Exacerbated due to the ongoing COVID19 pandemic, unemployment is an ongoing issue in J&K. Meer Nida and Salman Jeelani analyse the causes and consequences of J&K’s simmering unemployment problem.
The COVID19 pandemic has already been through multiple waves globally, and there seems no hope of any light at the end of this dark tunnel anytime sooner. The economic recession due to COVID19 and its subsequent consequences, like loss of livelihoods and rising unemployment, have already affected the mental health of people. Besides, there is uncertainty looming around the globe. However, the problem in the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir is more severe considering the prevalent consequences of the pandemic, added with the unattended issues of unemployment in the valley for a very long time. A recent report from the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) indicates that Jammu and Kashmir has an unemployment rate of 22.2 percent, the highest among all the states and union territories of the country. It is more perturbing to state that the unemployment rate of J&K is much higher than the average national unemployment rate of India, which was at 7.1 percent as per the report.
The soaring unemployment in Kashmir is a serious concern. The pandemic, along with ongoing uncertainty, has severely damaged the prospect of a stable economy. And the rising unemployment puts the final nail in the coffin of economic stability. The job markets have been pushed to the edge, both in the public and private sector, with no fresh opportunities visible. As the valley doesn’t have a vibrant private sector in place, the burden of employment ultimately falls on the public sector, which, unfortunately, it is unable to tackle as the absorption rate is low.
The government and its various departments do not seem, at all, serious about these rising figures. There are not enough or even requisite posts advertised in the government departments, and even, if advertised, they are never worked out effectively – lack of proper schedules and criteria, relapsing of the advertisements as per their whims, corruption, backdoor entries, favouritism etc. are the main loopholes. There seems to be no proper policy in place in the institutions, which is highly detrimental considering the unemployment issue in the valley. Last year, when the Directorate of Employment created a portal for registering unemployed persons, it is disheartening to mention that around three lakh research scholars and postgraduate degree holders enrolled on the website within a few days. Even when the Jammu and Kashmir Service Selection Board (JKSSB) advertised around 8,000 Class-IV posts, more than five lakh aspirants applied for the same. However, it underwent a controversy considering that the aspirants with higher qualifications were not considered for the posts. The burgeoning figure is an indication enough about how sorry the state of affairs concerning employment is in the valley. And then there is this looming question – Where do the ones with higher education go? The low demand and absorption rate is so alarming that people with higher qualifications and professional degrees, in order to support themselves and their families, have to set for menial jobs and meagre salaries. Especially in the minuscule private sector available in the valley, this often results in their exploitation.
Even in the government sector many people work on a daily wage or contractual basis. And the government is head over heels in deep slumber and pays no attention to the demand for regularisation of their services. The government disengaged a number of contractual lecturers in the Education Department from their services, despite having served various institutions for several years together. Now, in their late thirties and about to cross the upper age limit, they are jobless and have nowhere to go except raise their demands for regularisation. Many daily-wage workers in other departments, like Urban Local Bodies, Social Welfare Department, are hoping against the hope for the regularisation of jobs. It is a vivid example of how the government itself became the root cause for the apathy of these youth who are victims of its ‘use and throw’ policy and have to fend for themselves amidst the already prevalent uncertainty.
While the apathetic attitude of the Education Department was in the news for a long time, the government rarely bothered to care. It contends that its policy of absorption of Rehbar-e-Taleem (ReT) and Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) teachers leaves no vacancies for fresh recruitments in the teaching department and is likely to continue for upcoming many years. However, this contention is a root issue itself. The teacher-student ratio in many schools and colleges is highly disproportionate. There are many examples where there are too many teachers for very few students and vice-versa, leaving minimum chances for the highly educated youth to render their services as skilled and learned teachers in the Education Department. Often, government schools in the valley show poor results, and there are complaints about inefficient staff and teaching-learning scenarios. Besides, colleges and universities not advertising various teaching posts regularly also become a hindrance for the livelihood of educated youth. One of the reasons behind this is the extension of services of staff members beyond superannuation or enhancing the retirement age from time to time. This tendency heavily weighs over the employment opportunities for many deserving candidates who are highly learned and skilled. Plus, the system of backdoor entries and nepotism has favoured people who, with an approach to government corridors, secure jobs for themselves, thereby rendering many deserving candidates jobless.
Also, every year, thousands of students pass with professional degrees. The moment they get the degree, it is disheartening to mention that they end up shifting their courses according to the job availability around the state. It, in turn, leads to doctors working as administrative officers, engineers working in banks, students of commerce working in a sector where Liberal Arts and Humanities students could have got absorbed. It has led to the dilution of professional skills and talent. But is the youth to be blamed for this intermingling of professions? The answer is a clear-cut NO. When there are no decent job opportunities available, how will the youth fend for themselves in a society which provides them literally no ‘proper’ avenue to exercise their skills?
