'Mission Youth' can be a game changer

In the past few weeks we have observed that the J&K government has been pulling socks up to uplift, mentor and provide sustainable livelihood to youth of Jammu & Kashmir. In line with the contemplated youth empowerment plans, we witnessed launch of several ambitious customized youth livelihood programmes under the banner of ‘Mission Youth’ in financial and transport sectors. Pertinently, ‘Mission Youth’ of J&K government is working with its vision and strategy for engaging and channelizing the youth of J&K through systematic livelihood generation programmes. It’s noteworthy that focus on youth to channelize their energy and throwing decent livelihood opportunities in their way is precursor to any development initiative, at least in a region like J&K.

The current initiative rolled out by the Lieutenant Governor, Manoj Sinha is indicating a major shift in focus of the government to realize the power of youth for the overall development of the J&K region. The initiative is going to be a shot in the arm of youth empowerment. It’s a golden opportunity for the youth to realize their dreams and be part of this sustainable livelihood campaign to achieve peace, prosperity and profits.

Before deliberating on these renewed youth developmental programmes, which appear to mark a positive difference in the governance system, let’s first have a look at the past performance of those who were at the helm of affairs. Ours (J&K) is known as a unique place in all respects – be it our geographical location, social structure, economic scenario or for that matter our political scenario. Geographically it is remotely located, socially our structure is undergoing fast disintegration, where our social values are taking backseat, and economically we continued to remain backward despite huge reservoirs of untapped economic potential. And politically it has most of the time remained synonym to turmoil.

The kind of governance in J&K in historical perspective merits a mention. We know governance as an all-inclusive concept entailing effective management of human resources, public institutions and natural endowments in the interest of good life. It implies the process by which the ruled are guaranteed the right to good life which inter alia include good housing, sufficient food, quality education, justice and fair play, security of life, liberty and property.

What happens when corruption becomes an abiding and accepted norm in a society? What happens when the levers of power decide to condone wrong, at a price and citizens recognise the weakness of those who make the law and the two join hands to break the law?  It is of course scary. In simpler terms, it converts governance into chaos exposing the dignity and integrity of civil society to the dangers.

If we look at our place, neglect of even basic concept of governance was not a sudden phenomenon. There has been gradual decline in the heritage of trust in the institutions of governance since 1947. We found borrowed ideas implemented without assessing the suitability, acceptability and adaptability to the local environment. Even lack of social discipline here has remained among the major obstacles to good governance.

When we talk of governance, it’s youth who form pillars of quality governance. As far as Kashmiri youth is concerned, the story of exploitation of his sentiments and feelings is a recorded fact. For all these decades, the political players were engaged in fashioning the mentality of the youth to suit their own interests and hardly we find any evidence of channelizing  their energy for overall development of the region. Strengthening the relationship between a government and the youth was never a priority. Most of those at the helm of affairs were not listening enough and not seeking participation of the youth which led to declining confidence among the youth on the governing system. Precisely, Kashmiri youth’s past has been pitiable

Throughout all these decades Kashmiris suffered from a stagnant economy and high unemployment menace. This situation only produced disillusioned youth facing identity crisis. They, most of times, failed to translate their dreams into realities and there was no light at the end of the tunnel for them.

Now the ‘Mission Youth’ programme rolled out by the present government is a ray of hope which can turn the things around as we can smell ‘governance as responsibility and not as opportunity’. It’s heartening to note that under this initiative, the J&K government has been continuously working on policy and process interventions to bridge the skill gaps, create conducive environment for collaborative efforts to generate employment opportunities in various sectors for the youth of Jammu & Kashmir.

We witnessed the collaboration of J&K Government and the BSE Institute known for its excellence in Banking and Financial training. BSE, Asia’s oldest stock exchange, has signed four MoUs with Mission Youth, Government of J&K to spread financial awareness, support economic development, and encourage sustainable livelihood in the Union Territory.

In the words of LG Sinha, financial sector in Jammu and Kashmir has evolved significantly over the years and has been a key driving force behind economic growth. And dishing out intentions to utilize double digit growth in the banking sector at the national level with J&K’s rich and available demographic dividends is heartening.

Remarkably, the association with BSE will enable local youngsters and women particularly to learn more about the financial world, develop requisite skills essential to make a career in theBanking, financial services and insurance (BFSI) space.

Here it is worth mentioning that economic experts have picked J&K having a tremendous potential for financial services. Financial services sector is a labour intensive, manpower intensive and skill intensive. In a single building we can generate employment for large number of people. Infrastructure is needed only in terms of a secured building and infrastructure for high speed uninterrupted internet connectivity for global trading. If the potential of this sector is explored, J&K can become a part of trillions dollar trade conducted globally.

Meanwhile, let me reiterate that ours is a rich economy. But we have not been able to keep pace with the national economy and this has led to poor employment scenario. The reason is lack of a valid developed private sector and lack of private investment base. This lack of investment in our economy is the core of the issue. While we witness a burgeoning number of unemployed youth in Kashmir, at the same time thousands of people coming as skilled and unskilled work force from outside the state find work here. This situation can simply be defined as a paradox. And the reason for this absurdity is the skill profile of our unemployed youth in the current times which is not what the market needs. This gap between the market requirements and the available unemployed youth force is basically the problem of employability.

This is the scenario which only leads us to believe that we have opportunities to employ people but it’s the lack of skill among our unemployed youth which is an impediment in their employment. So, to address the unemployment issue, the basic thing is to change the skill profile of our youth to meet the market needs.

If current initiatives aiming at realizing the power and potential of J&K youth are taken into consideration, a new era of economic development of the region is not far away. Giving wings to the power of youth of J&K in true sense will transform the region to become the hub of industrial activities in the northern region.

Take the case of Information Technology (IT) – the sunrise industry. It has revolutionized the way human beings organize themselves. It has transformed beyond recognition, the way industries operate. This sector is one of the top most potential sectors of Investment in J&K. By now there should have been an IT revolution in J&K. But nothing much has happened on this front. There is no dearth of the manpower and as far as climatic conditions are concerned, there is nothing averse which can hamper the IT revolution.

Being a knowledge-based industry, the large pool of educated manpower available in J&K can be trained in IT sector to cater to the emerging needs and challenges in the industry. There is urgent need to fall back upon hardware as well as software professionals in the sector for creating an atmosphere where unemployed youth are technically empowered to start their own IT businesses. This will be a big leap forward if hospitality is extended to foreign investors for their investment in IT sector in J&K.

Other potential sectors of investment include electronic and precision engineering, food processing, handloom and handicrafts, sericulture and silk industry, textiles and readymade garments and agro-based industry. Livestock based industry, leather and leather goods, processing of gems and precious stones and mining projects and mineral based industry are other potential sectors which can revolutionize the economic scenario if explored to the maximum.

Lastly, let brand India, which is firmly entrenched in the international psyche as a growth engine of the global economy, be leveraged by J&K as a cushion to realize economic development never-seen-before.

(The views are of the author & not the institution he works for)