The unemployment problem in Telangana: What jobs data tells us
Boda Sunil Naik, an unemployed tribal man, died by suicide in 2021 after blaming the Telangana government for delaying government job notifications. In a video filmed before his death, Sunil urged Telangana’s unemployed youth to continue fighting against Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao. “Don’t spare him,” he said. Sunil was a graduate of Kakatiya University in Warangal. Three years earlier, the suicide of Murali, a postgraduate student at Osmania University, became a flashpoint for his fellow students’ resentment towards the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS, now Bharat Rashtra Samithi or BRS) government over the dearth of good jobs.
BRS leaders including Minister KT Rama Rao (CM KCR’s son) have made repeated claims of accelerating government recruitments, boosting private sector investments, and thus creating private jobs. These leaders have claimed that the BRS government has filled 1.6 lakh government job vacancies since 2014, added 4.3 lakh IT jobs since 2018, and achieved the highest per capita income for Telangana of over Rs 3 lakh in 2022-23. Their claims have been contested by economists, activists, and students, who argue that they do not accurately correlate with the quality of job opportunities available in Telangana.
Another major premise of Telangana’s formation was the uneven development centred in and around Hyderabad under previous governments in erstwhile Andhra Pradesh. The aspiration for equitable development of backward regions too, seems far from realisation. As the state heads for elections, here’s a deeper look at the employment situation in Telangana so far.
What happened to government jobs?
Telangana’s unemployment rates among young people (aged 15 to 29), and people who have studied up to post graduation and beyond, are considerably higher than the national average, according to the latest Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS).
In December 2022, Minister KT Rama Rao, popularly known as KTR, wrote an open letter to Telangana’s youth. He claimed that Telangana was going to emerge at the top in India, by filling over 2.25 lakh government jobs (since 2014) in the least period of time. He said 1.35 lakh jobs had already been filled in the BRS’ first term (2014-18), and the recruitment process for 90,000 jobs had been initiated in its second term (with over 32,000 job openings notified by the Telangana State Public Service Commission (TSPSC) and other departments).
In October this year, he said there were 2.2 lakh vacancies notified already, but still only 1.3 lakh jobs actually filled since 2014 – with no major improvement from the figures cited for the 2014-18 period. But a week ahead of elections, he shared job statistics that say selection has been completed for 1.6 lakh jobs, suggesting that 25,000 government jobs have been filled during the BRS’ second term.
The highest percentage of vacancies filled were in the police, while the lowest were in residential education institutions, medical and health services, and universities.
A three-member Pay Revision Commission (PRC) headed by former IAS officer CR Biswal submitted a report in December 2020, finding that 1.91 lakh posts lying vacant in Telangana’s government departments since 2014. According to TSPSC’s reply to Hyderabad-based RTI activist Kareem Ansari, between July 2015 and January 2020, the Commission had filled 29,015 jobs. Since then, an additional 6,235 jobs have been filled by TSPSC, which has been embroiled in controversies over a paper leak and delayed recruitments for various reasons, according to the Telangana government.
What about private jobs?
KTR, who is the Information Technology (IT) Minister of the state, made a case for lucrative private sector jobs a few months ago, suggesting that the aspiration for government jobs and the security they offer was a thing of the past. “There are around 10 lakh young people in Hyderabad working in IT jobs today, who are buying a house and car immediately after getting a job. Where do they get the courage to buy flats worth Rs 1-2 crore? They have the confidence of getting good jobs, thanks to their education,” he said.
Indeed, there has been immense growth in the IT sector in and around Hyderabad in the past nine years. But this is also a reflection of the slow progress towards another major reason for the Telangana movement – a balanced development of all regions.
Activist and academic G Haragopal wrote in 2010, at the peak of the Telangana agitation, about former CM of erstwhile Andhra Pradesh Chandrababu Naidu’s CEO-like leadership in the late ‘90s to mid 2000s. Haragopal said that Naidu’s political style of “techno-managerialism” led to “widening of inequalities across the castes, classes, gender, rural, urban, and forward and the backward regions” and “between metropolitan Hyderabad and rest of the state.” Haragopal called the revival of the Telangana movement “a direct fallout of this path of development.” KTR himself has also credited Naidu for building the base for the IT sector in Hyderabad.
