Dr Shahid Iqbal Choudhary who heads the Mission Youth and Tribal Affairs Department tells Tahir Bhat about the ‘ever evolving’ and the demand-driven mission that is aimed at managing Jammu and Kashmir’s youth bulge
KASHMIR LIFE (KL): What is Mission Youth all about? Is it about academics or careers?
DR SHAHID IQBAL CHOUDHARY (SIC): Mission Youth is a flagship youth-centric initiative where schemes, policies and interventions are framed based on demand, feedback and suggestions from youth. We are just six weeks into the Mission and the change is visible. Mission Youth, unlike Government departments, is a registered society, which is headed by the Lt Governor Manoj Sinha, having advisors to LG, Chief Secretary and most of the administrative secretaries as members. That reflects the seriousness attached to Mission Youth viz a viz prompt decision making, inter-sectoral convergence on youth issues, liberal financing and efficient coordination.
It works as a one-stop solution for all youth aspirations, be it scholarships, fellowship, career counselling, skill development, placement, self-employment, financial assistance, psycho-social counselling, sports, innovation, scientific research, dialogue or anything else. In short, for youth, I would say, “you name it, we have it”. Idea is to provide solutions to collective and individual issues facing youth. Ever-evolving policy and real-time decision making define the core values of the Mission.
KL: What is LG’s Super 75 scholarship initiative? How people will compete for this and what they will get it eventually?
SIC: Super-75 is a highly competitive scholarship programme that aims at providing educational support to meritorious students belonging to economically weaker sections for pursuing higher studies. Initially, it was launched for women, however, later extended to male candidates also. A total of 150 students will get scholarships of Rs 1 Lakh each for PG Courses in various Universities and colleges based on their merit and other criteria including an income slab of Rs 8 Lakh, belonging to BPL/AAY. Ten per cent of slots are reserved for candidates who lost any family member or primary bread-earner in any insurgency-related incidence
KL: Mission Youth seemingly has a basket full of diverse schemes. Can you explain every scheme that you have and what is the status of their implementation?
SIC: The first meeting of Governing Body of Mission Youth headed by Lt Governor Manoj Sinha was held on June 18, 2021, which approved a number of proposed schemes. Many schemes are in the offing. Explaining all schemes would be exhaustive, however, the main initiatives include, the establishment of District Youth Centres in all districts, psycho-social counselling centres in eight districts, Mumkin scheme to provide subsidised and fully financed commercial vehicles to youth, Tejaswini scheme to provide entrepreneurship support up to Rs 5 Lakh, Super-75 Scholarship for girl students, SuperB-75 for boys, University Collaboration Initiative covering more than 20 sub-schemes for students, Youth Clubs, Support for the establishment of 200 Dental Clinics, 200 enterprises for youth affected by insurgency-related incidents, research support, publication support, Innovation scheme, Free coaching for 3000 students appearing in various competitive examinations at the national level, 98 skill development courses covering future skills, sports skilling and competition from Panchayat, block, district, province to UT level and many other schemes.
We are working on 100 tourist villages lead by youth, the establishment of digital libraries, the establishment of a strong placement cell, coordination with national-level organisations for youth engagement, sports and student exchange programmes among many others. Pertinently, at Mission Youth, schemes are demand-driven and we listen to suggestions.
KL: Do not you think that the activities undertaken by the Mission Youth are in confrontation with various departments that already have similar roles assigned on entrepreneurship, tourism, social welfare or industries?
SIC: That’s an important question. In fact skill development, self-employment and other related schemes are run parallel by several departments. That’s where Mission Youth comes in to play the role of convergence. As I said earlier, the administrative secretaries of all related departments working on youth-centric initiatives are members of Governing Body, which aims at the convergence of all such schemes. Mission Youth also has Chairman JK Bank and other important stakeholders as members of the board hence the regular issues faced in institutional financing are resolved easily. In short, the answer is convergence. Further, Mission Youth has a liberal funding regime and decentralised decision making as a Society, which adds to the promptness. We are even sponsoring activities of others departments under the umbrella of Mission Youth.
KL: What is Youth Club? How these will be formed and what will be their utility? What is the status of unemployment in Jammu and Kashmir and what are the key issues that the youth bulge is confronted with?
SIC: Youth Clubs came up with an idea for the empowerment of youth enabling them to implement the youth-centric schemes on the ground, help selection of beneficiaries, organise community engagement activities and act as a bridge between Government and people apart from being agents of change. They will be involved in socio-economic and welfare activities run across departments.
