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Ticking-bomb alert for jobless Bengal

Bardhan

Calcutta, July 21: Economist Pranab Bardhan today linked criminalisation in Bengal to lack of jobs for youths.

“If you can’t give them jobs, it may turn into a time bomb. I may add it’s already ticking quite loudly in West Bengal,” Bardhan, the emeritus professor of economics at the University of California, Berkeley, said during a lecture at the Indian Institute of Management Calcutta (IIMC).

The causal relationship flagged by Bardhan, an alumnus of the erstwhile Presidency College, touched upon an issue that many view as the most daunting challenge before the Mamata Banerjee government.

Paucity of jobs has been a festering issue in Bengal for decades but this is the first time in recent times that an internationally acclaimed economist has unequivocally talked about its repercussions.

Coincidentally, Bardhan’s comments came on a day the chief minister appeared muted at an annual Martyrs’ Day commemoration event where she delivered what is being described as her “shortest July 21 speech”. On the occasion — now known as Ma-Mati-Manush Divas — Mamata steered clear of any significant political message. Neither did she tom-tom too many government achievements. ( )

Bardhan said India would miss out on the advantage of having a very young population — described as demographic dividends in economics textbooks — that could have been productive.

Then he specifically mentioned Bengal. “Getting jobs for the young people is one of the most serious problems and you see the effects all around you…. Large number of youths turn to essentially criminalisation. Everyday in the newspapers and TV you will see evidence…. So, in that sense, I think the time bomb is ticking very loudly in West Bengal,” Bardhan said.

The professor of economics was speaking on land and labour law reforms when he raised the issue of how India lacks labour-intensive industries that lead to unemployment.

Bardhan’s comments at IIMC come at a time the debate over industrial growth or lack of it and its impact on jobs in Bengal has assumed political significance in the state.

While the Opposition parties are blaming the government for lack of industrial growth in the state, the ruling establishment is claiming something else.

In a Facebook post on Saturday, Mamata spoke of Bengal’s achievements in IT, engineering and manufacturing.

“India’s apex body for export organisations, FIEO has, acknowledged top 18 exporters in engineering and manufacturing sectors from eastern region of India, of which 16 are from Bengal, who have exported goods and services worth more than Rs 11,000 crore. Bengal’s exports were around Rs 63,000 crore in 2013-14, of which nearly Rs 32,000 crore is from the engineering and manufacturing sectors. FIEO has announced doubling of the target of exports from $10.5 billion now to $20 billion from Bengal over the coming 3-4 years. All these developments will certainly create more jobs and more opportunities for our youth and our entrepreneur friends,” Mamata posted on Facebook.

It was not clear whether Bardhan was aware of these claims. This is not the first time that Bardhan spoke about the lack of employment creation in the country despite its fast growth rate for some years.

In an interview to The Telegraph, published on December 30, 2013, Bardhan had said: “It so happens that in India, growth has not created that many jobs. The economy has grown at a fast rate between 2003 and 2008-09, but not enough jobs have been created. Even Gujarat’s high industrial growth in recent years has largely involved expansion of the petrochemical sector, which is highly capital-intensive.”

On Monday, too, Bardhan said that growth had mostly been based on skill-intensive or capital-intensive industries rather than on labour-intensive ones.

Referring to the new land acquisition act that has left it to the market to acquire land for private industries, Bardhan raised the issue of land and real estate mafia and suggested that leaving the acquisition entirely to the market may not be a good idea.

“I am told that we are celebrating the Ma-Mati-Manush Divas today. Three years back, I wrote a Bengali article Ma-Mati-Mafia. The mafia (groups) belong to all parties and quite often they like to be associated with the ruling party,” he said.

His reference to the land and real estate mafia — though not aimed at any particular political party — is also significant in the context of Bengal.

Trinamul is struggling to put a lid on multiple feuds among supporters to control the supply of construction material — which often spills out in the open as “syndicate wars”.


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