stone of which the PM laid on October 13 in Una, would not only bring India and Himachal on the world map but also generate direct employment for 30,000 persons, ” he added.

Is the Agniveer scheme an issue this election?

In districts like Hamirpur, Una and Kangra, jobs in the armed forces have long been a priority for the youth.

As per 2021 government data, 46,960 active duty soldiers in the Indian Army are from Himachal, ranked 11th overall.

More than 5,800 youth joined the Indian army as soldiers from Himachal in 2019, before COVID-19 spread. Later recruitment was replaced with the Agniveer scheme by the BJP-led Union government, under which instead of permanent jobs, recruits would be hired for a period of four years.

During the election, Congress candidates from the Kangra and Hamirpur belt are criticising the BJP’s Agniveer scheme. They say that the scheme has cut job prospects of all young people from Himachal, making it a major loss for the state.

Watch: How AAP’s Arrival at Himachal Pradesh Makes the Polls Interesting

Young people in Himachal were also involved in protests against the scheme.

However, Major Vijai Singh Mankotia, chairman of the Himachal ex-servicemen league who recently joined the BJP, claimed Agniveer was not an issue. The youth in the state are already participating in the recruitment rallies of the armed forces, he said.

Political analyst Professor Ramesh Chauhan told The Wire that whether the BJP accepts it or not, unemployment is among the important issues, simply because Himachal can’t be a fully industrialised state due to geographical disadvantages.

What has happened in recent years is that current sources of employment are also reducing, increasing pressure on young people and their parents, he added.

Vivek Gupta is a Chandigarh-based journalist. He can be reached at @journoviv.