Travels through the Hindi belt: Chhattisgarh's job woes now haunt Congress as voters accuse party of not walking the talk

  • Anganwadi workers and teachers are among those who hope the government can ensure better jobs for them.

  • Chhattisgarh’s unemployment stands at 7.7 percent, 0.4 per cent higher than India’s.

  • Teachers and anganwadi workers say the Congress has not walked the talk since it formed the government.

  • In the 2014 general elections, the BJP had won 10 out of the 11 Lok Sabha seats in Chhattisgarh.

  • This time, the Congress is looking to turn the tables.

Editor's note: This is part of a multi-article series on the jobs crisis in the three states crucial to Lok Sabha election 2019: Chhattisgarh, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.  

Pratibha Yadav, 36, wakes up at 4.30 in the morning so she can get her two children – aged 12 and 6 years – ready for school and leave for work in time. “I have to reach my school by 9.30 a.m,” she says. Pratibha is an anganwadi worker at Rotary Nagar in Raipur, the capital of Chhattisgarh. She earns a salary of Rs. 5000 per month. She is an MA in Hindi literature.

Anganwadis are state-run childcare centres where children up to six years of age are enrolled. These centres are expected to extend supplementary nutrition, informal pre-school education and health check-ups to counter malnutrition among kids. And the anganwadi workers are responsible for its execution. “From 9.30 in the morning to 3 in the afternoon is a long and gruelling day with the kids,” says Pratibha, soaking the sweat from her forehead with her pink saree. “Besides, we ensure the government schemes are executed on the ground by running from pillar to post. We update voter lists. We do everything that the government employees do. Yet, we are only paid Rs 5000 a month. What can you get in that amount? Even the groceries and food cost more.”

Pratibha is one of the 75,000 anganwadi workers in Chhattisgarh wanting to get off the contractual job, and get regularised on a government payroll. It has been their demand for years. “My husband has a private job,” says Pratibha. “He earns Rs 10,000 per month. What about the women who have lost their husbands or the ones alive are drunkards?”

 Travels through the Hindi belt: Chhattisgarhs job woes now haunt Congress as voters accuse party of not walking the talk

Voters in a queue during the Chhattisgarh Assembly Election. PTI

Chandrakanta Verma’s husband died in an accident 12 years back. Since then, she has looked after their now 16-year old son on her own by working as an anganwadi worker in Raipur. “I will retire in 14 years,” says the 46-year-old Verma. “What do I get at the end of a service that lasted for decades? A retirement certificate. Because we are not government employees, we are not entitled to any post-retirement benefits. How am I supposed to look after myself after retirement with no pension or provident fund?”

In March 2018, about 25,000 anganwadi workers staged a protest for 50 days in Raipur, demanding that their minimum wage be in line with the seventh pay commission, which is Rs 18,000 a month. “But the former Women and Child Development Minister of Chhattisgarh told us to quit our jobs if we were not happy with them,” says Pratibha, adding, “They know there are no jobs available. They know we are desperate.”

The District Employment Centre in Raipur is bustling on a mid-February afternoon. Candidates mostly aged between 18 and 30 years line up to register themselves. Officers explain that those looking for government jobs need to submit their marksheets and obtain a registration number. That number is to be filled in an application at the time of a job opening. By the end of January 2019, only in the district of Raipur, over 96,000 candidates have registered, and are on the lookout for a job. More than 46,000 of those are women.

One of them is Chandra Sahu, 29, sitting on the steps of the centre at 1 in the afternoon, waiting for his number since 10 in the morning. “I am preparing for an administrative post,” says Sahu, who lives in Raipur with five roommates, where they share a rent of Rs. 3,600 per month. “But every year, the vacancies are not more than 250-300 and the applicants are over 70,000.”

If the government jobs are hard to come by, the private ones are not exactly a dime a dozen. In Raipur division, which consists of five districts – Mahasamund, Baloda Bazar, Raipur, Gariaband and Dhamtari – there are 34 government-run Industrial Training Institutes (ITI), which offer around 20 different courses like those for welders, fitters, electricians and so on. Those who pass out of the ITIs mainly take up technical work in various industries. According to the statistics of the Joint Director of Raipur Division, 8,655 students have passed out of these ITIs since June 2015. Out of these, 2,340 have received any kind of placement.

Union leaders and activists say even the ones who get jobs start off with a salary of 6-8 thousand rupees. “Most of the industries depend on contractors to hire labourers,” says Kaladas Dahriya, a union leader based in Bhilai – 40 kilometers from Raipur. “The labourers often come from outside the state, and locals end up getting sidelined.”

According to CMIE’s figures as of January 2019, Chhattisgarh’s unemployment stands at 7.7 percent, 0.4 per cent higher than India’s. When CMIE did a detailed research between May and August 2018, it found that 26 percent of Chhattisgarh’s youth aged between 20 and 29 were unemployed.

