Why’s Jobs a Poll Issue for 54% Biharis? Data Shows Dismal Figures

Here’s how the unemployment rates in Bihar broke records and what the government did about it.

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“Unemployment, berozgaari, naukri,” these terms were heard frequently in the Bihar election campaign this time, way more than the usual Mandir-Masjid, India-Pakistan or Hindu-Musalman narratives. Surprised? Don't be, because unemployment is the biggest election issue for at least 54.03 percent of voters in Bihar, according to a CVoter survey.

The mudda of unemployment is not only being raised by the politicians of Bihar but also by the people on ground. But how many people from Bihar are exactly unemployed? Why is it the biggest poll issue?

The answers to these questions can be gauged by looking at two major factors in the run up to the elections that have had devastating effects on Bihar – the COVID-19 pandemic and the migrant crisis. Let’s look at some data.

What Does the Latest Data Say?

Right during the peak of the national lockdown in the month of April, Bihar's unemployment rate rose to a record 46.6 percent, almost twice of the national unemployment rate of 23.5 percent according to the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE). This figure of 46.6 percent is what Rashtriya Janata Dal’s Tejashwi Yadav made his poll plank.

Now, come September, Bihar's unemployment rate, according to CMIE, showed significant improvement to 11.9 percent, but was still way more than the national unemployment rate of 7.4 percent.

How & Why Did Unemployment Rate in Bihar Break Records?

One of the biggest contributing factors has been the migrant crisis. The central government said in the Lok Sabha in September that out of the 10.5 million migrant workers who returned to their home states just between March to June, 14.3 percent of them returned to Bihar, that is over 1.5 million people.

Nikhil RG of the United Nations Children's Fund, who has been working closely with the Bihar government on the migrants crisis, told IndiaSpend that this figure should be considered at least double of the government's figure, so that would mean around 3 million.

Add to this the severe economic crisis that the country was grappling with amid the pandemic, Bihar was one of the worst-hit states in terms of job crisis.

What Did the State and the Central Governments Do?

Between May and June, Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched two mega schemes to tackle the job and migrant crises –

  • Rs 1 lakh crore to MGNREGS to boost employment in villages
  • Rs 50,000 crore Garib Kalyan Rojgar Abhiyan (GKRA) to provide work over three months to returnee migrant workers in six states, including Bihar.

Out of the 116 districts listed under the GKRA scheme, 32 districts were from Bihar.

According to IndiaSpend, Bihar had used up over 91 percent of its allocation of Rs 2,886 crore in the first quarter alone, and had only 8.45 percent left.

How Effectively Were These Schemes Implemented?

Citing a report by the People’s Action for Employment Guarantee, IndiaSpend reported:

  • Bihar had issued job cards to 1.1 million households under MGNREGS between 1 April and 31 August but only 2,132 Bihar households managed to complete 100 days of work by 31 August.
  • The state issued another 2,30,000 job cards by 15 October but only 4,551 households had completed 100 days of work by mid-October.
  • Moreover, before the second quarter ended, Bihar’s MGNREGS fund had a negative balance of Rs 159 crore.

This explains why several workers are yet to receive wages despite getting jobs under these schemes. No wonder, every party in their election manifestos has made big promises on the issue of jobs and employment.


What Are Parties Promising in Their Manifestos?

  • The Mahagathbandhan led by RJD's Tejashwi Yadav has promised 10 lakh jobs in the first Cabinet meeting if elected to power, and to include one person from each rural family under MGNREGA
  • The BJP's 'Sankalp Patra' resolves to generate 19 lakh job opportunities, almost double the figure given by the RJD
  • JD(U)'s '7 Nishchay' speaks about various schemes for the youth to become entrepreneurs so that they can generate employment for others
  • The Congress has promised to ensure employment for youth including a Rs 1,500 monthly allowance to the unemployed.

Exodus Despite Promises

But well, these tall promises by parties usually remain on paper, don't they? The implementation is either flawed or delayed, which has forced Biharis to migrate to other cities and states in search of work for decades now. And the exodus of migrant labourers who had returned to Bihar amid the lockdown has already begun as the restrictions began to ease.

Government after government has promised employment to the state's citizens for years, but these dismal figures paint a clear picture of every government's dismal performance before every election!

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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