IT and Consultation Services saw the highest rise in number of employees between January 2019 (the start of BRS government’s second term) and February 2023 (the most recent period for which figures are available), as per the data on the number of employees subscribed to the Employees' Provident Fund Organisation (EPFO), sourced from How India Lives. But most of these IT jobs were in the undivided Hyderabad and Rangareddy districts, where the cost of living is also higher.
It’s not just IT. Across sectors, job growth was way higher in these two districts.
Nizamabad in north Telangana did see a massive rise in EPFO registrations, but most of them were in the ‘tobacco products’ sector. There’s a high concentration of beedi workers in Nizamabad, Karimnagar, and Medak in the north, and these regions saw massive growth in PF registrations under tobacco products – even higher than the statewide figures for IT and Consultation.
The percentage growth in jobs in the four-year period from January 2019-2023 was also largely concentrated in the southern part of the state. Mahabubnagar saw a huge % rise in jobs in this period, mainly in the construction sector, followed by consultation services and chemical sectors. After Mahabubnagar, the highest job growth % was recorded in undivided Rangareddy, Nizamabad and Hyderabad in that order.
Professor A Punnaiah from the Applied Economics Department at Telangana University, Nizamabad, says that most of these registrations are possibly a result of existing workers obtaining PF cards to qualify for the Telangana government’s 2015 pension scheme for beedi workers. A youngster from Nizamabad, whose family members do beedi rolling work, says a few young people from beedi workers’ families have also recently taken up the work part-time. Besides general unemployment, this could also be due to many young girls being married off and forced to discontinue their studies during the COVID pandemic, he says, adding that some such new workers might have registered for PF for the Aasara pension. Most of the beedi workers belong to Scheduled Caste (SC), Scheduled Tribe (ST), and Other Backward Class (OBC) communities, and are severely underpaid while working in poor conditions.
In another RTI reply to Kareem Ansari dated November 8, the Telangana Industries Department revealed details of employment possibly generated across the 33 districts since 2014, based on applications filed under TS-iPass (Industrial Project Approval and Self Certification System).
The TS-iPass figures also show a heavy concentration of jobs around Greater Hyderabad, mostly in Rangareddy. The number for Hyderabad district itself is quite low, which professor K Laxminarayana from School of Economics at the University of Hyderabad (UoH) says is because industrial activity and expansion are happening mostly in Rangareddy, Sangareddy, and Medchal Malkajgiri due to paucity of land in Hyderabad district. Parts of these border districts fall under Greater Hyderabad limits.
While KTR claims Telangana has the highest per capita income in India, the district-wise distribution is again along similar lines. Besides, per capita income in general is not a very helpful indicator as it gives the mean income and not the median, says G Vijay, assistant professor of Economics at UoH. Considering the average casual labour wages (about Rs 400 per day as per PLFS), the high per capita income only points to concentration of wealth with few people, he says. “It’s a misrepresentation of the condition of the average person in Telangana, when there’s still massive inequality.”
Meanwhile, in an attempt to expand the IT sector to tier-2 towns, the government has set up plug-and-play office spaces called IT towers, and claims that more than 13,000 people are employed in various tech firms in eight such towers in various small towns. But Sharath Naik, president of Girijana Shakti and a member of the Osmania University’s joint action committee (OU-JAC), who has been campaigning against BRS in Palair constituency, alleges that many of these are low-end jobs with low pay.
In a recent interview with professor and political analyst K Nageshwar, KTR spoke about the tier-2 IT hubs where the government plans to create 60,000 jobs in the next six years. He stated that technology is a spectrum, and there’s a lot of high-end work happening in Hyderabad, but that the lower end and middle band jobs don’t need to be in the capital city. “[In places like Karimnagar], the salaries may be around Rs 12,000 to 15,000, not comparable to the salaries of a PhD scholar here [in Hyderabad]. These jobs, however, aren't going to just graduates but also diploma holders and ITI (Industrial Training Institute) candidates,” KTR said, suggesting that it was a fairly good deal for those who haven't graduated.
Students and activists, however, contend that when these are the only opportunities available in their hometowns, even people with a PG or a higher degree are forced to work such jobs beneath their qualification.
Besides, like most of India, many salaried employees in Telangana too face insecure working conditions. Around 41% of salaried employees do not have a job contract, 32% are ineligible for paid leave, and 39% have no specified social security benefits such as pension, gratuity, health care, or maternity benefit, according to PLFS 2022-23.
