Travels through the Hindi belt: Job dreams go bust in Bihar's Madhepura after loco factory abandons locals despite acquiring farm lands

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.  

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In April 2018, Prime Minister Narendra Modi flagged off the first engine manufactured at the electric locomotive facility in Madhepura, a town 300 kilometres east of Patna – the capital of Bihar. The foundation stone of the factory was laid in 2007, but the project only gathered steam after the French giant Alstom invested in it around 2015.

In their press release, Henri-Poupart Lafarge, Chairman and CEO, Alstom, had said, “This project stands as a shining example of Alstom’s commitment to Make in India. Apart from creating thousands of jobs, directly and indirectly, we have created a strong localised supply chain for this project, with 90 percent of the components sourced locally.”

 Travels through the Hindi belt: Job dreams go bust in Bihars Madhepura after loco factory abandons locals despite acquiring farm lands

Anil Mukhiya, a local leader who has been rallying the protestors, says the villages around the facility have not been prioritised for jobs. Image credit Parth MN

However, the last among the series of protests by locals in front of the electric locomotive facility was as recent as 9 March. Anil Mukhiya, a local leader who has been rallying the protestors, says the villages around the facility have not been prioritised for jobs, and it has not helped generate any significant employment.

“They acquired 300 acres of land from almost 1,000 families in seven villages around the facility,” he says, sitting near a machan in his village of Chakala – about 5 kilometres from Madhepura town. “When they acquired the land from farm families, they promised jobs to one member in the family. That has not happened. Some youngsters received petty contracts of cleaning or gardening. That is all.”

The facility’s representative in Madhepura, Syed Hussain, did not respond to multiple phone calls, messages and WhatsApp. But a note dated October 2017 on the website of Alstom says the facility employs 70 people.

It is a joint venture between Alstom and Indian Railways with the former having 76 percent of the stake, and it is touted as one of the major investments under the FDI. Its estimated cost is over Rs 20,000 crore, which, the reports at the time said, would create six lakh man-days of work for locals, while producing 800 electric locos in 11 years. Said to be a gateway of industrial opportunities for Bihar, the company has plans to encourage more manufacturing units in the region around Madhepura. A report in Hindustan Times in April 2018 read that Alstom is keen on “focusing on skill development and education which will prepare more than 5000 young minds for gainful employment”.

“The company also plans to adopt a local ITI to provide skill development to 840 students over the next 10 years,” the report read. “Of these, 300 students will be absorbed by Alstom for apprenticeship programmes within the facility.”

However, the residents of the seven affected villages around the facility are not too optimistic about it. “We are told they have adopted our seven villages to provide school, hospital and electricity,” says Anil. “Nothing has happened yet.”

The villagers agreed to renounce their farmlands because they thought a family member would get a job. Shyamlal Kishor, 34, says his 8 acres of farmland were acquired in Chakala. “We have 4 acres remaining now,” he adds. “We agreed to the deal because we got decent compensation, and were promised an alternate source of livelihood. Farming is getting increasingly difficult, so we thought it is a blessing in disguise. My younger brother has studied at an Industrial Training Institute (ITI). He is qualified. But jobless. Why make a promise you cannot keep? Why raise our hopes and then crush them?”

Much like the rest of India, Bihar too is struggling with the crisis of acute unemployment, but on a much larger scale. The state’s unemployment rate is 10.9 percent, more than 4 points above India’s 6.8, as of 27 March, according to the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE). The unemployment rate among graduates of India is 13.2 percent, and those who have studied between 10-12th standard, it is 10.6 percent. But in Bihar, the unemployment rate among graduates is 19.4 percent, and among those who have studied between 10-12th standard is 18.6 percent.

Abhishek Anand, 21, from Chakala is one of the educated youth to be wandering for jobs. He thought the job hunt would end when he was called for an interview after the electric locomotive facility acquired the farmland his parents owned. “They asked for my resume,” he says. “In March 2018, I did the interview in Kolkata. I even visited the factory once. I was told to wait for a call. I was almost certain of a job. But the call never came. There are 11-12 boys like me only in my village who have done ITI training, appeared for interviews but never landed a job here.”

Abhishek Anand, 21, from Chakala is one of the educated youth to be wandering for jobs. Image credit Parth MN

Abhishek Anand, 21, from Chakala is one of the educated youth to be wandering for jobs. Image credit Parth MN

 

It has been a double blow for families around the facility. They lost a source of livelihood, or a part of it, but never got the alternative source that was promised. Sanju Devi says her husband now has to look for more labour work since 2015 -- the year their land was acquired. “He is a carpenter,” she says. “Since the company didn’t accommodate us anywhere after acquiring a part of our farmland, he has to look at odd jobs more frequently.”

However, the CMIE data indicates that between February 2018 and February 2019, rural Bihar saw the number of employed drop by 15 lakh. Bihar’s labour participation rate stood at 38 percent, almost 5 points below the national average, which reflects starkly considering Bihar is the third most populous state in India. The labour force’s unemployment rate was 8.77 percent, more than 2 points above the national average.

One of the major reasons behind the stark rise in unemployment is the agrarian crisis, where more and more farmers are moving out of their farms and seeking work elsewhere. According to the censuses between 1991 and 2011, nearly 15 million farmers in India have dropped out of the profession at the rate of 2,035 per day. Lack of activity in farms has meant the tens of thousands of landless labourers that earlier depended on farms also have to seek jobs somewhere else.

Sanju Devi says the going has been difficult and the work is hard to come by. “There was a time when we could get a day’s job at least 20 days a month,” she says, ensuring her saree covers her head and half her face. “Today, it has almost come down to half of that. There are too many people volunteering for too few opportunities. Earlier if my husband did not get work, he would think of it as an anomaly. Today, if he lands a job, he thinks he is lucky.”

First Person:

Among the many farmers who lost their land to the facility is Anuj Kumar Yadav, 50. But he has a problem of a kind.

Among the many farmers who lost their land to the facility is Anuj Kumar Yadav. Image credit Parth MN

Among the many farmers who lost their land to the facility is Anuj Kumar Yadav. Image credit Parth MN

How is your case different?

I did not even get the compensation that others did. There are a few others like me.

Why?

It is a bit problematic. The farmland is in dispute.

Dispute between whom?

Among our family only. I have the papers showing I own the land. But my distant relatives have challenged it, and the case is going on for a long time. So when the facility started acquiring land, the compensation also came under dispute.

Is your case similar to the others who have not received compensation?

Yes.

How much of your farmland is in question?

19 acres of my farmland were acquired. But more importantly, it had mango trees, blackberry trees. That was all destroyed. And even if we solve the dispute, we would not be compensated for that.

What do you do now?

What can I do? Nobody from my family received a job after our land was taken away. I work as labourer if and when I find work. I have three sons. They also work as daily wage labourers.

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Updated Date: May 09, 2019 12:28:57 IST