In Imphal, traffic mess created by job fair reveals urban economic scenario

622 vacancies advertised by the Manipur State Power Distribution Company Limited led to chaos on the roads of Imphal. While many have come out sharply against the organisation, the incident also paints a telling picture of job trends and preferences among youth in the state.

In February, the Manipur State Power Distribution Company Limited – MSPDCL announced a whopping number of total vacancies within the company — 622 for various posts across departments. The jobs advertised included those for Computer Operator, Junior Technical Assistant and other vacancies. Other than two positions which required a Bachelor’s degree, the vacancies were mostly for undergraduates and specified no requirement for technical or higher education.

Given the open call and the large number of vacancies, the response was overwhelming. Unemployed youths – men and women thronged the MSPDCL office located in the state capital Imphal. The large number of applicants swelled to form a crowd that was a sight to behold, even leading to traffic chaos on the road.

One applicant stated that he had arrived at six in the morning to submit his application. Knowing that there would be a long queue, he arrived early, but managed to find a spot only at serial number 483 for that particular post. He was finally able to submit his application at 6.32 pm – after a wait of more than 12 hours!

Chaos at the job fair. Pic: Ninglun Hanghal

Reportedly many from far flung areas and interior districts of the state actually had to stay over in Imphal to wait for their turn to submit their applications. In an open letter in the daily newspaper The Sangai Express, an applicant wrote about his frustration.

In the letter addressed to the Managing Director, the writer Shanluiso Angkang drew attention to the imbroglio and alleged that it was an irresponsible act on the part of the MSPDCL to have organized it in this manner. Angkang pointed to the fact that applicants had had to travel from one corner of the state to submit the applications and the experience was terrible.

Applicants were not offered any help or guidance and just made to gather outside the office, spilling over into the open highway. “Why don’t you (MSPDCL) allow us (applicants) to submit forms in the online mode/system which is more suitable and reasonable for all?” asked Shanluiso pertinently.

Unemployment and the city

The scene at the MSPDCL is telling.  It gives a picture of the situation of unemployment in the state. It may be mentioned that such large vacancies in the public sector are hard to come by in Manipur, and there have been almost none in the past years. There are scarcely any job opportunities or job creation and the state is unable to provide salary even to its existing employees. Government teachers, for example, have not been paid their salary for more than six months.

The number of persons on the live register of all employment exchanges stood at 751,376 persons as on March 2016. This is among a population of 28.56 lakh as recorded by the 2011 census. Many educated youth have already left their home state for better opportunity and employment. Reportedly many do not register themselves in the state at all.

A large section of the Manipuri population is actually employed in the informal economy, mostly as daily vendors. The famous Ima Keithel – the women’s market in the heart of Imphal stands testimony as you find thousands of women vendors selling everything from vegetables to local handicrafts.

Meanwhile another huge population are still in the agriculture sector. While many food processing units have been initiated on a small scale, mega production industries and manufacturing industries in the cities are still absent. Nevertheless, people from the interiors continue to pour into the city in search of employment.

Tomba (name changed) is one such. In his late 20s, he works as a cycle rickshaw puller in Imphal. Earlier he worked at a medical shop owned by his family in Bishenpur, but when the shop was taken over by his brother and wife, Tomba felt the need to earn more for himself. “I had to start earning, I also have to get married, don’t I?’ he says, adding that while he does earn enough for himself as a rickshaw puller in the city, it is a hard life, involving rigorous physical labour.

Many like Tomba who have migrated from rural areas live in small rented colonies in and around the capital, earning their living in the informal sectors.

Rays of hope

A speck of positive sign in the state is the growth of entrepreneurship, cottage industries and other economic activities such as food processing, handloom and handcrafts. As per the final results of the Sixth Economic Census 2013, there are 2,29,838 establishments in Manipur engaged in different economic activities other than crop production and plantation. Out of these, 62.69 percent are in the rural areas and 37.31 percent in the urban areas. The total number of persons working in all these enterprises is found to be 4,09,617, of which 2,50,873 and 1,58,744 workers are employed in rural and urban areas of the state respectively.

Over the years, many entrepreneurs have started their own income and employment generating enterprises, mostly in the cities. Recently the state government also came up with a ‘start-up policy’. The chief minister was quoted in media as having stated that the Manipur Startup Policy has brought educated youth of the state back home from other states to which they had migrated in search of jobs. In 2017-2018 a total of 334 beneficiaries were selected under the scheme and a fund of Rs 30 crore released.

Among the most successful entrepreneurs in Imphal is Hanjabam Shubhra Devi, proprietor of Meira Foods, a packaged food business initiated in 2004, under the sponsorship of the Small Industries Services Institute (SISI), now called MSME-Development Institute. It is run and managed by women only and committed to empowering women. Says Shubhra “We believe that economic independence is the first step of empowering women…creating job opportunities for educated unemployed youth is one of our objectives.” Today Meira Foods production, with an annual turnover of over Rs 1 crore, employs 50 workers, seven managerial staff, and two drivers.

However, in most cases, a majority of people in Manipur continue to prefer government services to private sector jobs or entrepreneurial activities. One of the key reasons behind this is security. People in general would happily trade private income generating activities for a government job. In many instances, they are even ready to trade their assets to secure some job with the government. It is not surprising therefore that every recruitment drive by the state leads to a mammoth number of applicants queuing up for the position. The recent incident in Imphal only shows that there is a long way to go before that changes.

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