The 20-lakh queue

The 20-lakh queue

Across UP, as safai karamchari posts open up for the first time in eight years, thousands are lining up, in the hope of a sarkari naukri – from an MBA graduate in Kanpur to a couple from Etah.

MORE than 20 lakh applications for around 20,000 posts. At 100 people for every post, jobs with Uttar Pradesh’s civic bodies could qualify as among the most coveted in the country.

This year, municipalities across the state have made it mandatory for applicants to the post of safai karamcharis — a contractual appointment — to clear a practical test along with an interview. While the minimum educational requirement is Class 8, since the posts were advertised in August 2016, those holding MSc, MCom and MBA degrees have been lining up, not just from Uttar Pradesh but also from Bihar, Jharkhand, Assam, as well as Kolkata, Delhi and Mumbai.

The municipalities have been holding ‘recruitment sessions’, where a batch of candidates, ranging from 100 to 500 people, are called for an interview, after which they are given brooms and other paraphernalia and told to head for the practical test of cleaning roads and gutters — all this for a job that would earn them Rs 15,000 to Rs 17,000 a month. The applicants are photographed while they perform their tasks.

Brijesh Kumar, Executive Officer of the Mathura Nagar Palika, says the practical tests were introduced this year to check “cases of fraud”. “There have been cases earlier where people hired for these jobs have transferred it to someone else. So this year, we want to make sure candidates are up to the task.” Nearly half of the applicants, say officers, belong to upper castes.

safai karamcharis, karamcharis, uttar pradesh government, uttar pradesh government jobs, uttar pradesh road cleaners, uttar pradesh news
At the Etah Nagar Palika office, 10,800 applications for 120 safai karamchari posts. (Source: Express photo by Manoj Aligadi)

In cities across UP, such as Meerut and Allahabad, the recruitment drive, the first since 2008, is yet to get off the ground as officials are struggling to deal with the sheer numbers that have to be fed into the computer database. “It will take us some time to filter these applications. How will we carry out so many interviews?” wonders R B Tiwari, Additional Municipal Commissioner, Meerut Municipal Corporation, which has received more than 1.5 lakh applications for 2,345 posts of sweepers.

Ram Singh Gautam, Deputy Commissioner, Agra Municipal Corporation, says, “Youngsters think of government jobs as a safe career and we understand this rush, but it is astonishing to see graduates and post-graduates applicants applying for Class IV category posts.”

Besides, these are contractual appointments — the employment contract can be terminated anytime and employees are not entitled to any of the benefits due to permanent workers, such as provident fund, sick pay and pension.

Nirankaar Singh, the man in charge of hiring at the Etah municipality, says, “In almost all the municipal corporations of UP, the selection committee gives weightage to those who have experience as sanitary workers or whose parents have been sanitary workers. Second, we look for physical fitness and finally, for aptitude — whether the candidate genuinely wants the job or is seeking just the perks of a government job.”

Lucknow Municipal Commissioner Uday Pratap says, “Ab band kamre mein, sofa kursi pe baith ke safaikarmi ko thodi na bharti karenge. Uske liye to nale ke paas chal ke jaana hi hoga (How can we recruit sanitary workers sitting in a closed room, on a sofa and chair. We must go to a drain to see them work).”

Etah in western UP is among the few districts where the recruitment process was recently completed, with the more manageable number of 10,800 applications for 120 posts. The successful 120 are set to get their jobs soon.

Meet 10 of the 20 lakh:

Prem Veer, 22

Vinita Kumari, 20
Class 12 pass
From Barma Nagar, ETAH

At the Etah Nagar Palika office, the husband and wife, carrying a seven-month-old baby, are the subject of much admiration. Other applicants note how Prem looked after the child when Vinita went in for the interview, and that she did likewise when it was his turn. The couple married 18 months ago.

A science graduate from a government college in Etah, Prem says he has failed to get a job so far — government or private — despite several attempts. A few months ago, he was called for an interview with the state education department but is yet to hear from them.

Prem says they came to today’s interview with much hope — “we thought at least one of us would get the job — but now that he has heard that “officials take Rs 2 to 3 lakh to give a job”, he is not so sure.

“I married early and I have no job. My parents have been helping us until now, but now that we have a baby, we need to earn,” says Prem, who has three elder brothers and a sister. While the family owns around 5 bighas, that isn’t enough to provide for their family of 15, he says.

Looking at his son, Prem says, “I don’t want him to become a sweeper, but for that, I have to get this job as it pays better then what even BTech graduates get in UP.”