With the introduction of the All India Quota (AIQ) for securing admissions in prestigious medical colleges of the valley — though deferred for implementation from the next academic year — the students from Jammu and Kashmir will have to compete for securing admissions in prestigious medical colleges of the UT with students across the country. The state quota has five hundred seats for post-graduation in the medical field. Around 3,000 students used to compete for them within the valley itself. With the implementation of AIQ, 50 percent quota from each of the Government Medical Colleges shall be granted to the national pool, and for prestigious deemed institutions like Sher-e-Kashmir Institute of Medical Science (SKIMS), a perfect hundred percent will go to the all-India quota. The work bond of the candidates who get selected outside J&K will be around 8 to 10 years, which if one fails to fulfil could end in a penalty, but for the candidates from across the country who get admitted to the institutions in the valley, there is no such thing as bond in place. The results of this policy shall be dire. Each year, the number of postgraduate aspirants rises due to the lesser seats available for the J&K domiciles, which, in turn, shall be distributed among reserved and unreserved categories, thereby delaying the postgraduate studies, which diminishes prospects of healthy employment.
The same stands the case for various job advertisements. Earlier, the jobs in J&K were reserved for state subjects only. But now, people from across the country may compete for the posts advertised by the public sector departments. This step is another blow to the already poor unemployment scenario in the valley. Moreover, this is an unhealthy and unequal sort of competition as the students and aspirants from the valley already suffer a lot due to shutdowns and uncertain internet clampdowns or speed restrictions, whereas students from across the country do not face these restrictions. This unfair competition will result in the possibility of Kashmiri people lagging behind due to mismanaged policy-making.
The figures of the Jammu and Kashmir Public Service Commission (JKPSC), the recruiting agency behind the Combined Competitive Examination (CCE) show that the number of posts has been decreasing year on year. On the other hand, the government reduced the age bar of the unreserved category aspirants from 37 years to 32 years, leaving the youth high and dry. This criterion was a bolt from the blue for the JKAS aspirants since the CCE, which is already irregularly patterned and conducted after a gap of three years. However, the government did listen to the woes of the aspirants and put the new criterion on hold for the year 2021, giving only a one-time relaxation which was indeed a good step, though most chances are it will get implemented from next year onwards. The minimum age bar and reduced number of posts is another obstacle for the aspirants. Considering the fact that they have to prepare for the UPSC-modelled exam amidst all the political uncertainty and internet restrictions, it is a grave injustice to the youth of the valley. Moreover, some other states in India do have the upper age limit of 37-40 years to appear in their state service exams. J&K Government seems to be whimsical in adopting this separate criterion, which has perturbed the youth and done nothing positive to ease their miseries. Rather than reducing the age bar, the government and the recruiting agency should have looked into how the number of posts could be increased and how the exams could be streamlined and conducted more regularly. Moreover, it should have lent a helping hand to already distressed youth with free coaching and other facilities.
As far as the private sector is concerned, it is almost non-existent in the valley. Industries and corporate sectors are non-existent. While the government expects the private investment will create new jobs in the valley, these promises are yet to show any results on the ground. The existing private sector keeps receiving severe blows due to successive lockdowns, especially since 2019- whether the post-abrogation shutdown or the harsh Covid19 lockdown.
Moreover, the order of awarding mining contracts of sand, stone quarrying, etc., to non-J&K residents has also led a blow to the livelihood of natives. This step has snatched the bread and butter of hundreds of families who priorly relied upon the same. The conversion of forest and agricultural land into industrial estates is another grave issue J&K faces after removing its special status. The demolition drive by the state for the extraction of land for industries has rendered the tribal community without homes and affected their livelihood.
Another initiative by the Government of India to allow the processing of globally acclaimed Kashmir Pashmina in Varanasi town of Uttar Pradesh will also hit the livelihoods in Kashmir and Ladakh. The Khadi and Village Industries Commission (KVIC) has reportedly roped in institutions in the Varanasi town (parliamentary constituency of PM Modi), where raw Pashmina wool will be processed and further weaved into fabric. While the KVIC claims that the step will ensure the availability of genuine and affordable Pashmina wool products, the decision is a cultural shock for local artisans in J&K and Ladakh, who believe, it will affect their livelihood. The cultural imbibition has also impacted the employment of local tailors, designers and boutiques in the valley. Many people are of the view that earlier, the native traditional dress, Pheran (long, warm Kashmir cloak), was manufactured in Kashmir only, but now many fashion designers and outlets across the country are producing it at cheaper rates, which has also resulted in a cultural as well as an economic loss to the valley.
