Nepal could soon take aim at unemployment with a measure emulating a jobs programme in India.
Last November, in a snapshot of Nepal's dire unemployment situation, government-owned Nepal Airlines advertised 119 vacant posts. It received more than 23,000 applications.
Unemployment and underemployment are perennial characteristics of this impoverished country. Official statistics put unemployment rates at just under 3%, but according to 2011 World Bank figures, the actual rate is around 9%.
The government hopes to address the problem with its proposed Nepal Employment Guarantee Bill -- modeled after India's Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act. For working Nepali youth, the need is great. The country has been haemorrhaging younger citizens looking for work elsewhere.
According to Sthaneshwor Devkota, director of the Foreign Employment Promotion Board (FEPB), an average of 1,100 people leave the country daily for opportunities overseas. Most are under 30 and seek both steady employment and steady pay.
Surya Sunuwar, 26, earned a degree in media technology from Purbanchal University in Kathmandu, but survives on freelance photography assignments. "It has already been more than two years since I graduated, but I am yet to find a job," he told Khabar South Asia.
"I have sat for more than six job interviews to date but am yet to get one. A vacancy for a few posts draws hundreds of applications and the competition is fierce," he added.
The proposed new legislation would guarantee employment to one adult in every household. Drafted by the country's National Planning Commission, the bill has been agreed to in principle by the cabinet and is awaiting approval of the Law Ministry.
"The bill envisions that at least one adult member from every family will get at least 100 days of employment every fiscal year. Else the government will provide the person with 50% of the minimum wage for 100 days as an unemployment benefit," Dipendra Bahadur Kshetry, Vice-Chairman of the National Planning Commission, told Khabar.
Currently, the minimum wage is Rs. 6,200 month ($78).
The Indian measure was enacted in 2005. As of June 2010, it had provided jobs to 18 million households, India's minister of state for rural development, Pradeep Jain, told lawmakers there.
The programme has not been without controversy, however, with some workers complaining of delays in their payment.
Economist Chiranjibi Nepal, a former adviser to the Nepalese government, is sceptical that a similar plan can work in his country.
"The government is already in so much debt," he told Khabar. "Where will the government get the additional fund required for the scheme? Even India's rural employment scheme is running into budgetary problems. Will Nepal be able to sustain it?"
Kshetry, however, is optimistic, saying the government already has dedicated funds for social security and services.
"The bill will help channel them into more effective modes of helping people through employment opportunities," the Planning Commission official said. "Since poverty alleviation is on priority list of all ministries, implementation of the bill is unlikely to encounter resistance or lack of support."