Vinita admits she has never worked outside home before. However, she doesn’t mind, she says. “Safai to ghar mein bhi karte hain, thodi yahan bhi kar denge. Fark kya padta hai? Thode paise aa jayenge (We clean up at home anyway, we will do some of that here too. How does it matter? We will earn something that way).”

Jaipaal Singh, 35
Class 12
FROM Kasganj district

In the few minutes that Jaipaal has been standing in the queue, he has learnt something that has left him crestfallen: that there are more than 10,000 people like him in race for the 120 posts at Etah.

Bitter, Jaipaal launches a tirade against the “system of aarakshan (reservation). Claiming that he belongs to a Scheduled Caste and yet applied in the general category, he estimates he doesn’t stand a chance after the seats reserved for SC/STs are taken out of the total and others are mopped up by the contractual staff already working with the Etah civic body.

“Le de ke 10-12 posts mein, jiske paas paisa hoga woh naukri karega. Hum jaison ka kya? Ab tak bhatke hain naukri ke liye, aage bhi bhatkange (The handful of 10-12 posts that remain will be taken up by those with money. Who cares for people like us? We have been struggling for jobs, we will continue struggling),” he says.

The 35-year-old from Awas Vikas area in Kasganj district completed his Intermediate around 20 years ago from a school in Aligarh, and has since been trying without luck for government jobs, including in the Prasar Bharati, Provincial Armed Constabulary and Delhi Police. He now works for a private firm in Kasganj for around Rs 10,000 a month. His wife earns another Rs 2,000-3,000 as a domestic help.

While Jaipaal is still talking, a few people crowd around him. “Didn’t you see the man in the black shirt?” says one of them, pointing towards a parallel line for the interview. “Is ka jugaad hai, paisa diya hai. Iski naukri to pakki (He has connections, he has paid a bribe. His job is certain).”

Jaipal smiles wryly. “What can you do about the system?”

Sunita, 30
Class 10
From Etah

A widow and mother of two small children, one in kindergarten and the other a year older, Sunita says she desperately needs the job. So she reveals only her first name, including in the form, so that her surname doesn’t give away her caste. That puts her in a better position of securing the job, hopes Sunita.

Though she is a matriculate, she admits she can barely read and so, her options are limited. Sunita earns Rs 1,500 a month working as a help in a primary school on the Shikohabad-Etah road. Since her husband’s death three years ago, Sunita, who lives with her in-laws, is the only earning member.

Sunita says she realises that with so many applicants, she doesn’t stand much of a chance. “I could have got an SC/ST certificate for Rs 2,000-Rs 3,000. In fact, my neighbour advised me to get it made and even gave me an address where I could get one, but I didn’t. He said a lot of money changes hands and that’s how these appointments happen, but I can’t afford to bribe officials.”

She says both her children were down with fever but she had to leave them in the care of their grandparents and come for the interview.

As she speaks about her troubles, those standing near her in the queue reassure her, telling her that the test will end soon after which she can go home to her children.

Sunita says she is 30 and that time is fast running out. “A government job will make a big difference in my life. But the upper age limit for government jobs is 35. I only have a couple of years left to get there. I must get a job before my children get into higher classes.”

Raveena, 18
Class 10
FROM Aharmai village, Etah

In a corner of the Etah Nagar Palika office, Hari Shankar, 66, talks about why it’s important for his daughter Raveena to get the job of a sweeper. Should Raveena get the job, he says, it opens doors for Hari’s only son, who is in Class 7. “Use 15-16 hazaar milega. Itna to hum cheh mahinen me kamaa pate hain. Ladke ka bhi bhavishya ban jayega, shaher me padega (She will get Rs 15,000-Rs 16,000. We can only earn that much in six months. My son’s future will take a turn for the better, he can study in the city),” says Hari.

The family lives in Aharmai village, 30 km from Etah city. Hari works as a farm labourer and earns around Rs 5,000-Rs 6,000 a month. Two of his five children — four of them daughters — are still studying.

Raveena says she got to know of the job from posters displayed at the village stationery shop. The 18-year-old, who has studied till her Class 10, attached her Class 8 marksheet with the form since that was the minimum requirement for the job.

Raveena says she isn’t too worried about the job and what it entails. If she gets it, she will be the first working woman in the family, she says proudly.

Sitting on a plastic chair, Hari turns around to talk to people near him, asking some of them if they know of houses that he can take on rent in the hope that he will have to move with Raveena to the city if she gets the job.

Some of the applicants try to tease Hari, asking him if he won’t be embarrassed to live off his daughter’s money. Raveena immediately hushes them. “Padh likh gaye tab bhi ye nahin samjhe? Ab beti-bete mein koi fark nahin (You guys are educated but don’t realise this? Sons and daughters are equals).”

