Anybody who has spent any time at all in school knows these facts:
- India is the second-most populous country in the world
- By 2025, it will be the most-populous country in the world.
For years, this was seen as a ‘problem’. Public service advertisements ran on Doordarshan talking about the need to control India’s population crisis, public discourse never failed to mention the impending disaster of unemployment and lack of resources, and people of a certain age may even have memories of the brutal measures undertaken to curb this so-called objective during the Emergency.
In more recent times, a more enlightened approach has been adopted, as economists and demographers around the world realise that a youthful and growing population is actually a good thing. After all, a nation depends on the productivity (and consequently, the taxes) paid by its citizens, which means a large working population is an advantage rather than a ‘problem’. From this understanding came the term ‘demographic dividend’, which meant that any country with a large proportion of young people was likely to grow faster and reap benefits that countries with aging populations would not.
But rarely is reality so cut-and-dried. For all that India does, indeed, have as much as 50% of its population below the age of 25, it cannot be said that this ‘youth power’ is being adequately harnessed. In the absence of opportunities for employment and education, this demographic dividend runs a danger of becoming a demographic liability.
So where does the answer lie?
Far too many of our children drop out of school before giving their board exams, and even more who complete school do not go on to college. These youth grow up to form a part of the ‘unskilled labour’ pool and struggle to find jobs that will keep them and their families above the poverty line.
In our view, this is where the government needs to recognize the need for, and draft a far-sighted Youth Policy. It needs to be a comprehensive vision for growing the skills among the 18-25 age group that can be utilized for nation-building as well as for economic growth.
Vocational training and education are a cornerstone of any workable youth policy, and these need to be integrated with the needs of the industry as well as the public sector enterprises. A focus on overseas employment opportunities in the Middle East may also be a good idea from a long-term perspective, given the contribution of NRI remittances to the nation’s foreign exchange reserves.
It is worth noting that, alongside the capital shortages, lack of skilled labour has been a significant bottleneck to India’s growth story. A comprehensive Youth Policy incorporating some of the points mentioned above would go a long way towards resolving a lot of these issues. Further, an investment of this nature in the youth of the country would also lead to reduction in the costs of crime prevention and unemployment benefits. The scope does not even have to be restricted to traditional blue-collar jobs but can, in a phased manner, be extended to cover higher education for IT-enabled support work as well.
In conclusion, it may not even be something that India ‘should’ have, but something India ‘needs’ to have. The costs of not having a well-thought-out youth policy outweigh any potential costs. From the perspective of crime deterrence, employment generation and economic progress, the time is ripe for India to formulate and implement a comprehensive Youth Policy.