IT’S A post of ‘Gram Rakshak Dal’ attached with the Gujarat Police, offering Rs 230 a day for eight hours of duty, Rs 69 less than what the MNREGA pays, and lesser than the minimum wage. However, partly fuelled by the pandemic job losses and partly by the lure of government service, the state has got more than 50,000 applications for the 9,902 posts advertised in October.
A video of the recruitment drive held on November 27, at the Palanpur Police Training Ground in Banaskantha, Gujarat’s border district, went viral when over 6,500 candidates turned up for 650 GRD posts. Unprepared for the numbers, police had to threaten a lathicharge to control them.
Among the applicants that day was a 21-year-old from Iqbalgarh village, who dropped out of school in Class 8. It was his first attempt at an entrance examination, the youth, who didn’t want to be identified, said. “I started doing chhutak majdoori (daily wage labour) from the age of 17 to support my family. After the lockdown, I have been sitting idle at home for more than two years.”
He used to earn “at least double” as a labourer on a good day before the pandemic than what the GRD post is offering, he says, adding, “But I want to join the police service now. The honour of wearing a police uniform is what draws me.”
Another aspirant, a 30-year-old, also earns much more as a truck driver, ferrying sharecroppers and migrant workers from nearby Rajasthan villages to Gujarat, but wants the security of the GRD job. “A good day fetches me Rs 600-700 a day now, but driving police vans is a much more respectable job.” He also hopes that the eight-hour job will leave him time to keep riding trucks on the side.
GRD or ‘village defence parties’ are volunteers commanded by respective superintendents of police (SP) deployed in all 33 districts of Gujarat, and assist police in night patrolling, bandobast and crowd control. Any village resident between the ages of 20 and 50 can apply, and is selected after a physical test, of height, chest and weight, and a physical endurance test which involves running 800 metres in 4 minutes for men, and 800 metres in 5.30 minutes for women. The GRDs are entitled to Rs 230 for eight hours of duty (since it is considered “volunteer” service), without benefits such as pension, bonus, medical reimbursement and leave travel concession.
Apart from the GRD posts, the Gujarat government is hiring for posts of police sub-inspectors, intelligence officers, assistant sub-inspectors, Lok Rakshak Dal (LRD) personnel, and home guards, to be filled in the next three months.
For the 10,000 LRD constable posts, Gujarat has received more than 8.86 lakh applications. The applicants have to be Class 12 pass and apart from a physical and endurance test, have to clear a written test. The 6,700 vacancies for Home Guard jawans have got 36,000 applications.
The Gujarat Labour Department has 88,933 people registered in the unorganised sector in Banaskantha district, where the rush of applicants resulted in a near lathicharge. An overwhelming 87.39% of them earn below Rs 10,000 a month, while 62.83% of them are in the working age population of 18-40 years. Nearly 80% of those in the unorganised sector belong to either OBC or Scheduled Castes.
A large majority (51,224) are employed in agricultural activities, and the ratio of men to women is 57.5:43.5.
Besides, 10,800 unemployed persons in Banaskantha district are registered as “job seekers” in the offline category alone with the Directorate of Employment and Training.
Jignesh Mevani, who represents Vadgam constituency in Banaskantha as an Independent and is now aligned with the Congress, said the numbers telling the district’s unemployment story are not unique to Banaskantha alone. “It is just that at the recruitment drive of the GRD, we saw a sample of the crisis which has been simmering for some time now. You can gauge the situation of unemployment by the number of applications coming even for low-paying jobs like GRD,” Mevani said, adding that the pay was “a violation of the criteria of minimum wages”.
The “crores of jobs” lost during the pandemic were also reflected in the rising demand for MNREGA, Mevani added.
Among those in the queue for an LRD post is a 21-year-old. Appearing for the physical endurance test at the Gandhinagar SP office in Porbandar, she said she had been preparing for the Mahila Constable job for two months. She is a graduate in Economics from a state university.
“The salary of an LRD constable starts from Rs 19,000 and there are benefits of housing, LTC and medical reimbursement which come with a government job. If I am able to secure the LRD constable post, it will give me financial security. After that I will prepare for the Gujarat Public Service Commission (GPSC) exam,” she said.
Another woman applicant, the 20-year-old daughter of a serving police constable, said she wished to follow in the footsteps of her father. Once she had cleared the LRD test, she said, she would study further as she had only studied till Class 12. “I will then try to become a police officer.”