Srinagar: In August last year, when the Government of India revoked Jammu and Kashmir’s special status and divided the state into two union territories, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in his address to the nation, said the move would usher in a new dawn in the region. He went on to say that days of sufferings for the people of J&K were over, and his government was committed to fill up all vacant job posts.
In the months that followed, the Centre’s representatives, from then governor Satya Pal Malik to J&K’s first lieutenant governor G.C. Murmu, reiterated that the government would create new jobs and fill up thousands of vacant posts on a fast-track basis.
But 14 months on, these job promises have fallen flat and J&K’s unemployment graph is soaring. This, at a time when the economy has taken a massive hit due to the double lockdown – the six-month clampdown that was enforced after the abrogation of J&K’s special status, followed by the coronavirus lockdown.
The job promises
Addressing a press conference in Srinagar on August 28, 2019, Malik, whose tenure as the last governor of the erstwhile J&K state was marred by controversies, said at least 50,000 jobs would be filled in the next three months.
“This will be the largest single recruitment drive ever in Jammu and Kashmir,” Malik said then.
Elaborating, the governor had said the vacancies were identified after a detailed exercise in several government departments. “We will fill these vacancies in the next few months. This will generate employment for our youth. I urge our youth to come forward and actively participate in this recruitment process.”
Two months later, when the J&K Reorganisation Act, 2020 became operational, Malik was shifted out of J&K. Since then, there has been no word from either the J&K administration or the Centre on the jobs promise.
Similarly, when Murmu took over as the LG, he too doled out a similar assurance. “We are keenly working to accelerate the process of recruitment for our youths,” Murmu said on November 19, 2019, adding that the administration was working to accelerate the process of recruitment by giving jobs to 30,000-40,000 youth.
But this promise, too, never saw the light of the day. A senior official in the J&K general administration department confirmed that a detailed exercise had been undertaken to identify the vacancies in different departments.
But, the official said, there was no direction for a follow up on the job promises made on both occasions. “It never came up for discussion again,” said the official, wishing not to be named, as he is not authorised to speak to the media.
Rising unemployment in J&K
According to a “preliminary assessment” by the Kashmir Chamber of Industries and Commerce (KCCI) – the region’s premier business body – around five lakh people have lost jobs in J&K since August 5 last year.
“Our estimates suggest that business, education, service and transport sectors have witnessed losses to the tune of Rs 40,000 crore. Besides, five lakh youth have been rendered jobless,” said KCCI president Sheikh Ashiq.
At the same time, the government has failed to fill up thousands of vacancies which have accumulated in different departments over the years.
The official said the number of vacant government posts in J&K stood at more 80,000, most of them in the non-gazetted and Class-IV categories. He said on average, both the Jammu and Kashmir Service Selection Board (J&KSSB) and Jammu and Kashmir Public Service Commission (J&KPSC) – the two recruiting agencies for non-gazetted and gazetted posts respectively – fill up around 8,000 to 9,000 posts annually.
The time consuming process to advertise and fill up the posts is seen as the main reason for the accumulation of vacancies over the years, a factor that could explain months of delay in filling up over 10,000 posts including 8,575 Class-IV jobs and around 18,00 accountant assistant vacancies.
These posts were advertised in June 2020, in the first major recruitment drive after the Centre’s Article 370 move, under a new domicile law that allows people from outside J&K to apply for these jobs under certain conditions. The government is, however, yet to announce the exam schedule.
Around six lakh educated youth have applied for these 10,000 posts, indicating the level of unemployment in J&K.
Commissioner secretary labour and employment, Saurabh Bhagat said more than 2.5 lakh educated unemployed youth including PhD scholars, MPhil students and postgraduates registered with the department during a drive by the department last year to count the number of jobless persons.
The figures, however, exclude graduates, undergraduates, those having lesser qualifications and others who choose not to register with the department. A former director of the labour department said the figure of 2.5 lakh did not depict the true picture of unemployment in J&K.
The official said the government needs to move beyond lip service and fast-track the recruitment process. “It (unemployment) is a ticking time-bomb, but nobody seems to be bothered to address this problem,” said the official.
The road ahead
Every year, universities and colleges in Jammu and Kashmir produce hundreds of graduates, postgraduates and youth with higher qualifications. With fewer avenues in the private sector in the conflict-hit region, the public sector remains the major source of employment generation. But under the new system, getting a job could become more competitive as the government has opened up different categories of jobs for “outsiders” under the new domicile law.
This, in turn could add to the J&K’s burgeoning unemployment problem. The indicators are already there. According to the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE), J&K had the highest monthly average unemployment rate of over 15% between January 2016 and July 2019, more than double the national monthly average unemployment rate of 6.4% during the period.
In its latest survey, the body has shown that though the unemployment rate in J&K has improved a little to over 11.1%, despite double lockdowns, it is worse than the national average of 8.3%.
Quoting 2011 Census figures, the official said around 70% of the population in J&K was below 35 years of age. “This means a large chunk of the population is out competing for jobs. But the worry is that there are no or few jobs avenues for this growing force of educated unemployed youth,” said the official.
In May this year, the government ordered the constitution of a committee to accelerate recruitment to government vacancies. The Accelerated Recruitment Committee, headed by senior bureaucrat Navin Choudhary, has been tasked to identify vacancies in different departments for filling them up on an immediate basis, finalise procedures for recruitment and remove delays in recruitment.
Choudhary said the committee has so far referred more than 11,000 posts, including 8,575 Class-IV vacancies and around 2,000 vacancies of doctors, to the recruitment agencies. “Most of these vacancies have been advertised and the recruitment process is on,” said Choudhary.