Unemployment fuels Kashmir's mistrust and discontent
By Haris Zargar, Srinagar/New Delhi, March 17 : Lack of significant employment opportunities among the youth of Jammu and Kashmir is fuelling their sense of alienation and compounds their mistrust and anger against the government and New Delhi.
As per Census 2001, 71 percent of Jammu and Kashmir's population is under the age of 31. The number of registered unemployed youth is at a staggering 602,979 - 5.3 percent, double the national average of 2.6 percent.
The Sher-e-Kashmir Welfare Employment Programme (SKWEPY) was introduced in 2009 to generate job opportunities for 500,000 youths but till now has benefitted only 150,000 youths.
"Look at the sorry state of affairs in J&K. More than half a million educated youths are working like daily wagers," Irfan Dar, 25 , a filmmaker in Srinagar, told IANS, adding: "There is hardly any scope for even the higly-educated people to avail any employment opportunities. Many are eventually forced to move out."
B.A. Dabla, eminent sociologist at the University of Kashmir, believes that both the central and state governments are responsible for the current socio-economic situation.
"If we look at the current economic scenario of the Valley in perspective, it is almost in a virtual state of paralysis. With no serious educational and employment opportunities to avail, the anger and mistrust is evident on the ground. The government claims to provide special schemes, scholarships and economic packages, but in reality only a handful of chosen get such benefits," Dabla told IANS on phone from Srinagar.
Stating that big corporates are "disinterested" in investing in the state, Dabla said "whatever engagement is promised by them is done only for political purposes."
Emphasising on the need for revamping governance in the state, former interlocutor on Kashmir Radha Kumar said there is an increased risk of Kashmiri youth losing confidence in the system.
She felt that business houses will eventually start engaging more youth from the valley and make big investments in the state. "Last year the top business delegation led by Rahul Gandhi was a good initiative. I don't think it was a mere political gesture. But it will take time (for results to show)," Radha Kumar, who was part of a team that gave a set of recommendations to the government on Kashmir, told IANS in New Delhi.
Last October, a high-level business delegation led by Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi, which included the likes of Ratan Tata, Aditya Birla group chairman Kumar Mangalam Birla, HDFC chairman Deepak Parekh and Bajaj Auto managing director Rajeev Bajaj, had visited the state. However, concrete proposals are yet to fructify.
"Many schemes have done well and there has been improvement. We should deal with the fact that it is still very difficult for heavy and medium industries to invest in the Valley. We have been providing loans and subsidies to youth to start small enterprises. Our thrust has been particularly on the small scale and manufacturing industry," said a senior official in the state employment department declining to be named.
In 2011, an expert group headed by economist C. Rangarajan recommended a five-year skill development plan for the state at an annual expenditure of Rs.761 crore.
Among the other recommendations were a Rs.1,200 crore scheme for increasing access to education, a Rs.500 crore initiative for providing professional training to 40,000 educated youths and a Rs.257 crore project for skill development of up to 100,000 youths, besides programmes for reviving agriculture, textiles and handicrafts.
Based on the recommendations, two central schemes, Udaan and Himayat, were launched in December 2011 but are falling way short of their targets. Udaan aims to provide skills and employment to 8,000 youths each year over a five-year period in key high growth sectors, while Himayat scheme aims to train about 100,000 youths over five years and provide jobs to at least 75,000 of them.
The Himayat scheme has succeeded in training around 5,000 people, of whom around 60 percent have been given placements in and around Jammu and Kashmir, according to government data. The Udaan scheme has reached out to 8,700 youngsters over the past one-and-a-half years.
Sheikh Showkat Hussain, a political commentator in Srinagar, said the problem lay in the mindset of the administration. "Instead of creating avenues for job generation, the government is spending on creating menial jobs, due to which the vibrant private sector industries like handicraft, silk or fruit, which could have been developed are rendered sick and dying," Hussain, who teaches international law at the Central University Kashmir, told IANS.
He felt the government is "over-estimating and over emphasising" the importance of the tourism industry, with which only a small section of people is actually associated.
Prior to the Himayat and Udan projects, various other schemes were also launched by both the centre and the state government to tackle unemployment. However, experts say these programmes are falling short of their goals as the demands are greater. Besides, such projects don't provide comprehensive advanced training to youth.
(Haris Zargar can be contacted at email@example.com)