Desperately seeking jobs in India

Trade union activists protesting against the central government's economic policies in Bangalore at a rally on Sept 2. The dearth of jobs for the country's growing workforce is a challenge for Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Trade union activists protesting against the central government's economic policies in Bangalore at a rally on Sept 2. The dearth of jobs for the country's growing workforce is a challenge for Prime Minister Narendra Modi.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

2.3 million people, including PhD holders, apply to be peons in Uttar Pradesh

LUCKNOW (India) • Overwhelmed Indian officials are struggling to sift through applications after 2.3 million people applied for a few hundred low-level government jobs, a worrying sign that too many people are chasing too little work in Asia's third-largest economy.

Mr Prabhat Mittal, the hiring manager for the jobs in Uttar Pradesh, a northern state with a population bigger than Brazil's, said he was stunned by the volume of applications. With the number of applications - there are more than 6,250 candidates vying for each post - it would take three to four years to conduct interviews.

The jobs pay 16,000 rupees (S$339) a month and will involve making tea and passing files between government offices. Requirements for the 368 jobs include having finished primary school and being able to ride a bike.

  • 2.3 million The number of applicants for a few hundred low-level government jobs in Uttar Pradesh.

    368 The number of jobs available; requirements include having finished primary school and being able to ride a bike.

    $339 The monthly salary of the jobs, which include making tea and passing files between government offices.

The applicants included at least 255 people with doctorates and 150,000 graduates.

"It is unbelievable," Mr Mittal said. "It is going to be very difficult for us to devise an appropriate entrance exam."

One minister believes that hiring exceptionally qualified peons could result in problems further down the road.

"It is possible that even after getting the job, these highly educated candidates might feel frustrated and other officials might hesitate in giving them orders," said Uttar Pradesh's backward classes welfare minister Ambika Chaudhari, reported the NDTV news website.

The candidates have their reasons for applying. Mr Alok Chaurasia, an applicant with a PhD degree, told The Times of India that "it's better to work as a peon than to roam without a job" while graduate Ratan Yadav said: "There is nothing wrong in taking up menial work."

The desperate scramble for jobs poses a challenge for Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who swept to power last year with the largest victory in three decades with a mandate to provide jobs and economic growth.

India is disproportionately young: Half of the population is under the age of 25. The country will add up to 300 million people - the equivalent of almost the entire population of the United States - to its workforce over the next two decades.

This so-called demographic dividend is one reason that some economists predict India will enjoy higher levels of growth than rivals, such as China, as they cope with ageing populations. However, unless jobs can be found for this vast workforce, this prized asset could turn into a crippling burden.

The number of applications for the government jobs is 16 times the level in 2006, the last time the Uttar Pradesh government recruited for similar jobs. India's vast bureaucracy is seen as an attractive place to work because it is difficult to fire employees.

Mr Suresh Verma, a graduate, said he applied because "there is so much security" in a low-paying government job compared to the risk of being laid off in the private sector.

There has been a massive response to government recruitment drives in other parts of India too, reported the BBC.

Several people were injured in a stampede when thousands turned up to join the Indian army in the city of Visakhapatnam earlier this year.

And last month, the Chhattisgarh state government cancelled plans to fill a handful of government jobs after being flooded with 75,000 applications.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 19, 2015, with the headline 'Desperately seeking jobs in India'. Print Edition | Subscribe