Narad Rana of Shuklaphanta Municipality-10 (Kanchanpur) had been working as a hotel waiter in India’s Gujarat for 17 years before the Covid-19 pandemic rendered him jobless and forced him to return home. He had left Nepal all those years ago after he couldn’t land a job here. The situation is worse today.
“In India, I used to earn well enough to look after my family here. Now I am jobless and worried about what to do next,” he shares.
Deepak Bhatta of Bhimdutta Municipality-6 (Kanchanpur) feels likewise. He had been working as a security guard in Gujarat for the past four years. But the pandemic shut down his company and he lost his job. He too has returned home and is jobless. “The owner of the company sent us home. I don’t know what I will do here,” he says. Not having a job troubles him more than the fear of the virus.
In Nepal, big industrial units are closed and the current budget has no plan for youth employment, he observes. “Even farming is full of problems. We don’t get fertilizers and seeds on time.” He reckons the government’s lack of plan and vision will hinder the growth of agricultural. “Our only option is agriculture, which, sadly, has never been a government priority.”
Such is also the experience of Harka Bahadur Chand and Umesh Singh Thagunna of Dhangadhi Sub-Metropolitan City-1 (Kailali). Chand returned recently from India’s Rajasthan via the Gauriphanta border point. Thagunna and his brother returned from Bangalore. They used to earn enough in India to sustain their family back home. They too think agriculture could be an option for returning migrants, but don’t know how to get started.
“We worry about what we can do here. Hundreds of thousands are returning from India. Finding jobs for them all will be difficult,” says Chand.
India is the major labor destination for the residents of nine districts in Sudurpaschim. Although the government has no data on such migrants, non-governmental organizations estimate 30 percent of people from this province are currently in India for work. According to the 2011 Census, the province is home to 2.5 million people. That puts the number of migrant workers at around 750,000. As per government records, over 242,000 workers have returned from India since the first week of March.
While the returnees are worried about finding a job, experts say the youths need to start thinking of self-employment. Chairman of Baitadi Chamber of Commerce and Industry Nara Bahadur Chand suggests the returning youths start organic farming in the hills. “If they grow and sell off-season vegetables, they will make more money here than they did in India. Our farmlands have now turned into unattended forests.”
The government should stop giving subsidies to party cadres and use those funds to provide returning youths with seed capital, fertilizers, and seeds to start farming, Chand suggests.
Former Registrar of Sudurpaschim University, Hemraj Panta, asks the government to recognize the skills of returning youths. “Hundreds of thousands are currently in quarantine. The government should mobilize local bodies to find out the skills of these people.” After that, self-employment programs should be started according to their skillsets, he recommends. He too reckons agriculture is a sector with high promise: “The government should boost agriculture in order to substitute imports from India.”