Whither Job?

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Kashmir is grappling with rising joblessness, but there are fewer government jobs and recruiting agencies are in a limbo, reports  Saima Bhat

File image of unemployed youth in a queue to submit their forms (KL Image: File Photo)

When in 2010 Muhammad Shakir completed his post-graduation, he was jubilant. He is now a shattered man. Fighting to secure a job, Shakir, now 34, has lost the count of filing applications for different government vacancies in last decade. His efforts have yet to be successful. Every time he has a hope but either the final section list gets delayed or the court’s intervention puts the list on hold.

After August 5, 2019 when the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir was stripped of its special status and downgraded into two federally governed Union Territories (UT), Shakir’s concern about his future has grown manifold. As the government has not come out with any job advertisements, Shakir laments that he has only a few years left to cross the age bar. Besides. he has apprehensions if domicile rights on jobs would stay.

“Our jobs were reserved for the state subjects only but we are not now sure if this provision stays or goes,” Shakir says.

He recalls the recent notification of High Court that advertised posts, which kept eligibility criteria for entire India. Shakir is happy that the notice was withdrawn. “But you never know if it is not repeated,” he says.

Shakir says that he had high hopes when the last governor of erstwhile State Satya Pal Malik announced after August 5, that around 50,000 youth will be hired for government jobs in the next three months.

But in the name of new job opportunities, J&K only saw two job notifications, one by JKPSC for the posts of Munsifs and another by High Court, J&K for class-4 employees. Shakir says both notifications were rolled back.

At present, there are around 300 thousand people including 1.5 lakh postgraduates and PhD scholars in Jammu and Kashmir waiting to be employed in the government sector. Highly qualified, these youth were asked to register themselves with district employee exchanges in their respective districts by the last governor. The exercise was carried out by the Directorate of Employment.

The number of unemployed youths as per J&K Economic Survey 2014-15, registered with various District Employment and Counselling Centres, was 6.01 lakhs ending September 2011.

In 2017, another survey by the Stock Exchange Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy had revealed that J&K had the highest unemployment rate in India at 12.13 per cent. While as the State’s own Economic Survey Report of 2016 mentions that the unemployment rate in Jammu and Kashmir is higher than the average national unemployment rate.

But on February 18, 2020, the Union Home Ministry informed a parliamentary standing committee that the J&K administration has identified nearly 84,000 vacant government posts, which includes around 76,453 vacancies under non-gazetted and Class IV levels and 7,552 vacancies at gazetted levels, in the newly created UT.

It has been more than three years when Muhammad Faiq, 27, returned from Pune after completing his master’s in business administration (MBA). He is the only child of his parents and they didn’t want him to work outside Kashmir. The family hoped that after a management degree from a prestigious college, it will be easy for their son to get a job and settle down in Kashmir.

“First of all, there were limited job notifications. Whenever there was an advertisement, I remember clearly that I applied for every post that required graduation as the basic qualification,” Faiq says. “I am 27 already and I am yet to find a job when all of my friends, who live outside J&K are gainfully employed and lead a happily married life. It is only in Kashmir that you will see youth not working even after crossing 30.”

Financial aspect apart, joblessness has social ramifications as well. Without a job, there is no social acceptance, says a university lecturer Shazia Anjum. Recently engaged, Shazia narrates how her family had a difficult time finding a suitable match for her. “As soon as I got the job, match-makers thronged our place.”

Her views are echoed by Irfan Ahmad. A trained dental surgeon, but without a job, Irfan says five years have passed and no family is willing to marry their daughter with him.

“The first question asked is whether I have a permanent job or not.”

The delay in finding employment has delayed the marriageable age, says Dr Niyaz. Working outside the state for last so many years, Niyaz says in Kashmir employment and marriages are interconnected.

“We talk many things, but when it comes to us, we have different yardsticks,” he says, adding “everyone wants secure future for their children that is why being unemployed is no option.”

Currently,  J&K and Ladakh are considered as the lowest in job creation.  “The unemployment rate in the erstwhile state of J&K stood at 15.89 per cent in the first four months of 2019, making it one of the worst performers on the job generation front. The figure for the entire country was 6.87 per cent during the period. The educated youth bore the brunt of the lack of employment opportunities in the state. The unemployment rate among graduate job seekers in the Valley stood at 25.2 per cent in the same period”, states the CMIE in the Unemployment in India report.

In the erstwhile state, there were two main recruiting agencies: the Jammu and Kashmir Public Service Commission (JKPSC) for gazetted posts and Jammu and Kashmir Service Selection Board (JKSSB) for non-gazetted posts. Other than that, a few offices including High Court, Universities, Police and Banks go for direct recruitment.

The official website of the JKPSC shows the last uploaded notification in October 2019 for the health department and for the post of librarians.

“We have nothing to do as the Commission stopped functioning on October 31, which means we don’t have members and chairman. This has resulted in the delay in recruitment for various gazetted posts which were shortlisted for various posts including administrative services and assistant professors,” one of the officials said while pleading anonymity as he was not authorised to talk to media. “We are doing other jobs like the verification of documents and compilation of lists only.”

Since October, no notification was published on the behalf of the JKPSC when many vacancies are available in various government offices.

Rajesh Sharma, the secretary of the Commission, told Kashmir Life that they have no pendency as of now. “We are a recruiting agency only. It is the government which has to refer vacancies to us and then we do the recruitment,” Sharma says. “We have come up with small notices at the secretarial levels like syllabus, checking of medical record and verification of the documents.”

As of now, Sharma says as soon as the commission is restored, they will resume the pending interviewing process of the KAS.

For now, however, there are many uncertainties the recruiting agencies have to contend with. One among them is their standing following revocation of Article 370 and another is whether future recruitment in J&K shall also include candidates from rest of India.

According to reports, former PSC chairman Latief-u-Zaman Deva had suggested that local language test should be made mandatory for all those applying for jobs in J&K. The commission under him had argued that recruiting outsiders without knowledge of the local languages “will impact the functioning of the departments, especially the education department”. The commission also recommended that only those who have been living in J&K for at least 15 years should be made eligible for jobs.”

Says an administrative officer at JKSSB: “We had service rules in the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir which state that only state subjects could apply here but after the state became  UT, state subject clause doesn’t exist so these recruiting agencies are in a fix if they should go ahead with the earlier service laws or the rules of Reorganisation Bill.”

He adds that whenever they will get direction from higher authorities they will start advertising posts.

Khalid Jahangir, the chairman of the board, says they are working.  “Just two days ago we came up with a list of nurses,” he says. “We don’t know about the vacancies in different departments. We have a procedure to follow. They refer their vacancies to us and only then our work starts.”

While the work has stopped at recruiting agencies, other major institutions like the University of Kashmir are also not advertising posts. The last vacancy advertised by the University of Kashmir was six posts of registrars for which 70,000 applications were submitted. “But after the new reorganisation bill, the university has no chancellor so the process could not be completed,” says an insider.

By an average, in Jammu and Kashmir government almost 10,000 people retire. For the last few years no fresh recruitment took place. Jammu and Kashmir Bank that had almost completed a recruitment process was recently annulled.

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