In a nutshell, the economy of Jammu and Kashmir has been suffering since dawn, with unemployment being the major debacle as it concerns the youth of the society, who are the pillars of a sound and stable future. However, on account of rising unemployment despite professional degrees, skill training, and education from top-notch universities in the country and abroad, the youth of Jammu and Kashmir are beset in a terrible crisis. They have no vision for better prospects and better opportunities as the government is far from providing them. It has, in turn, led to a depressed and under-confident youth. The job losses and rising unemployment scenario with no bright prospects consume the Kashmiri youth silently. It is indicated through the abrupt rise in suicide cases of young people during the pandemic. Moreover, a recent study revealed that Jammu Kashmir has about six lakh people involved in drug-related issues, and 90 percent of these drug users are in the age group of 17-33 years. These figures are alarming, and the percentage of youth involved in drugs indicates how distressed they are.
Post the abrogation of Article 370 and conversion of the Jammu and Kashmir State into a Union Territory, the government has been promising development and making claims of a Naya (new) Kashmir which will see betterment in all aspects. When the country’s Home Minister Amit Shah visited J&K in October last year, he said he preferred talking to Kashmiri youth and “extend a hand of friendship” to them and sought their “support and co-operation for peace and development” in Jammu and Kashmir. The Government of India needs to demonstrate what practical steps it has been taking for the youth in the valley, for their betterment, and their role in strengthening infrastructure and bringing about development. It is disheartening to see that rather than pulling the drowning youth from the sea of unemployment, the government has been taking bizarre steps which hamper their claims of positive development in the Union Territory. Instead of fostering plans and policies for the employment generation, the initiatives taken by the government in the name of progress only push the people in general and youth in particular to the brink of unemployment, joblessness and hopelessness. The situation becomes dire as the people have no representatives to represent them at the national or UT level. There is neither the promised statehood nor peoples’ representation in the government, leaving the people with no choice but to tackle the consequences of economic collapse and unemployment themselves. The government of India should show a keen interest in restoring all the rights of people and come up with plans, policies, and strategies, which not only promise development in general and employment in particular, not merely on paper but factually on the ground. Moreover, policies and schemes already implemented need a review with the people for whom these are meant — be it students, job aspirants, businessmen or artisans. An effective administration with keen interest and robust work on the ground is the need of the hour to pull Jammu and Kashmir out of shackles of unemployment to the oceans of peace and prosperity.
Meer Nida is pursuing her Masters in English literature from Jesus and Mary College, University of Delhi, and Salman Jeelani is a final year student of English Honours at Islamic University of Science and Technology, Kashmir
Global eCommerce boom and local traders of Kashmir
A Structural Shift in the Market Preferences
Dhaar Mehak M
Tabeen J Wali
The global eCommerce market was expected to be worth a total of $5.7 trillion by the end of 2022. That figure is estimated to grow over the next few years; exhibiting the fact that borderless eCommerce is becoming a profitable option for online retailers. It is giving a market space to one and all with a potential or product to sell. Only two years ago, 17.8% of sales globally were made from online purchases. That number is again expected to reach 20.8% by the end of 2023; a 2 percentage point increase in eCommerce market share. This growth is expected to continue, reaching 23% by 2025, translating to an increase of 5.2 percentage points in just five years.
Economic projections and forecasts predict the global retail sales growth to rise even further and take up more retail market share. According to research completed by eMarketer and Statista, online retail sales will reach $6.51 trillion by 2023, with eCommerce websites taking up 22.3% of total retail sales. Although retail has had it tough since 2020, every national market covered by eMarketer saw double-digit eCommerce growth. The trend continues globally: Latin America (including Peru, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Colombia, and Mexico) saw $104 billion in eCommerce sales in 2022, up 22.4% from $85 billion in 2021. The UK is forecasted to continuously increase by $85.7 billion (+42.88%) within the next years.
China continues to lead the global eCommerce market, accounting for 46.3% of all retail eCommerce sales worldwide, with total online sales just over the $2.8 trillion mark in 2022. It also has the world’s most digital buyers, 842.1 million, representing 39.4% of the global total. The US eCommerce market is forecasted to reach more than $904.9 billion in 2022, a little over a third of China’s. After China and the US, the third-largest eCommerce market is the United Kingdom, taking up 4.8% of the retail eCommerce sales share. The UK is followed by Japan (3%) and South Korea (2.5%). The top five eCommerce markets haven’t changed since 2018. Trends from eMarketer suggest that these markets will stay in the top five until 2025.