Vikas Yadav, 21
MSc 1st year student
From Udayapur village, ETAH

AS he rode his Hero motorcycle into the basement of the Etah Nagar Palika office, where the applicants are gathered, the 6-foot-tall Vikas is initially mistaken for an official. A few of the applicants approach him, showering him with questions about their interview slots and when the results would be out. “I don’t know myself,” he says to a few, before word spreads that he is here for the interview, just like them.

Minutes later, as he emerges from the interview and lines up for the practical test, Vikas looks downcast. The MSc first-year student from Udayapur village says he didn’t realise he would have to clear a drain as part of his test.

Ranjeet Kumar, another applicant in the queue with him, consoles him, saying even police constables have to perform tasks such as towing dead bodies, serving tea and coffee to higher officers and cleaning blood stains, tasks that may not necessarily be part of their job.

“Koi humare haath se paani tak to piyega nahin, kyunki hum safaiwale hain. To bus jhadu lagaani hai, or chain se ghar jana hai (No one will anyway ask for water from us, because we are safai karamcharis. So just sweep, and go home in peace),” Kumar advises.

Vikas’s father Bhajan Lal Yadav is a dairy owner while mother Sarla Devi is a government teacher. His two brothers are studying, one in Class 9 and the other in college, while Vikas graduated from a college in Etah and is now doing his postgraduation from the same college.

Vikas has twice earlier failed in his attempts to get a job. “In fact, I apply for all the jobs whose forms I see in the book shop near my home.”

Sunaina Vyas, 22
From Etah town

When Sunaina’s father Om Prakash Vyas, a head moharrir (a Class IV post) in the Etah municipal corporation, died of a heart attack three years ago, she got a job on sympathetic grounds. But the job — she works as a contractual computer operator in the Etah Nagar Palika — is a temporary one which earns her Rs 5,000 a month. So she now hopes to be a safai karamchari and earn Rs 17,000 a month.

Since she is already an employee with the corporation, she has been told that she can skip the interview — and the queues — and only turn up for the practical exams. So this morning, she reaches the Ramlila Grounds in Etah, where the practical test is being held, on her motorcycle, parks it in the basement of the municipality office, waves at a few familiar faces and gets hold of a broom.

Besides her pay and their father’s monthly pension of Rs 3,000, her family of seven — Sunaina and her three sisters, two brothers and their mother — count on the Rs 3,000 that Sunaina’s elder sister Shivani earns from working in a computer institute.

Nirankaar Singh, who is in charge of the recruitment drive in Etah, says they are hopeful of Sunaina getting the job. “We want her to get this job as it will help her family.”

As Sunaina struggles to sweep the park with a 5-ft-tall broom, Singh pats her on the head, teasing, “Theek se saaf karo, warna naukri cancel (Clean well, or no job).”

Smiling, she replies, “Uncle, photo khinch gaya naa jhadu pakde hue. Bus ab aage to aap dekh hi loge (Uncle, my photo with the broom has been taken. Now you will take care of the rest, won’t you?).”

But when it’s her turn to clean the drain, Sunaina refuses, saying she doesn’t want to dirty her jeans.

Anupam Kumar Mishra, 26

Anupam, who did his Bachelor’s in geography from PPS College, Etah, hopes to become an IAS officer. He believes this queue will help him get there someday. “I need books and coaching for the civil services exams, but my parents can’t afford it. If I get this job, I can earn some money and work towards my goal,” he says.

Three years ago, his parents got him married against his wishes, Anupam claims, and that has added to his responsibilities. While Anupam’s father is a farm labourer, his mother is a housewife. Anupam has three brothers who work in private firms, earning Rs 4,000-5,000 a month.

As Anupam talks about himself, other applicants crowd around and ask him what it takes to become an IAS officer. Bolstered by the audience, Anupam rails against the “system” of putting them through a practical exam.

A clerk from the Nagar Palika, who has been watching him, snubs him: “Yeh IAS-giri kisi aur ko dikhana. Tum jaison ke liye hi ye practical test rakha hai. Kahe se tum jaise hi naukri paa kar phir kaam karne nahin aate ho (Don’t boast about this IAS stuff here. This practical exam has been kept for people like you who don’t turn up for work after getting the job).”

Embarrassed, Anupam quietly sits down on one of the plastic chairs meant for the candidates.

Additional District Magistrate, Finance, Etah, Satish Pal, is kinder towards applicants like Anupam. “So many graduates and post-graduates apply every year for jobs such as these because there are not enough jobs in the market,” he says.

