Unemployment is increasing steadily in tribal dominated Sundargarh district of Orissa despite presence of rich mineral resources, giant Rourkela Steel Plant (RSP) and many industrial units in the region.

Despite Orissa Government’s strict instruction to the industrial units to engage local people and assurance to the local youths to provide employment, the job scenario is bleak. According to official data, the number of registered unemployed stood at 75,378, including 45,643 men and 19,735 women. Among them 2367 are Engineering Diploma holders while 5954 are Industrial Training Certificate holders.

The district has the country’s first public sector Rourkela Steel Plant (RSP) after Independence. The RSP’s modernisation and expansion work is in full swing with an estimated expenditure of Rs 12,000 crore. Most modernisation and expansion work have been entrusted to reputed firms mostly from outside the state, which have engaged skilled and unskilled labour mostly drawn from out of the state.

The district has 46 sponge iron units and more than 80 stone crushing plants. As per the guidelines of Orissa Industries Department, sponge iron units should appoint 30 per cent skilled and 60 per cent unskilled labour with few senior experienced officials locally. But locals say the sponge iron factories had been violating employment norms.

According to Harbinder Singh, President of the Rourkela Unemployed Youth Association, the sponge iron factories have been getting labour from outside the state. As a result local unemployed youth are deprived of their rights.

The unemployment figure has been increasing day by day and unofficially it has crossed more than one lakh in Sundargarh district, he said adding if the government fails to take action to provide employment, the Association will launch an agitation.

Mr Singh alleged that the owners of the plants have brought workers from Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and West Bengal to engage in their factories at a cheaper rate and were exploiting them by engaging at work for more than 12 hours per day.

Rourkela Unemployed Youth Association, Rourkela Unemployed ITI Association and Indian Democratic Youth Federation have been fighting for employment and submitted several memorandum to the District Administration and Management of the RSP.

But no action had been initiated. Although several meetings had been organised under the chairmanship of Additional District Magistrate, Rourkela for providing local employment with the management’s representatives of RSP and Sponge Iron units, they had been ignoring the government’s instruction, Raj Kishore Pradhan, President, Unemployed ITI Association said here.

The State Government is issuing licences to private sector sponge iron factories by not bothering to enforce the law to provide local employment. Local people are facing high pollution and other industrial hazards but unfortunately deprived of their rights, Bishnu Mohanty, former trade union leader and CITU general secretary of Orissa unit said.