If you thought the average cobweb-laden, poorly-furnished, dilapidated government office with its bureaucratic stiffness is a spirit-dampener for the new-generation job-seeker, think again.

The lure of a government job continues to be very strong in Kerala in spite of the opening up of myriad opportunities in private sector that often offers walk-in interviews. For the average Malayali, the plush offices and sophisticated work culture in the private sector are no match for the job security, lax discipline, enormous holidays and leave schemes that the government jobs provide, no matter the job title.

Take for instance, the kind of response the Kerala Public Service Commission (PSC) recently received to its advertisement for the vacancies in the last grade (peon). Over 12 lakh people (12,31,499, to be exact) applied for the job, the lowest rank in government service. This is the largest number of applications the PSC has ever received for a job advertisement. As usual, Thiruvananthapuram district produced nearly 1.75 lakh applicants; followed by Kozhikode (1.25 lakh) and Ernakulam (about 1.11 lakh). Wayanad (35,000) and Kasaragod (40,000) lagged behind.

The total number of applicants works out to be roughly four per cent of Kerala's population. If you consider the fact that the applicants are in the 18-40 age group, more than 10 per cent of the young population in the State have applied for the lowly peon's position, which is a relic of the British Raj.

Majority overqualified

PSC officials point out that the huge majority of applicants for this job are overqualified. (The minimum educational qualification is the ability to read and write Malayalam; PSC has recommended to the government to raise the minimum qualification to class VII pass). The majority are college graduates, professional degree holders, postgraduates, M.Phil. holders and doctoral researchers.

Why does a government job hold such a strong charm? “Because your life is secured,” says Roma Anand of Kollam, who has an M.Phil. in Zoology and a B.Ed. “The salary is not that poor (Rs. 7,000 plus); and, think of the pension until death and after death (for the dependants), ” she says.

She, however, adds that she does not consider any job infra dig. Mrs. Anand, who has a small child, has signed up for a three-month coaching class that prepares the last grade prospects for the job test.

Zareena Hamza of Vaikom, a holder of M.Sc. and B.Ed. degrees, who is in her mid-thirties and who has had several teaching offers from private schools, says her family had always wanted her to get a government job. “This is the last chance I have to get into government service,” she told The Hindu. “It just happens that it is a peon's post; I just don't bother.” Her father is happy that she might get a job that would take care of her until her death.

She points out that the job would not be taxing, leave her with a lot of spare time, and there would be many holidays and hartals. "Also, if I am not happy with the job, I can go on a long leave for 10 or 15 years, after one year's service," she contends. "If I try for other better government jobs, my service period as a peon would be counted, too."

PSC official points out last grade employees will be considered for vacancies of clerical posts in future. “If there are 100 vacancies of clerks or clerk-cum-typists, 10 would be for last grade employees who score just the pass mark in the clerical job test,” he said.

The official notes that the biggest attraction of the government job still is the liberty one could take with work — lax discipline, no strict insistence on reporting for work on time — so that the staffers could treat it as part-time and mind their other interests or businesses. “It is security and stability of work with not much work to do,” he says.

The district-wise last grade job test will begin on June 12 in Kasaragod and Wayanad districts and will go on in other districts until November. Some 12,000 persons from among the 12.3 lakh applicants are likely to be appointed over the next five years, after the current 'live list' in each district runs out.

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