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Boon or bane?

Boon or bane?
Highlights

Last week Prime Minister Narendra Modi exuded confidence that India would rule the 21st century, the era of knowledge, as he put it. His optimism, apparently, stems from the presence of an exuberantly vibrant 800 million under-35 men and women, who can power the growth engine of the country. The dream of every youngster can become a progress story for the country, he noted. 

Last week Prime Minister Narendra Modi exuded confidence that India would rule the 21st century, the era of knowledge, as he put it. His optimism, apparently, stems from the presence of an exuberantly vibrant 800 million under-35 men and women, who can power the growth engine of the country. The dream of every youngster can become a progress story for the country, he noted.

However, amid optimism, a glaring dichotomy with reality should not to be overlooked. A fast growth rate with huge numbers of youth is not an end in itself. India's demographic dividend could turn out to be a bane or even a disaster, if not handled sensitively and sensibly. In 2014, Modi caught the imagination of youth and stormed to power.

Two years on, his promise of rapid development and jobs is yet to fructify. The result: a pervasive discontentment and social unrest across the country. We have just seen how, driven by desperation, lakhs of youth took to the streets in Gujarat, Haryana, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh to vociferously demand caste-based quotas in government jobs, as the private sector could not absorb them.

It is widely presumed that a 21st century illiterate is not one who neither reads nor writes but one who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn. Our educational system has to be reinvented to produce such talent. Various studies indicate that the percentage of workforce in the country’s organised sector is a mere 10 per cent of the total workforce.

And only 2-2.5% of the total force is skilled. In contrast, developed countries boast of a high percentage of skilled workers. The National Skill Development Agency (NSDA) says around 7.6 million youth were imparted one skill or the other in 2014-15.

Nearly twice that number is said to be dropping out of high school and after Plus Two. This is the group that the authorities should tap and make them industry-ready in a vocation that they feel comfortable in. NSDA target is 1.22 crore in 2016 fiscal.

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has already spoken about establishing 1,500 multi-skill training institutes. These will not suffice. The Centre must work out an effective employment strategy, by bringing on board State governments, too. Adding to the dropouts desperate for work are lakhs of youth graduating from colleges every year.

While one may infer it is largely a problem of urban youth, the reality is that millions of rural households have lost livelihood due to persisting agrarian distress, which has resulted in migration of farmers and labourers and also others dependent on farm sector.

True, creating enough jobs for all these youth involves revving up economy further. Sadly, major reforms which can push industry growth are stuck in legislative houses. Political parties which engage in endless and needless polemics should wake up to the fact that India is on the brink of a demographic disaster. But as of now, they only seem to be indulging in what Shakespeare stated: Words, words, words.

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