THE ongoing ferment in Jammu and Kashmir that began in the aftermath of a hanging and spilled over into the streets has not been the only kind of protest witnessed in recent times. One of the issues that have vexed the political establishment at the Centre and in the State for a long time has been that of finding the right kind of measures to keep young people from taking part in sporadic protests and stone-throwing. The need to address what is described as the “unique demographic dividend”, the age group of 13-35 years that comprises 40 per cent of the total population in India, has never been felt as acutely as before.
The National Youth Corps (NYC), launched in 2010, has as many as 8,000 volunteers in Jammu and Kashmir, constituting 40 per cent of a countrywide strength of 20,000. The Government of India launched the scheme in 2010, amalgamating two existing schemes, the National Service Volunteer Scheme and the Rashtriya Sadbhawana Yojana. Jammu and Kashmir received special emphasis under the scheme because of the unrest there. Yet, it did not stop young people in the State from coming out on the streets.
Under the NYC scheme, young men and women between 18 and 25 years of age were eligible to serve up to two years in “nation-building activities” for a monthly honorarium of Rs.2,500, but not if they were enrolled for a regular academic course. Volunteers were selected on the basis of merit and deployed in 13 government departments, including Rural Development, Tourism, Youth Services and Sports, and Social Welfare, and municipal corporations. These young volunteers have been involved deeply in most of the government’s flagship rural development schemes and programmes such as the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, the Indira Awaas Yojana and the Sampoorna Gramin Rozgar Yojana. They have worked in Total Sanitation Campaigns and in the economic census. It was all hard work for a pittance, involving as many hours as demanded by any regular employment, and it was meant to keep these young people away from violence.
Indeed, employment generation in the State is deemed as a crucial policy initiative to wean the young from sporadic protests. And there has been, in fact, a reasonably good response to employment-generation schemes, which is not unsurprising in a State where the young make up 40 per cent of the population and where more than 6,00,000 young people are registered with various district employment and counselling centres.
New tensions Yet, such schemes breed new tensions when measures fall short of meeting the needs of the people. Volunteers under the NYC, for instance, are aggrieved at not being absorbed into government jobs with decent salaries.
Muddasir Hassan, State president of the All J&K Youth Corps Volunteers Association, an organisation of NYC volunteers, said that the volunteers sought regular employment in the one lakh vacancies in State government departments. “At least there should be some plan to regularise us in the various departments where we have gained experience and to enhance our salaries. We left our studies midway for this task of nation-building. Most of us are in terrible depression: nearly two lakh people depend on us for their livelihood,” he told Frontline in Delhi. He makes frequent trips to the Ministries concerned, and this was his fourth trip to the capital. His attempts to meet the top brass of the Congress leadership had failed.
He contended that NYC volunteers did all kinds of work under government departments in far-flung areas under hostile conditions, yet the government’s approach was cavalier. “We have played a role in bridging the gap between the people and the government. Without any insurance cover, we helped in the panchayat elections in 2011. All that we are demanding is a decent salary on which we can support ourselves and our families,” he said.
Asif, another office-bearer of the association, told Frontline that the problems of the youth could not be addressed in this manner. “We are neither here nor there. Our work experience has also gone waste. We are laughed at by those who scoffed at us for taking up NYC work as they see us now being abandoned by the same governments at the Centre and the State,” he said.
“If the voice and anguish of the youth is heard, we will show that we are nation-builders,” said Jagdeep Singh Randhawa from Jammu, treasurer of the association. He pointed out that the volunteers hailed from remote areas and were from relatively poor families. “Even though they call us nation-builders, the government departments with which we are associated do not respect us for our work. Some of us have been issued suspension orders too, though we are volunteers. People feel that we are doing a great job, but we know what we go through,” he said. During the Amarnath yatra, for instance, NYC volunteers did not go home for nearly six months.
The situation reached a flashpoint in March last year, and NYC volunteers came out on the streets. They were lathi-charged, and even women were injured. “No youngster wants to do stone-throwing. But the Centre and the State governments do not understand the problems of the youth,” said Aijaz Ali Shah, another office-bearer of the association.
The matter was raised in the recent Assembly session. Mohammad Yousuf Tarigami, MLA from the Communist Party of India (Marxist), demanded the regularisation of NYC volunteers. He argued that even though the period of their engagement may have got over, given the quality of service offered by them the government should ensure the continuation of their services under a new, comprehensive policy that would safeguard their future.
Ironically, instead of regularising NYC volunteers in government jobs or providing them further training, the Central government has been launching new employment schemes. These schemes, such as Himayat and Udaan, do not guarantee any employment on decent wages and have only invited cynicism. Indeed, there appears to be no long-term strategy to guarantee decent and sustainable employment.
The Himayat scheme was launched last year as an initiative of the Ministry of Rural Development. Only 2,504 unemployed youngsters received training under it, against a targeted 15,000. The scheme aims at training some one lakh young people over five years and to provide 75 per cent of them jobs.
Udaan was launched in March 2012. The objective was to provide skills and employment to 8,000 young people over five years. Training was to be provided by the National Skills Development Corporation (NSDC) with an assurance of placements in the private sector.
The scheme, billed as a “unique partnership between corporates, the NSDC and the youth of Jammu and Kashmir”, did not take off. Now, Udaan has been modified and targets some 40,000 youth, who will be trained over the next five years by the NSDC.
At the end of this period they are to be recruited by corporates. The government, clearly, will have no control over the salaries, allowances and other emoluments offered.
The problem lies in the fundamental approach to designing schemes as a means of employment generation and inclusive growth. Jobs for the youth are envisaged as temporary sops or doles to alleviate economic and other sufferings to an extent, not as a long-term solution. The overall outcome is more resentment.