Issues are multiple, the first, I think is the need for a platform of engagement and discussion, where the stakeholders in Government are actively listening to the youth issues and offer actual solutions. Employment is certainly a major challenge and Mission Youth is endeavouring to both enhance the employability of youth as well as offer job opportunities.
KL: You are managing tribal affairs as well. What is the state of the tribes and tribals that inhibit Jammu and Kashmir?
SIC: Jammu and Kashmir is among few constituents of the Union yet to switch over to the Tribal Sub-Plan regime, where the Planning Commission (Now NITI Ayog) has made it mandatory for States/UTs to earmark funds proportionate to a tribal population as a part of their budget, though departments are actively taking up the developmental project in tribal areas. The Lt Governor taking cognizance of issues faced issued several directions including earmarking of funds. The Tribal Affairs Department is now working with all the departments for Tribal Sub-Plan.
The education standards, healthcare, socio-economic parameters among Jammu and Kashmir tribes need a lot of focussed attention. In this backdrop, the first-ever socio-economic survey of nomadic tribes was initiated last month involving more than 10,000 officials in all the districts and the outcome of which will be seen in the development of infrastructure and livelihood support system this year.
KL: What are the main problems the tribes face in Jammu and Kashmir?
SIC: Sparsely distributed population in remote hilly areas having poor educational standards, high poverty levels, low on health parameters and a disconnect with modern opportunities are among few serious problems. This year, for the first time tribal affairs department, has earmarked separate plans for education e.g. 100 Modern Schools, Residential Schools, Day Boarding Schools and Modernisation of Hostels; Healthcare plan to equip health institutions in tribal areas, providing equipment including ambulances, planning transit accommodation for transhumant population, livelihood initiatives and so on. This has to be a regularly targeted approach to address the issues.
KL: What is the state and status of the Forest Rights Act?
SIC: The Jammu and Kashmir Government issued notification for implementation of the Act in December 2020 thereafter the District and Sub-Divisional Level Committees were constituted and trained. The Deputy Commissioners nominated the non-official members pursuant to which the Forest department is in the process to issue notification for such committees. The Tribal Affairs Department has conducted capacity building training of all the district and sub-divisional level officers. It has also readied the plan for post-claim developmental needs for educational, health and infrastructure needs. More than 18000 claims have been processed at the district level for individual rights.
KL: What is the main focus of your department in tribal affairs right now?
SIC: We are working on a multi-pronged strategy with focussed development in education, healthcare, livestock husbandry, self-employment, skilling and so on. Integrated Village Development Scheme is being introduced from this year to cover 335 villages having 500+ tribal populations under which all sectors will be providing gap funding for required developmental needs. The establishment of residential schools is a priority. A special developmental plan for nomadic families is another first. This year we are working to establish Tribal Research Institute, which will focus on action research and planned welfare of tribal communities.
KL: Earlier reports suggested that a major population of the tribes have given up their migratory lifestyle and are sedentary. What is the status of the seasonal migration and is your department trying to undo migration or reinforce it?
SIC: Transhumance is not unique to Jammu and Kashmir, there are tribes across countries practising seasonal migration with livestock. The rise in education standards, jobs and other opportunities certainly made a portion of population stationery but still, the migration is in very large numbers. The tribal affairs department is working to establish transit facilities on various migration routes and highland pastures apart from providing all welfare opportunities. The idea is to bridge the gap between the migratory tribal population and the rest of the population by providing access to all facilities.
KL: What is the status of the survey that you have undertaken? What is the requirement of this survey when the census has already given the numbers and allied information?
SIC: The survey ends on July 31, 2021. Data analysis, compilation, and documentation will take another fortnight. This will serve as a baseline for the next 20 years of planning. The survey is not about enumeration like census, it covers migration route details, highland pasture details, individual and family details, covering four types of migration viz intra-district, inter-district, inter-province and inter-state/UT. The survey aims at infrastructure development, livelihood initiatives, educational interventions, healthcare facilities, mobile veterinary clinics and so on. Planning of such a microscopic level and targeted infrastructure development cannot be done on the basis of census data alone. Moreover, relying on the 2011 census for planning in 2011 would entail missing vital details.
KL: What is the budget allocation for tribal affairs this fiscal and how much do you think can be spent?
SIC: The exclusive budget of the Tribal Affairs Department is nearly Rs 500 crore for this financial year which involves UT Capital Expenditure, Revenue component, revalidation under CSS. This covers Integrated Village Development Scheme, Eklavya Model Residential Schools, Tribal Research Institute, scholarships and other schemes. However, all the departments are earmarking Tribal Sub Plan out of sectoral CapEx for development in tribal areas and welfare schemes.