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BackYou are here: NewsIndia A billion-dollar plan to train youth in Red belt


A billion-dollar plan to train youth in Red belt

NEW DELHI: For school dropouts and unemployed tribal youth in Chhattisgarh’s Dantewada and Maharashtra’s Gadchiroli, poverty and hopelessness have long been two key binding factors in their lives.

Now the government wants to lock them, and with them youth in 32 districts spread across seven other states, in one tight embrace to keep them away from the third factor common to these areas: the Maoists.

Aware that the spreading menace cannot be tackled purely as a law-and-order issue, the government is readying a ‘hearts and mind’ plan to send youth from Maoist areas to industrial training institutes in major cities such as Kolkata and Hyderabad, while simultaneously rolling out a network of brand new training centres in 34 districts across nine states.

Under this plan, about 5,000 school dropouts and unemployed youth from the country’s so-called “red corridor” districts will, starting August this year, board trains to travel to the country’s best industrial training centres, a senior government official told ET.

“We want to give them a glimpse into the outer world and access training facilities that are not available in their districts,” said the official, adding that the second leg of the plan involves placing youth trained under this plan with industries in neighbouring states and cities such as Mumbai and Hyderabad.

Conceived by the labour ministry, the plan has the backing of the home ministry, which is at the forefront of battling the Maoist problem and suffered a major embarrassment after 76 paramilitary personnel were killed in the Dantewada jungles early this month. The plan is estimated to cost around $1 billion and will be bankrolled by the Centre.

“Trained youth can work anywhere in the country, but we have seen that young people in strife-torn areas are averse to being too far from their families. So a Jharkhand resident should be able to get a job in Orissa, if he or she prefers,” the official said requesting anonymity.

The plan that has the support of the Planning Commission needs to be okayed by the finance ministry, but a prominent Left leader told ET that training and reskilling could wait until issues regarding land are sorted out.

“Segregating the population and taking the young people out of the region is a very short-sighted approach. What will happen to the middle-aged and old people there?,” asked D Raja, national secretary of the Communist Party of India (CPI).

He said the government must have a comprehensive approach and implement existing land-related laws such as the one against land alienation and the Forest Rights Act immediately. “Ensure that the employment guarantee scheme and public distribution system work in these areas and people have access to health and schools. Training and jobs come after that,” Mr Raja told ET.

While Mr Raja’s statement is in line with the broad stand taken by the Left on the Maoist issue, the new government plan is aligned with the vision of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on the subject.

“We cannot overlook the fact that many of the areas in which such extremism flourishes are under-developed and many of the people, mainly poor tribals, who live in these areas have not shared equitably the fruits of development,” Mr Singh told civil servants last week.

The new plan, conceived after a cabinet secretary-led task force on left-wing extremism asked ministries to come up with special interventions and development programmes for Naxal-affected regions, has the backing of the Planning Commission, and is awaiting the finance ministry’s approval.

More than 95% of administrative blocks in districts worst hit by left-wing extremism have no training institutes or higher education opportunities.

Work is underway to build 1,500 new industrial training institutes (ITIs) and 5,000 skill development centres (SDC) across the country using the public-private partnership model, but this does not include Naxal-hit areas, as the private sector is reluctant to venture there.

To remedy this, the new plan wants to set up at least one ITI and three SDCs in every block of these 34 districts. That translates to 228 ITIs and 927 SDCs, and until they come up over the next couple of years, the Centre will sponsor school dropouts and unemployed youth in these districts to train at existing institutes outside.

While some skills like construction or advanced electronics are in demand across the country, the Centre and states will consult industries close to the affected districts on what skills they need. States would be asked to nominate some youth from each district for training in those specific skills.

With an envisaged training capacity of 601,000 persons, these ITIs and SDCs would cost the Centre about Rs 4,800 crore over the next five years. The cost of sponsoring training for 5,000 youth per year is pegged at Rs 56 crore till 2014-15.

The naxal threat has been described by the PM as the greatest internal threat to India’s democracy. Attacks by Left wing extremists on economic targets such as the Railways, telecom towers, power plants, roads and even schools doubled in 2009, compared with 2008.

The government has been urging the Naxals to abjure violence and join the mainstream. Those giving up arms have been offered a stipend of Rs 2,000 for three years, an immediate grant of Rs 1.50 lakh and vocational training.

(Economic Times, 28th April)