20 February 2014

Roshni: New ray of hope?

Tejasvini Viraj

The Roshni programme was launched in July 2013, a month after the dastardly attack by Maoists on a convoy of Indian National Congress leaders and workers inwhich 27 people were killed in the Darbha Valley of Sukma district in Chhattisgarh. The programme is part of the integrated approachof the Central Government,which aims at conflict resolution through holistic measures in the areas of security, development, ensuring rights and entitlements of local communities, improvement in governance and public perception management in areas affected by Left Wing Extremism (LWE). The Roshni programme is part of the development effort and is closely based on the lines of the Himayat program currently functional in Jammu and Kashmir. It is designed to target youth in the age group of 18-35 years and is to be implemented in 24 districts critically affected by LWE. The program focuses on skill development and providing employment to the tribal youth, and expects seventy five percent of the trained youth to be absorbed by the organised sector.Special attention is also to be given to vulnerable tribal groups and women.

Although shortage of skilled workforce exists in the organised sector, focusing all the energy generated from this programme towards this sector may not yield the desired results. Considering the high levels of underemployment and unemploymentacross the country, it is apparent that such issues are a pan-Indian concern.In addition, absorption of youth in the organised sector has a relationship with educational levels, which as of now remain dismally low in the tribal belts. The states worst affected by Naxalism, namely, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Bihar and Orissa have high population growth rates and low literacy levels. As per the population census 2011, Male literacy rate in Bastar district is 64.82 percent and female literacy is 44.26 percent. Apparently, a multi-pronged long-term approach would be required wherein education would have to be the key intervention. In such a scenario, livelihood opportunities need to be creatively conceptualised and consequently diversified. We need district specific models, which use the states existing resources and infrastructure.

Orissa has a fifth of India’s coal, a quarter of its iron ore, a third of bauxite reserves and most of its chromite. A large number of companies including the steel giant POSCO is expected to be set up here. Such multi-billion dollar projects have high potential to absorb the local population in varied roles. In Bihar, where governance loopholes and corruption levels have been brought downlargely, engaging the youth for productive purposes becomes much easier. Jharkhand has a concentration of some of the country’s highly industrialised cities such as Jamshedpur, Bokaro steel city, Ranchi etc. The districts adjoining these areas can be engaged to form a symbiotic relationship.Youth being trained under Roshni should also aim to be self-employed and get integrated with the domestic economy.A strategic plan would analyse the local resources and the skills of trained youth and match them with the needs of the mentoring businesses. It is important that youth develop businesses in local communities for rural development.The products of such businesses can compete globally. Recently, there has been a lot of emphasis on MSMEs (micro small and medium enterprises). Such enterprises can develop linkages with businesses running in LWE affected districts. Thus, the developed entrepreneurial capabilities will attract other people and eventually integrate LWE affected areas with the rest of the country.

The idea to involve the private sector, public sector and non-governmentorganisations seems holistic. However, it is important to identify the strength of each sector and capitalise on them. For instance, the private sector should not just focus on imparting market relevant training, it should also develop quality infrastructure, which will help sustain and grow the local economy. The non-government organisations’collaboration with the public sector can help build workforce focusing on social parameters such as sanitation, health, clean drinking water etc. Training should be imparted to a section of youth who have an inclination towards their community and are willing to spread awareness and ensure grass root level implementation of social welfare programs. Care however needs to be taken in checking the credentials of the NGOs whose output must be monitored. While a plethora of plans and schemes exist, the devil lies in the implementation, which remains a major challenge. Involving the local community could help deal with this short coming.

The much discussed Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), based on the idea of giving back to the society should be monitored on priority. The industries making profits out of these areas should contribute towards balanced development of these districts and towns.The recently passed legislation on CSR is a step forward.In the long run, the corporate sector stands to benefit most from a peace dividend and CSR can hence also be looked at as a long term investment. Civil Society organisations, which have worked extensively in the naxal-hit areas and are consequently well versed with ground realities, can work in partnership with the government and the corporate to improve the social conditions.

For the program to reap dividends in every intended district, it should be funded adequately and cater to a large base. Roshni program aims to target 50,000 youth with a budget of Rs100 crore over a period of three years .Both the budget allocated and the number of people expected to benefit from the programmehas been grossly under estimated and is in dire need of expansion. As of now, the programme is being implemented on a pilot basis in two districts, namely, Sukma district in Chhattisgarh and West Singhbhum district in Jharkhand. While the programme appears to be successful, a wider implementation will have its own challenges and glitches.

It is important to conduct a social audit to assess the success of Roshni. United Nations list of social indicators pertaining to population, health, education, housing and work can be used as a benchmark to measure the success of the programme. A rise in the social welfareindex can lead to a significant drop in violence levels and wean away the local population from the clutches of the Maoists. The roshani programme thus has great potential if it can be implemented as envisaged.

The author is an intern at CLAWS. Views expressed are personal.

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