Bablesh Kumar, 35
Class 8
FROM Mirhaichi village, Etah

Not taking any chances, the father of four has applied with the municipalities of three cities — Etah, Kanpur and Lucknow. He says he has shortlisted houses on rent in all the three cities in the hope that he will get a job in at least one of them.

“It’s good to play safe. Chances of getting a job in Etah are minimal as there are just 120 posts here. In Kanpur, there are more than 3,200 posts and in Lucknow, 1,200,” says Bablesh, who just had his fourth child, a girl.

Bablesh studied up to his Class 8 at Mirhaichi village in Etah. He now works as a daily wager in Etah and earns Rs 200 a day, barely enough to send his three children to school.

Bablesh says he tried to make his wife complete her matriculation so that she could apply for a government job. “Magar woh to padhti hi nahin bilkul (But she doesn’t study at all),” he says.

While Bablesh may be spreading out his risks, Kanpur or Lucknow won’t be as easy as he believes.

Sunil Nigam, the head clerk at Kanpur Municipal Corporation, says he has received around 3.5 lakh applications for 3,245 posts, around 30 per cent of them from places such as Mumbai, New Delhi, Jharkhand, Bihar, Assam and Chhattisgarh.

In Kanpur, a team of almost 50 employees has been shortlisting names. The Kanpur Municipal Corporation estimates it will take them at least another month for the names to be finalised, after which they will begin calling the applicants for an interview, sometime in mid-January 2017.
Lucknow Additional Municipal Commissioner Nandlal says that for the 3,142 posts there, they have received almost four lakh forms.

Varun Kumar Singh, 23
From Kanpur

For the application form that he submitted at the Kanpur Municipal Corporation, Varun selected a photo of himself in a suit and tie. Officials scan their list of shortlisted applicants and admit the 23-year-old, with a B.Com, M.Com and MBA from Gautam Buddha Technical University in Lucknow, is perhaps the best-qualified candidate to have come to them so far. In Kanpur, the interviews are yet to begin as applications are still being shortlisted — Varun is among those shortlisted so far.

Speaking on the phone from Delhi, Varun says he applied for the job because he was excited about getting a government job that will earn him Rs 17,000 a month.

“I thought, sirf safai kar ke dikhana hi to hai! Kar lenge (All I have to do is demonstrate I can clean up. I will do that. What’s the big deal),” he says, adding that he hadn’t realised it was a safai karamchari’s post. “I don’t think I paid much attention to the application form. Galti se form bhar diya (I filled the form by mistake),” says Varun, who has an MBA in Finance and who applied in the Scheduled Caste category.

Varun’s father P L Chaudhary works in a private company in New Delhi and earns around Rs 25,000 a month. While the rest of the family is in Kanpur, Varun moved in with his father a couple of months ago and now works with a charted accountant for Rs 8,000 a month. His mother is a housewife while his elder brother, who has a Master’s in Computer Application (MCA), is unemployed and is looking for a job.

“While colleges are mushrooming everywhere, there are no jobs. My father spent Rs 5 lakh on my studies and an equal amount on my brother. But both of us have failed to help out,” he says.

Shyam Sundar Yadav, 27
From Basti

Shyam Sundar Yadav from Basti district of Uttar Pradesh cleared his B.Ed from Gorakhpur with 64 per cent marks and scored 68 per cent in the Teachers’ Entrance Test that he gave at Allahabad. However, he is also queuing up for a sweeper’s job with the Kanpur Municipal Corporation as teacher recruitments are far away.

In 2011, the Mayawati government announced that 72,000 teachers would be recruited on the basis of their TET scores. But a year later, when the Samajwadi Party came to power, the government overturned the earlier order and said TET scores wouldn’t be counted and teachers would be recruited on the basis of their academic records, prompting a number of candidates to move courts.

In 2014, the Supreme Court ruled that teacher recruitments would have to be done on the basis of the advertisement issued by the Mayawati government in 2012. Spurred by the court decision, many like Yadav approached SC. The case is pending in the apex court.

Shyam Sundar says he is desperate. “The TET eligibility case in in the High Court and there has been no decision yet. I completed my BEd five years ago and I am still unemployed. Here, the salary is great and I can always leave the job when teacher recruitments are announced.”

Son of a medical store owner in Basti, Shyam Sundar is the only unemployed male member in his family. His two elder brothers work in private firms in Lucknow and Delhi — “and they are both married”. That he is single at 27 has added to the pressure, he says. “I am yet to find a girl. I have to get a government job — even if it a sweeper’s — before I get a girl.”