While the whole world has been witnessing the structural transformation and shift in terms of market transformations from retailing to online shopping, the Indian economy has been a part of the process. In light of the same, the Jammu and Kashmir economy has had an equal and equally growing participation in the same. The advent of the internet and the arrival of eCommerce technology in the lives of average Kashmiris have changed the shopping preferences and experiences of the locals. People no longer have to battle issues like vehicular traffic on the roads or wait in queues for long hours. Accredited to the growth of eCommerce technology, locals have been empowered to shop anywhere-anytime just at the click of a button.
However, in the recent past, there was no (or very limited) concept of eCommerce in Kashmir. Smartphone availability to the general public was rare. The masses were barely aware about the internet facilities and global communication channels. There was no idea of online shopping, online transactions, etc. With time and the availability of the internet along with the growing mobile phone penetration, eCommerce made its presence felt in the valley. However, due to slower internet connection issues like 2G and lack of awareness, people initially had apprehensions and thus were afraid of buying things online.
Tracing the roots and history of online shopping awareness in J&K, it dates back to the year 2008 when the mobile internet was making its headway into the valley. People were gaining affordable and available access to wireless internet. It was around the same time that after bearing a lot of hardships with sorting out the supply chains Flipkart became operational and function in the region. the initial years were tough and hard but the company stood steadfast. It took some time for Flipkart to cut through lots of hurdles alone and get to success. Being the only player in the online market in the region for quite some time it was a big deal to keep surviving and floating. But the outcomes were a success.
Steadily as people gain access to quality internet services and advanced smartphone technology the word spread. It was observed that doorstep delivery was actually a reality. At the same time, the quality of the delivery matched the promises of the website. The trust factor got built. Witnessing optimism within the J&K market, other companies like Amazon, SnapDeal, and other local online stores, etc., started jumping in to tap into the growing eCommerce market. The consumers got the opportunity of choosing from a wide range of products. Not only that, discounts and sales from time to time offer big benefits to consumers.
All these factors have been contributing towards a structural market shift. People from across J&K have been moving from in-person retail shopping to online shopping. While the consumers in the region have surely benefitted both in terms of utility/satisfaction and profit maximization, the retailers have been losing.
The J&K economy is predominantly characterized as a consumer economy. The characteristics of being a producer and self-sufficient economy have been limited and rather absent for a long time. It is the retailer of J&K, who has been at the losing end on account of the growth of the online markets. Retailing has been one of the most common business ventures of people across the region of J&K. Setting up of the shops and selling various items has been a known venture. People for generations have been relying on this activity. Lately, the structural change is challenging this segment of J&K businessmen and the immediate solution visible is evolution. These businessmen, particularly retailers, need to adjust to the changing market and make themselves competitive enough to compete with global online sellers. The only other option is to let the business supper, deteriorate and shut down.
Women shaping informal sector in Kashmir
The informal sector is defined as the unregistered part of an economy. In a traditional economy, it is assumed that every business entity is formally registered with the government. A proper registration of a business unit is associated with a number of economic, political and social factors. All the registered units to begin with are enumerated in the industrial census. It keeps the government and policy makers informed about the number and nature of the units. The economic and industrial policies are made and shaped in light of these numbers. Social welfare is decided based on the outcomes coming from these registered units. And the long run industrial and economic planning is carried systematically based on information and evidence from the ground.
Quite contrary to this established smooth channel of economic growth and transition, the developing and under-developed parts of the world have been reflecting self-curated unique trends. First of all, the formal sector has not been able to expand as expected. This has led to limited employment opportunities coming from this sector to the ever-increasing populations and youth bulges. As an instinct to survive, people are forced to find some or other kind of employment. This has led to the creation of and the growth of the informal sector across these pockets of the world. The case of India is one of the fundamental ones. The Indian economy is characterized as having one of the most unique and large informal sectors across the world. 80% to 85% Indian population is estimated to be employed directly and indirectly in the informal sector.
Empirics show that Jammu and Kashmir has reflected growth in the informal sector over time. On the eve of the creation of the welfare state in the region headed by Sheikh M Abdullah, a socialistic model of development was brought into practice. It was called, ‘The Naya Kashmir Manifesto’. Among other things, one of the main agendas of the manifesto was to set in place a public sector-led industrialization process in J&K. As such, all the industries established under the Naya Kashmir Manifesto are a-priori classified as the formal sector firms. The political instability and fragility in the region kept on increasing and the focus of the government as predicted by theory and validated by practice shifted to peace restoration activities. This gave a back-lash to the public sector lead industrialization process in the region.
