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Aftermath of tearful exodus: Postgraduate working as car park help; 10 lakh jobless in Punjab

India Today logo India Today 18-09-2020 Manjeet Sehgal
a person walking down the street: jobless in Punjab jobless in Punjab

Sarswati, 27, has done her masters and lives in Ram Darbar area of Chandigarh. Like thousands of other people, she also lost her job during the coronavirus pandemic-induced lockdown. Now, unemployment has compelled her to work as a car park lot attendant.

"I am not alone. Many of my friends have also lost their jobs. It had become very difficult for us to survive. So, I took this job and now I am a daily wager," says Sarswati.

She is married. Sarswati's colleague, Rupesh Kumar Nirmal, who worked at a Nasik-based solar panel manufacturing unit, was also forced to leave Mumbai after the Covid-19 outbreak. He is also a graduate and came to Chandigarh to live with his brother who worked as an accountant. When both of them failed to get jobs, Rupesh also decided to work as a parking lot attendant.

Kamal Mishra, 31, is a rickshaw puller who hails from Balrampur, Uttar Pradesh. He, along with dozens of other rickshaw pullers, had left Chandigarh in March this year.

"It was a painful journey. We crossed over 52 barriers, were beaten up by the cops. Our heels and toes were bleeding when we reached home. It took over two months to heal the wounds. When we lost all our savings we came back to Chandigarh," said Kamal. Kamal, Jang Bahadur Shukla, Onkar Mishra and Chinta Ram Tiwari (all rickshaw pullers) showed us their healed wounds on legs and hands, besides their cracked heels and toes.

Another rickshaw puller, Jang Bahadur Shukla, said they came to Chandigarh nine days ago, but did not earn a single rupee as the fear of catching the infection has confined people to stay indoors.

"There is no end to our suffering. We will wait for another week and if things do not change, the last resort is to go back to our villages again," said Jang Bahadur Shukla.

While Saraswati and Rupesh are lucky to get jobs at a car parking area, there are hundreds of people who lost their jobs and are desperately searching for work.

Pandemic renders 10 lakh people jobless in Punjab

Lakhs of people in Punjab are victims of unemployment. The Covid-19 pandemic, according to chief minister Amarinder Singh, has not only emptied the state's coffers, but also rendered nearly 10 lakh people jobless.

Despite hardship, the Punjab government has decided to organise the 6th edition of the State Level Mega Job Fair from September 24 to September 30 across all the districts. Nearly 1.50 lakh job seekers have already registered for the event.

"The Punjab government is committed to bringing the economy and life back on track. We have announced packages for the entrepreneurs to boost employment, and a job fair is also being organised to help the people who lost jobs," the CM said.

However, the state's efforts to provide jobs might prove to be "a drop in the ocean" as the number of people who lost jobs is 10 times higher. The worst-hit are the ones who were part of the informal sector.

The lockdown-induced unemployment issue is not limited to Punjab alone. Lakhs of people have lost jobs in neighbouring Haryana, Himachal and UT of Chandigarh.

According to a study conducted by the Panjab University, Chandigarh, and the Punjabi University, Patiala, nearly 54 percent of the people working in the informal sector have been hit by the pandemic.

A visit to Chandigarh's fruit and vegetable market also makes the picture clear. Dozens of people, who worked as pavement sellers before the pandemic, are now struggling. Strict enforcement of SOPs has added to their woes as the administration is not allowing pavement activities in that market.

While 22 percent of the people lost jobs, 31 percent were partially hit. According to a study conducted by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the Asian Development Bank (ADB), 41 lakh people have lost jobs in India due to Covid-19 pandemic. And the bad news is that the situation is not going to improve soon.

Dr. Pramod Kumar, Director, Institute for Development and Communication (IDC), PU Chandigarh, said the impact of unemployment may result in unrest if the state governments do not take steps immediately.

"Covid-19 has worsened the unemployment situation here. People have lost jobs, many got salary cuts, and many have not been paid for months. Even now, there is unrest in the society. I think the state will have to rethink its development strategy — how to employ these people and what kind of new opportunities they have to create. This poses a major challenge to the state and the society," said Dr. Pramod Kumar.

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