Hurdles they face today
India's youth are fiercely ambitious, go-getters, and aspiring for the sky, but at the same time, are impatient and restless, facing hurdles at every corner. Between 1971 and 2011, India's youth population increased from 168 million to 422 million, translating into a share of 34.8 per cent of the country's total population. By 2031, this is expected to come down to 31.8 per cent, but despite the decrease, India will continue to have the largest share of the youth population in the world.
India has long projected its youth population as a source of superior strength and a driver of economic growth. Many economists and policymakers claim that the large share of young people in the total population would give the country a definite advantage over China in the not so distant future. The proportion of the Chinese youth force is likely to shrink to 22.3 per cent by 2030.
In any country, the young people are considered an asset, critical for all-round social, political, cultural, and economic development. Hence, it is imperative that the human resource potential of this segment of the population is tapped correctly, and after that, harnessed in an intelligent and streamlined manner for maximum gains.
As far as India is concerned, the large youth population undeniably provides an edge over other countries and gives hope for a better and brighter future. At the same time, however, we need to seek answers to some vital questions concerning the country's youth.
First, is India over-estimating the potential of its young people and expecting too much out of them? Second, is the human resource potential of the Indian youth being channelled in the right direction? And third, is there a risk of the youth population turning into a liability in the future?
Let us first look at the hurdles that today's youth face, particularly in developing countries. According to the UNDP Youth Strategy 2014-17, around 87 per cent of young women and men living in developing countries face challenges brought about by limited and unequal access to resources, healthcare, education, training and employment as well as economic, social and political opportunities. The plight of the youth in India is not any different.
India acknowledges that it enjoys a significant demographic dividend that can lead towards a path of rapid economic development. At the same time, the country realises that this dividend can well turn into a headache in the future if handled without care.
"Youth, in reality, represent the present of a country. Young ones when nourished properly can grow like a huge redwood tree but if not controlled or neglected can erupt like a volcano," said a report titled 'Youth in India 2017' by the Central Statistics Office, Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation. The report highlighted education, employment, civic engagement and migration as key areas that required focus so as to improve the lives of the youth in the country and ensure their all-round development. It also drew attention to the fact that the sex ratio (females/1,000 males) in the youth population had been consistently falling since 1991, a cause of concern. Another major worry is that the Indian youth constitute 33 per cent of the total police recorded suicide cases.
It is not just the Central government, global forums such as the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) too have flagged the urgent need to address particular concerns, critical for securing the future of the Indian youth and tapping their potential to the maximum.
The OECD in its 4th Economic Survey of India, launched in February this year, said that over 30 per cent of youth aged between 15 and 29 years in India were not in education, employment and training (NEET), which is more than double the OECD average and almost three times the rate in China. Youth under NEET are considered at risk of becoming socially excluded, with income below the poverty line and lacking the skills to improve their economic situation. While highlighting the high NEET percentage, the Survey pointed out that job creation in the organised sector had been sluggish and female participation was low.
Already, some premier technical institutes in the country have begun witnessing a slide in campus recruitment. Several sectors such as manufacturing, construction, software services, telecom and banking and financial services, which were till recently seen as engines of job creation, have of late been witnessing shrinking of opportunities.
The youth in India at present are no doubt a source of concern, but they also offer hope. On the one hand, many of them face difficult to overcome barriers on a daily basis such as limited or no access to education, employment, healthcare and sanitation; inadequate physical and social infrastructure; various kinds of inequalities in the society. On the other, they are a bundle of raw and untapped energy, which if channelled in the right direction, can take the country to unimaginable heights.
Whether or not the youth population of India is going to live up to the expectations and reach its full potential, only time will tell. However, one thing that can be said with a fair amount of certainty is that the government now needs to adopt some harsh measures to check the uncontrolled population growth. India's population is set to reach 1.6 billion by 2050, up from 1.2 billion in 2011. In fact, according to some projections, India's population would surpass that of China's as early as 2022, making it the world's most populous nation.
For decades, political parties and governments in India had dealt with population control wearing kid gloves. The lack of political will to tackle the issue head-on is leading to a situation where the country may face the risk of getting weighed down by an increasingly unmanageable burden. It is high time the government woke up and changed its perception as well as approach concerning curbing population growth, not just to secure future generations but also in the larger interest of the country.
(The views are strictly personal.)