Steadily people began to look for alternative means of livelihood and subsistence. This set in place the informal sector across all the pockets of the region. The instability during the decades of 1990s, followed by various political and natural shocks during the 2000s made people realize that each person must be skilful and must practice the same in order to keep on bringing in sustenance money. The Kashmir division is particularly known to be diversified in various types of craft. From Ari work, through Tilla designing, people have bene utilising their skills to cash in some money. The wood-carving, Pashmina making and many distinct skills indigenous to Kashmir have been practiced in the informal sector by both men and women over time.
Of late there has been an Information Technology boom. The 2000 AD has seen a drastic revolutionising of the world through the spread of the World Wide Web. Mobile phone penetration has made the world an accessible global village. The social media applications of Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp have empowered people in a number of ways. People started off with sharing their pictures and highlighting their skills online on social media platforms. On receiving appreciation their confidence rose and soon people started to ask if some of their skills could be shared or used.
These platforms have greatly affected the economic well-being of the women located across various regions of Kashmir. Initially, women from different ages and social backgrounds strolled these platforms. Some of them enhanced their existing skills or learnt new ones online. This was followed by trying a hand at the commercialisation of the same, which in many cases has yielded a positive response. There are a number of examples that can be quoted as brief case studies in the present article.
The Instagram page by the handle of @makeupshakeupbynidanazir evolved over time. Nida has always been fond of make-up and lipsticks. As a child she always bought makeup and accessories from her pocket money. Applied the same on her dolls, herself, her cousins and her mother and grandmother occasionally. Over time she mastered the skill. From turning pages of magazines to learning online through YouTube etc. her skills enhanced steadily. It was her friend’s engagement and Nida offered to do her make-up. The outcomes were really appreciable. The friends decided to open up on online platform to display her make-up skills. The bookings soon followed and today Nida is a known name in the local make-up industry.
Saba married a doctor who lived in Saudi Arabia. Soon after her marriage, she moved to KSA with her husband. She always liked chocolates and began exploring the chocolates of KSA. Later in 2016, she shifted back to Kashmir with her kids. The kids and herself started missing the unique chocolates of KSA. One day Saba decided to curate her own. The chocolates turned out to be good. She shared the same with her sister and cousins. She was influenced to upload the same on Instagram. Steadily, the popularity of her chocolates grew and orders started to flow in. Today Saba is an established name in the curated and customized local chocolate industry.
There are innumerable other success stories which will be discussed steadily. But the underlying point of the present article is that the informal sector in Kashmir has been growing ever since the formal industrial set-up took a back-set during 1950s. Initially it was hidden and the returns were menial or limited. However, with the growth of the internet boom the women in the region have been able to harness the benefits and the informal sector has been growing steadily and sustainably. In Kashmir, this sector can be directly related to women’s empowerment and is expected to increase steadily over time.
The author teaches at the Department of Economics, Islamic University of Science and Technology, J&K and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Rural mart inaugurated under NABARD scheme
Shopian, Sept 20: National Bank for Agriculture & Rural Development (NABARD) has collaborated with National Rural Livelihood Mission (NRLM) for extending the grant support to SHGs promoted by NRLM for setting up rural marts. These marts aim to promote and provide a platform for women’s self-help groups to market their handmade products.
The rural mart was inaugurated on 20 Sept 2022, at Shopian
Dr AK Sood, CGM NABARD J&K, SSP Shopian Tanushree, NRLM Reyaz Ahmad, and ADDC Shopian, Manzoor Hussain were present for the inauguration ceremony.
The mart will give numerous SHGs an opportunity to sell their homemade goods, including apparel, handloom and handicraft products, homemade food items, dry fruits, and more.
For a period of three years, NABARD has agreed to commit Rs 4.79 lakh as financial support for each rural market. NABARD will pay for the components, such as shop rent, salesman salaries, marketing costs, and other miscellaneous expenses.
Dr Sood, CGM NABARD, urged the female SHG members to use the mart as an opportunity for economic growth and to guarantee the continuity, quality, and quantity of local goods for both locals and tourists.
Additional Mission Director NRLM commended SHGs for taking such a unique initiative in the district.
“Rural mart to be run by female SHGs is the first step towards women empowerment in the district,” said Tanushree, SSP Shopian
Members of various SHGs from the district attended the event. Deputy General Manager NABARD Surinder Singh, District Development Manager NABARD Rouf Zargar, DPMs NRLM Uzma Mehraj and Irfan were also present on the occasion.
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