The faltered promise of ‘niyamakalu’
Osmania and Kakatiya are the top public state universities in Telangana. Both were cornerstones of the Telangana statehood movement, whose three main promises were ‘neellu, nidhulu, niyamakalu’ – water, funds, and jobs. Nine years since the state’s formation, many students from these universities and elsewhere in the state are disillusioned with their prospects.
“During the Telangana movement, students had hoped that statehood would get them good, secure jobs. In nine years of BRS rule, this hope has completely collapsed,” says Rehman, All India Students' Federation (AISF)’s Telangana vice-president and universities’ in-charge.
Rehman, who is pursuing an MA in History at OU, says that while tech sector jobs may be relatively more abundant, students of social sciences have far fewer opportunities in the private sector. Most jobs available are unsuitable for postgraduates or pay too little, he says, explaining why people like him do not opt for private jobs. Sabari Rajan, convenor of Ambedkar Students' Association (ASA) at UoH, also points out that prevalent caste discrimination in the private sectors leads many SC and ST students to aspire for government jobs.
Citing the example of Andhra Pradesh which has set aside 75% of private industrial jobs for local residents, Sharath Naik says the Telangana government hasn’t made efforts to ensure opportunities for local youth in the private sectors. Most of the IT jobs shown as a major achievement by BRS have not actually gone to local youth, he says.
The Congress manifesto has promised a similar 75% reservation to Telangana youth in private companies “established with the help of government incentives.” But BRS isn’t keen on such a step.
KTR had said in the interview with Nageshwar that he was unsure how many of the IT jobs had gone to Telangana youth, but that mandating reservation for local residents in the private sector wasn’t a good idea. It would drive investors away, he said, referring to such a move by the Haryana government. “Instead, we are asking companies to give 75-80% of semi-skilled, unskilled jobs to our people. If they exceed 80%, we will provide additional incentives,” he added.
Many student leaders allege that another barrier to secure private jobs is the poor quality of public education, which they say is further weakening in Telangana. Rehman has already completed his MA in Journalism and Mass Communication from OU and wanted to pursue a PhD in the same department. But three professors including K Nageshwar retired recently, and the department is now running with only one permanent professor, he says.
After slipping 14 places in the National Institutional Ranking Framework (NIRF)’s 2023 report, OU had blamed it on lack of recruitment over the past decade. OU has a faculty strength of over 1,200 but is currently functioning with around 385 permanent teaching staff and over 500 contract teachers. Similar problems plague other public universities in the state. Government data too says not a single vacancy has been filled under the university recruitment board in the past nine years.
Rehman blames BRS for weakening public universities and the education system, while noting that private education, be it for social sciences or engineering and the entrance coaching before that, is unaffordable for most people.
Besides, the RBI’s latest study of state budgets for 2022-23 shows that Telangana’s expenditure on education (as % of aggregate expenditure) has declined steadily since its formation.
Speaking about the need for skilling, KTR recently said that the upcoming Foxconn manufacturing plant near Hyderabad will add nearly one lakh jobs, but most of them will be ‘blue collar’ jobs for ITI trainees who will not earn as much as those working in big tech companies in Gachibowli. “People will find jobs as per their skill set. The youth of Telangana need to understand, unless you upskill and reskill, you’ll become redundant,” the Industries and IT Minister said.
But the onus of skilling people is on the government, says Rehman. The Telangana Academy for Skill and Knowledge (TASK) under the IT department does train engineering graduates to make them employable in tech companies. But government officials themselves have credited privatisation of education in the Telugu states for the high number of engineering graduates available for such skilling. Private colleges are too expensive, particularly for students from marginalised backgrounds, and the quality of teaching is unreliable, both Sabari and Rehman point out.
Rehman contends that the kind of skilling opportunities available for most rural youth from marginalised backgrounds are to train to become electricians or mechanics in ITIs. “Or the government is trying to promote caste-based occupations like sheep rearing. Is this why young people fought for Telangana, to rear sheep? From the armed struggle to the statehood movement, Telangana’s people’s movements have always been about promoting critical thinking, and questioning injustice,” he says, alleging that the BRS government was undermining these ideals by diminishing quality education and resulting opportunities in the state.
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