The months-long national lockdown imposed in a bid to curb the spread of coronavirus and lack of economic momentum following it have posed an extreme crisis of employment opportunities in the country.

Around 700,000 people have sought employment from the government through the Prime Minister (PM) Employment Programme which was introduced to provide employment opportunities for 100 days a year in small development projects.

In the last fiscal year, as many as 400,057 people from across the country had enlisted themselves in local level employment service centers to participate in the Prime Minister Employment Program.

The deadline for enlisting names for this fiscal, however, has yet to arrive and the government has already extended the deadline to incorporate all unemployment persons. So far, the number of registered unemployed has reached 686,785.

The Ministry of Labor, Employment and Social Security estimates that by the time the listing is completed, the number of unemployed will stand at almost twice more than that of last year.

Meanwhile, government officials say many people do not register themselves for the program despite being unemployed. Most of the educated but unemployed youth are not interested in registering their names on the list as they may be required to do manual labor in the construction sector.

Now, if the government is to work as promised, it will have to provide employment to at least 686,785 people for a minimum of 100 days.

As a budget of only Rs 11 billion has been allocated for the PM Employment Program this year, the program’s fund is unlikely to be able to create as many jobs as required. Comparing the budget and the number of unemployed, according to the government’s target, about 400,000 listed unemployed will not be able to benefit from the program.

According to the National Labor Survey 2018, almost 11 percent of the total capable manpower were unemployed and 39 percent of them were semi-employed. The national economic census showed that the share of those working in the informal sector was about 41 percent.

Agriculture provided about 60 percent work opportunity while construction provided 14 percent and industries provided 8.1 percent.

Many workers in the construction, tourism, industrial and other sectors have become unemployed after the pandemic. Tourism and construction sectors, which employ over one million workers, have yet to gain momentum.

At the same time, about 151,000 youths have lost their jobs abroad and returned home. Although some of them have returned back abroad after renewing their labor permits, most of them have started turning to manpower companies.

Similarly, Nepali workers who had returned from India overnight in the beginning of the pandemic are now going back. Unemployed people in the country are frustrated as the pandemic even took away seasonal work opportunities.

According to Keshav Subedi, coordinator of the PM Employment Program, conditional grant of around Rs 7 billion has reached the local levels as per the plan to involve the listed unemployed persons in the construction and community maintenance projects on daily wage basis.

The Ministry of Labor, Employment and Social Security has a plan to provide employment to 200,000 people by implementing labor-intensive projects in the local level public works this year.

So far this year, Rs 6.89 billion has been provided to the local levels, out of which 133,327 people will be provided employment for at least 100 days, according to the Ministry.

An additional Rs 3.44 billion will be redistributed in the current fiscal year, said Bharat Mani Panda, spokesperson of the Ministry.

The government had sent Rs 4.75 billion to the local levels for the same program four months ago.

The federal government has also shown no interest in using the money to address the problem of job creation and employment opportunity.

The government has sent such amount to the local levels to provide unemployed people with work on small construction projects like in the past. However, the enlisted persons chose to sit idle stating that development works could not be done during the rainy season.

Since the money for the PM Employment Program mostly sits accumulated in the local levels’ bank accounts for want of appropriate employment opportunities, workers are fleeing to India in search of jobs.

The budget for current fiscal promised to create employment for 800,000 people. The government had pledged that 150,000 jobs would be created by mobilizing Rs. 19 billion of the Poverty Alleviation Fund, including Rs. 200,000 through the Prime Minister’s Employment Program.

It was also announced that 75,000 jobs would be created through skill-based training provided by the federal government and 50,000 through long-term and short-term training at the state and local levels.

Similarly, the government had promised 12,000 people would be employed through the youth self-employment program, and a specified number of concessional loans would be disbursed from each bank branch. All yet to materialize.