With COVID-19 rendering lakhs of people jobless, spiking unemployment rate, a recent oil find near Kolkata has come as a windfall for the West Bengal government in its efforts to create employment opportunities in the state.
Just as in Bihar, employment problem is expected to be the major poll issue in West Bengal when it will go to polls in six months. Unemployment rate shot up to 10 per cent in the state as against the national average of 6.5 percent as on November 23, according to the data of Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE).
Only five months ago, in June, West Bengal’s unemployment scenario was better than the national average. The unemployment rate in the state then was 6.5 per cent whereas the national average was 10.18 per cent. A month prior to that, in May, when the country’s unemployment rate was 23.5 per cent, it was 17 per cent in West Bengal.
“Lack of jobs after summer crop sowing and harvesting and failure of the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME) sector and service sector to return to normalcy are primarily responsible for growing unemployment in the state,” said a senior state government official.
BJP state president Dilip Ghosh is repeatedly promising in his rallies that if his party comes to power, West Bengal would be made an industrially developed state like Gujarat, so that the youth of the state would not have to migrate for jobs.
Just as the BJP was upping its ante on the issue of unemployment, the Union Petroleum Minister Dharmenda Pradhan last week announced that the oil and gas discovered at Ashoknagar in North 24 Parganas district by the ONGC two years ago has good potential for commercial exploitation.
“ONGC is moving towards commercial production from its block in Bengal, which would put it on the oil map of the country,” Pradhan was quoted by media as saying at the annual general meeting of Merchants’ Chamber of Commerce and Industry (MCCI).
North 24 Parganas district administration has already started the process of transferring 12 acres of land to the ONGC for oil exploration at the oil blocks which reportedly has an estimated reserve of one lakh cubic metre per day of gas and an equal quantity of oil in litres.
Local TMC MLA Dhiman Roy said the oil exploration would usher in development and employment avenues not only for Ashoknagar, but also for the entire state.
State government officials are also optimistic about the project, saying if everything goes according to plan, commercial production could start as early as the end of this fiscal.
Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has also recently announced a few employment-generation schemes and directed the respective departments to prepare a roadmap to generate 35 lakh employment avenues in next three years in a pre-emptive move to blunt opposition attacks on unemployment.
As per government sources, the target is to create 15 lakh employment opportunities in the MSME sector, another five lakh in information technology sector, 10 lakh in agriculture and allied sector and five lakh in handloom and other sectors.
To create around three lakh employment in rural Bengal, the state government announced ‘Matir Srishti’ projects to develop horticulture, fisheries and poultry in barren areas of the Jungle Mahal districts.
The government, earlier this month, announced to provide motorcycles to nearly two lakh youths under its ‘Karma Sathi’ scheme to help them start businesses.
The motorcycle will be fitted with a detachable box where the beneficiaries can keep and sell items like fruits, vegetables, clothes and other items, Banerjee told a meeting in Bankura on Monday (November 23).
The beneficiaries will also be provided with soft loans from state co-operative banks.