Tackling unemployment in rural SindhBy Naseer Memon (The News, 9th July 2017)

The government of Sindh has announced creating approx 50,000 new jobs in the next financial year. The budgetary announcement was greeted with cheers by many who still believe that a public sector job is the dream destination in one’s life.

Youth in the rural Sindh particularly have great enchantment with public sector jobs. Students grow with prayers of getting a government job after acquiring a graduation degree.

Rural areas where agriculture is a key driver of economy and landlords are seen as the most powerful creatures; bureaucrats are seen as the only other entity wielding some power in society. Lure of administrative authority coupled with ill-gotten extra money and a white-collared hassle free working ambience makes the dream further sweetened.

Until the 70s, rural Sindh had a scant representation in bureaucracy even within the province. In the One-unit era most of the bureaucracy came from either Punjab or Karachi and rural Sindh was sidelined in public sector jobs. Z.A. Bhutto provided constitutional cover to the quota system and paved the way for rural middle class to enter the provincial and federal bureaucracy.

Quota system is often misconstrued as a mechanism of sharing jobs between Sindhi and Urdu-speaking communities of Sindh. It was actually an affirmative action to strike a balance of representation between the rural and urban communities to avoid long term explosive ramifications of imbalanced representation in the federal and provincial jobs.

In Sindh, the system was aimed to create opportunities for disadvantaged rural communities to seek admissions in universities and step in the mainstream administrative web. A large number of non-Sindhi speaking people from rural areas also benefited from the allocation of job opportunities under the quota system.

In 1973, when the quota system was given a constitutional cover, the share of rural Sindh in federal jobs was minuscule. According to the census report of the central government, there were only 300 seats of rural Sindh compared to 1900 of urban Sindh against various positions of grade 16 to 22. In class-1 posts, Sindhi-speaking officers were only 2.5 per cent against 49 per cent Punjabi and 30 per cent Urdu-speaking officers. Rural Sindh inherited a disadvantage of lack of education among Sindhi Muslims before 1947.

While quota system mainstreamed Sindhis in the federal and provincial bureaucracy, it induced an addiction of the government job as well. A table-chair job detached Sindhis from rapidly rising private sector job market. Karachi’s huge industrial sprawl remained devoid of Sindhis for decades, mainly because of their tendency of working in a relatively comfortable government job where one gets guaranteed salary irrespective of performance. Those who are deployed against lucrative positions can make even heftier fortunes.
 
Another reason of this indifferent attitude towards private sector jobs was a performing agriculture sector that had been a key source of employment and livelihood in rural areas till recent decades. With the passage of time, agriculture sector suffered a steady decline. Perennial shortages of water, decrepit irrigation infrastructure, manipulation of market prices and obsolete practices brought the sector to its knees. A sizeable entry of rural youth in urban markets will also help rural society to liberate itself from the clutches of an obsolete and tyrannical feudal dominated social structure.
 
Meanwhile, urbanisation reshaped the rural economy in Pakistan during recent decades and Sindh is no exception to the phenomenon. According to the Economic Survey of Pakistan 20016-17, the services sector contributed 60 per cent and the manufacturing sector contributed 21 per cent to the national economy. These two sectors have attained robust growth in the recent years. This shift in the economy is reshaping job market as well.

Although agriculture sector is still a major source of employment, it caters mainly to unskilled masses due to its archaic structure. Educated and skilled human resource finds better opportunities in non-agriculture sectors, mainly the aforementioned two sectors. This transformation has posed new challenges to the rural areas of Sindh where economy has stagnated.

Against this backdrop 50,000 public sector jobs in a province with approx. 60 million population that grows at a rate of not less than 2.5 per cent (unofficial estimates outnumber these statistics) is a paltry figure. With this pace of population growth, the province adds approx 1.5 million people every year. It culminates into a massive unemployment among youth that entails multifaceted social and political repercussions. Karachi has a sizeable private sector market that can absorb a good proportion of these new entrants in the job market.

According to the census of manufacturing units in Sindh, Karachi alone has 1198 manufacturing units out of total 1825 units in the province. The second and third highest number of units were located in Hyderabad (98 units) and Dadu including Kotri and Nooriabad (83 units). This indicates that some 75 per cent of industrial units were located in and between Hyderabad and Karachi. The rest of Sindh has very little industry where agriculture sector dominates the rural economy for decades now. Rural youth ought to realign them with new realities and the changing pattern of economy.

Although a gradual shift has been observed in the recent years, the pace does not match the need. Karachi is becoming more stable as law and order situation has improved after the operation by security forces. It has buoyed up the market creating more space for job-seekers. If peace prevailed, the city will gain new economic boom.

CPEC-related investments are set to propel the market further. These investments will open up new vistas of industrial and commercial opportunities. Rural communities can benefit from these emerging opportunities. Political leadership of Sindh has always been clamouring against influx of non-local population in the urban areas of the province. One major reason behind this phenomenon was the space ceded by Sindhis themselves by confining themselves to rural areas.

Private sector in urban markets requires continued supply of human resource to sustain its growth irrespective of one’s identity or origin. Whereas political leadership of Sindh has been successful in mobilising people against the population influx from other areas, it failed to mobilise and facilitate rural youth to enter in a flourishing urban job market to forestall the menace of influx.

A sizeable entry of rural youth in urban markets will also help rural society to liberate itself from the clutches of an obsolete and tyrannical feudal dominated social structure. Sindhi middle class evolved in the wake of its entry in public sector in the 70s that brought initial ripples in Sindhi society. However, this did not bring any structural shift in the rural society and ultimately lost its luster as the society has entered a new phase of stagnancy.

Successive governments ignored creating any new industrial and commercial centres in rural Sindh. Political leadership doled out munificent charities through politically motivated social security programmes, but paid no attention to modernisation of agriculture sector or industrialisation in rural areas.

Agriculture sector that has been the lynchpin of rural society has plunged into decay. Its overall efficiency has nosedived during recent decades. Hence the engine of rural economy has already started malfunctioning. Skewed landholding pattern, political control over water diversion and a manipulated market have made this sector hostage in the clutches of politically powerful plutocracy. It has lost its potential to alleviate poverty in rural areas. The present structure of agriculture sector will only perpetuate feudal hegemony and abject poverty among rural masses.

The government has no plans of industrialisation in rural areas in the foreseeable future. Public sector engine is losing steam and cannot absorb a large number of unemployed youth being churned out by universities every year. Another crowd of youth which could not acquire a university degree wanders for productive engagement to earn livelihood. This is high time that the rural youth should stop selling their family silver to pay bribe for seeking government jobs and get fleeced by preying commission agents. They can invest the same amount to establish small businesses in urban and peri-urban areas for gainful employment and a decent livelihood.

Political leadership of Sindh can rekindle hopes among the rural youth and liberate them from shackles of feudal servitude by encouraging and mentoring them to accept new realities and adopt new approaches. Rural Sindh can be reshaped if a large number of youth equip themselves with skills and abilities required in the urban markets. It will have to address a range of problems confronted by rural Sindh. It will synchronously reduce unemployment, population influx and excessive control of the feudal over rural society and politics of Sindh.
 
 

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