Soumen Modnal owns a tea-stall in the market outside Birlapur Jute mill near Budge Budge in South 24 Parganas – nearly 45 kilomteres from Kolkata. Once he was a permanent worker in the jute mill but, now as the mill is closed for the last four years, 38-year Mondal is left with no job. He has to rely on the daily sales of his handmade tea, biscuits and cake.
“I have a family and I have to feed it. There is no guarantee of the mill. It opens for three months and remains closed for nine months. Even when it is in operation there is hardly any work for most of the workers and most of them have made an alternative arrangement. When the mill is open, we go every day to find out whether there is any work,” Mondal who earns between Rs 200 and Rs 250 a day said.
“During the lockdown we neither had any work nor was there any business for us. We had to sell everything we had to run the family,” he added.
Soumen is not alone. He is one of the thousands of jute workers of the state who are heading towards an uncertain future. BJP’s national chief J.P. Nadda said at a poll rally in Hooghly’s Dhanekhali that 39 of the 60 jute mills in Bengal were not operating. The opposing Trinamool Congress contested Nadda’s allegation and voiced differing numbers.
Though Trinamool congress denied the claim, the fact remains that with Singur turning out to be an Achilles’ heel for the ruling party, the Mamata Banerjee government is worried due to the lack of employment opportunities and depleted condition of industry in the state and have made several promises including 5 lakh job creation in the party manifesto.
The Bengal government claimed it created 10 million jobs but so far, the state employment exchange reportedly has nearly 3.5 million registered job-seekers. There are also 2,00,000 permanent jobs across various government departments, besides 1.5 lakh vacant teaching posts. Around 1.3 million applicants for clerical jobs have not got calls since 2018 while 6 lakh aspirants, who had applied for the posts of sub-inspectors and inspectors have not got calls either.
Instead of generating jobs, the Bengal government focused on rolling out unemployment allowance. Under the Yuvasree scheme, as many as 1,81,000 unemployed youths receive Rs 1,500 allowance per month and that allowed the BJP to create its space in the poll mathematics so far as the urban Bengal youth population is concerned.
With more than 30 per cent urban population, the BJP has promised one job in every family, 33 per cent reservation in government jobs for women, implementation of 7th pay commission, MSMEs to get loans of up to Rs 10 lakh, and establishment of nine tourist circuits, among others.