On the whole, the lack of options ensures that the ones hired on contractual basis cannot abandon their employment, howsoever inadequate it may be. Along with the 75,000 anganwadi workers, over 50,000 teachers, or shiksha karmi, are also sailing in the same boat. Shiksha Karmis are teachers appointed on honorarium basis by local panchayat bodies. They are not entitled to government benefits of pension or post-retirement benefits until they are part of the education department. The shiksha karmis start their salaries at Rs 12,000 per month, while the teachers on government payroll start off with around Rs 25,000.

As a parting shot, former chief minister Raman Singh, in July 2018, merged over one lakh teachers into the education department out of the total school teachers (2.25 lakhs) in the state, but left out around 50,000. It was a demand which had been made for 15 years.

Both teachers and anganwadi workers, who form a major workforce for the state government, say the Congress in Opposition would extend support to their demands, but the party has not walked the talk since it formed the government. In December 2018, the Congress swept the state with 68 Assembly seats out of 90, displacing Raman Singh’s 15-year-old regime. With Lok Sabha elections around the corner, they say the anganwadi workers and teachers are a bit disillusioned with the new government for not immediately reassuring the workforce. In the 2014 general elections, the BJP had won 10 out of the 11 Lok Sabha seats in Chhattisgarh. This time, the Congress is looking to turn the tables, riding the wave of Assembly elections.

Virendra Dubey, an activist who has been mobilising teachers to stage protests for their rights, says the new government would have to reassure the teachers by actively making certain changes. “More than 22,000 posts of headmasters in primary schools are lying vacant,” he says. “15,000 posts of professors in middle school and high school are vacant. Most of those posts are of teachers for English and mathematics. This intensifies the anger of those who are unemployed.”

In the meantime, Teacher Eligibility Tests are being held regularly since 2015. “Candidates spend their time and effort on passing the test that is required to qualify for the job of a teacher,” says Dubey. “But the vacancies have not opened up since 2013.”

First Person

Madhavi

Madhuri Mrige lost her 35-yr-old husband, a teacher in 2015. Because he was not working on the government payroll, she was left without any financial security.

Around 1.75 lakh teachers in Chhattisgarh have been asking to get regularised for years. Teachers, or shiksha karmis as they are called locally, are appointed on honorarium basis by panchayat bodies. They are not government employees until they are merged in the education department, which means the government schemes and post retirement benefits elude them.

As a parting shot, former Chief Minister Raman Singh, in July 2018, merged over one lakh teachers into education department, but left out around 50,000 of them.

In Chhattisgarh, the unemployment rate stands at 7.7 percent, 0.4 percent higher than India’s, according to CMIE’s figures as of January 2019. When CMIE did a detailed research between May and August 2018, it found that 26 percent of Chhattisgarh’s youth aged 20-29 were unemployed. At The District Employment Centre in Raipur, by the end of January 2019, over 96,000 candidates have registered, and are on the lookout for a government job only in the district of Raipur.

Lack of options ensures the ones hired on contractual basis cannot abandon their employment, howsoever inadequate it may be.

Madhuri Mrige, 38, from the Ghikudiya village of Rajnandgaon, lost her 35-year old husband, a teacher, in June 2015. And because he was a shiksha karmi, and not on government payroll, she didn't get any security afterwards. She explains what she has been through after his sudden death.

How did he die?
My husband, Chandresh Kumar, died of an attack in June 2015. He was only 35. He had been a teacher since 2002. But he wasn’t regularised on a government payroll. He was a shiksha karmi, so I am not entitled to any compensation or benefits.

What are the benefits you would have received if he had been a regularised teacher? 

I only received Rs. 25,000 ex-gratia as compensation. Shiksha karmis do not get insurance or medical allowance. I would have gotten a government job if he had been on government payroll. Now if I need a job, I would have to pass the Teacher’s Eligibility Test and do a two-year Diploma in Education, which is what everyone else has to do. How is it different and how is it compensation?
It would have helped a long way if I had received a job. I have two kids – aged 15 and 11 – I need to look after. They are currently studying in government school. But I need to educate them further. My father, who is a retired foreman, has shifted to Chhattisgarh to help me. We are originally from Rajasthan. Currently, our home is sustained by my father’s pension. My in-laws have abandoned me altogether.

There are 2000 women like me in Chhattisgarh, who have lost their husbands that worked as shiksha karmis. Around 40 of us met the current chief minister Bhupesh Baghel a few days back.

Have you met the all state governments? What has been their attitude?We met former Chief Minister Raman Singh several times. He once told us that the partners of those who died after 2016 would get compensation like the ones on government payroll do. When we asked him why only after 2016, he reneged on the whole announcement. I have been running from pillar to post since 2015. My village is on border of Madhya Pradesh. Every time I come to Raipur for an agitation or to meet the ministers, I have to shell out money from my own pocket to travel over 100 kilometers.

When in opposition, Congress would extend support. They assured us our demands would be met. Now that Congress is in power, they are not as firm on their promise. Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel, when we met him, curtly told us it has only been a month since we came to power. Let me work.

Updated Date: Feb 23, 2019 15:00:28 IST