Bodhgaya, Bihar: The Janata Dal-United's new election slogan “Bihar me Bahar Ba, Nitishe Kumar Ba,” roughly translates to “Bihar is prosperous because of Chief Minister Nitish Kumar.” It has been one of the most chanted lines in the state, but contrary to the message, Bihar recently witnessed the highest influx of migrant workers who are still struggling to find a suitable job to feed their families.
Bablu Manji, 23, works at a premium coffee shop in the temple city of Bodhgaya in the southwestern part of Bihar. He earns only Rs 8,000 per month and is struggling to meet the needs of his family.
Bablu says he was working as a chef in the Majnu-Ka-Tilla area of Delhi since the last seven years and was earning at least Rs 20,000 per month. The resident of Mastipur, about 12 kilometres from the Bodhgaya town, told Newsclick, “I had been in New Delhi since 2013 and have been earning enough money for the family and have never worked on low wages in the last seven years but now the pandemic is showing us what we never imagined.”
NewsClick met Bablu on the ‘Bihar beyond Elections’ road trail. He said, “I have a three years old daughter at home, a wife and elderly parents and imagine the liabilities on my head. The government promised pension for the elderly parents but they got only Rs 500 each, that too only once.”
He further said, “My work is very much like a daily wage job and the money is not enough to run the family. The good part is that the owner of the shop where I was working gave me some money in advance in April when I left Delhi for Bihar. I was fortunate enough that I did not have to walk like others and reached home safely.” He added, “I was hopeful of getting some work here in my hometown as you know Bodhgaya witnesses a lot of tourist footfall every year, but this year everything was taken away by the Corona pandemic.”
The migrant worker further narrated his ordeal saying, “I even tried starting a small fast food roadside eatery from my savings and it is yet to take off, so I am working full time at this coffee shop and part time on my eatery.”
It is to be noted that till June, the poll-bound state saw the return of over 32 lakh workers who were employed in other states with the Centre telling the states to use Mahatma Gandhi National National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) to give jobs to the returnees.
Raju, another skilled labourer who returned to Bodhgaya from Mumbai, says he could not find any work based on his skills in the hometown.
“I have kids and parents at home. The family is big and the jobs under the MGNREGA do not pay as per the skills. They underpay. Nothing has been done for the skilled people who have either been laid off or are facing difficulties in finding jobs,” he told the reporter, asking, “Why would a skilled labour take up a job where the payment is low and it is better to become atma nirbhar (self dependent) by taking up a small loan?”
“Ka kare sahib majboori hai. Labour banega to gaon ka log bhi to hansi hi udayega an (I will be mocked by the villagers if I take up the daily-wage labourer job)," was one of the common answers given by people who were skilled or semi-skilled when asked about the condition of jobs in Bihar, which has also been hit by floods.
According to the data uploaded on the MGNREGA website, 11.01 lakh job cards were issued in Bihar since April 1, 2020, which accounts for 14.17% of total NREGA jobs when computed nationally.
The reporter also tried meeting Sushil Kumar Modi, the deputy Chief Minister of Bihar. But the team found nothing more than a poster saying Atma Nirbhar Bihar at the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) headquarters in the capital city Patna and was greeted by the security guard whose duty was to offer local sweet delicacies. The team also met some foot soldiers of the BJP, who in a general conversation, said: “Poori sarkaar to bane, Nitish kumar to jaaye, fir kuch ham bhi kare.”
Nivedita Jha, a social activist based in Patna, shed light on the issue of underemployment. She said, “With no jobs being available in the market, unemployed people are taking up jobs which pay them less and not realising the fact that such practices count for exploitation. But the irony is that there is no political party talking about the issue.”
“Underemployment is as dangerous as unemployment because skilled manpower is being utilised but they are not being paid as per their skills. Also they are eating up the jobs of other people who fit that role,” she said.