Priority Agenda for 2023

By HH Mohrmen

At least one political party the TMC has already announced its manifesto for the upcoming elections and in a few days from now many more political parties will make their agenda for the development of the state public. The question that begs the answer is what are the issues in the state that require the immediate attention of the new government?

Youth and unemployment
In the state of Meghalaya, the number one issue that requires immediate attention is unemployment, particularly unemployment among educated youths. In the few months that this writer spent visiting homes in both the urban and rural areas of Jowai town, it was found there is a huge number of unemployed youth in the area. A rough estimate is that there would be between 3 to 4 unemployed youth in one household in the urban area and between 1 to 2 educated unemployed youths in the rural areas. This calculation is gathered from visiting the different localities in the town and also the villages in the suburbs of Jowai. I admit that this calculation is not accurate and a proper survey is needed to arrive at the correct number of unemployed youth in the state but it will not be wide off the mark. The findings have no doubt shocked me. The first thing that the new government needs to do when it assumes office is to survey and get the accurate number of educated unemployed youths in the state. Until and unless the government has the correct numbers, it will be very difficult if not impossible to come up with a solution to the problem.

Education as a Factor
If one only takes the number of students who passed the annual secondary school leaving certificate (SSLC) examination, the numbers are startling. Every year between thirty to forty thousand young people pass their SSLC examination and the same number of young people are added to the job market in the state. It is therefore not wrong to say that people’s ability to access education is the factor that contributes to the increasing numbers of educated unemployed youths in the state. Today almost all secondary schools are upgraded to higher secondary schools which also helps young people complete higher secondary school which would not have been possible if the schools are located in distant places. At the college level too, young people are able to graduate from college because colleges that were started by religious organizations, trusts or communities helped bring higher education to the doorstep of the people.

Uneducated youth
There is also a large number of youth who are less educated or young people who are not able to complete their high school for many reasons. It cannot be denied that lockdown due to COVID-19 pandemic is also the cause of large numbers of students dropping out of school. Through a preliminary interview with school headmasters and teachers, it is learnt that there is an unusual increase in the number of school dropouts because of the lockdown due to COVID-19 pandemic. Again it will be interesting if a survey is conducted to find out the percentage of students who dropped out of school due to the pandemic. The pandemic has no doubt created this peculiar situation leading to a high drop-out rate among school children. No doubt there are large numbers of uneducated or less-educated youth who are unemployed and the government needs to survey to get the numbers of youths in this category.

Multi-pronged approach
The new government will be able to come up with a solution to this vital problem only after a proper survey is done. Only then the government will be able to get correct data on youths of the state who are unemployed. There cannot be just one solution to a problem as complex as the unemployment issue in the state, and the solution to the problem has to be multi-pronged. Now when people talk about job creation it is almost fashionable to talk about entrepreneurship, micro small, and medium enterprise (MSME) as if it is the only thing that can save the state. Some politicians have also started talking about incubation or start-up hubs where new entrepreneurs would be provided support and training to start their enterprises. This is one area that the MDA had tried its hand on.

MDA government’s PRIME
Meghalaya Democratic Alliance government under the leadership of chief minister Conrad K. Sangma in January 2020 launched a new scheme to help promote entrepreneurship known as PRIME. PRIME which is an acronym for Promotion and Incubation of Market Driven Enterprises was launched purposely to support budding entrepreneurs with relevant technology, skilling and mentoring, market access and to even avail credit. The main goal of PRIME is to encourage the youths of the state to look for other job avenues and not to depend on government jobs only and more importantly to become job creators.
Like many government schemes, the impact of this government flagship program is not forthcoming. There are many reasons why this project has not achieved the expected targets and the number one reason is the paucity of time, the program was launched only in 2020. The number two reason that the program falls short of its target is that not every youth can become an entrepreneur.

Skill Meghalaya through MSSDS
Another important approach that the MDA government initiated to help solve the unemployment crisis in the state is by skilling the youths of the state. Meghalaya State Skill Development Society which is under the department of labour initiated a program called Skill Meghalaya last year. MSSDC is also unable to achieve the expected goal because the program was started very late in the day. MSSDS under the project Skill Meghalaya empaneled NGOs for providing skill training to the youths at the beginning of last year only. NGOs were able to start the training only in the second part of last year. The truth is it is also too early to say if this government initiative has helped in providing the needed skill sets for the young people of the state to help them be gainfully employed.

MDA’s FOCUSing  on the farmers
FOCUS is one scheme that went off the target because Chief Minister Conrad K. Sangma was in a hurry. FOCUS which is an abbreviation of Farmers’ Collectivization for Upscaling Production and Marketing Systems is aimed at supporting the farmers to get them a good market and also to help them get a good price for their produce. The FOCUS approach is to support funding, value chain development, machinery support, market linkages, transportation, and aggregation of the produce of the farmers. But the important question is whether FOCUS has achieved the goals of providing the above services to farmers? FOCUS is a good scheme, but it went for a toss when the Chief Minister who is in hurry started using it as an election gimmick. The problem started when the government began to distribute dummy cheques to the farmers. The question is whether the farmers that are organized under the Producer’s Group been provided the necessary training to start their activity? The Chief Minster was quick to make a tall claims that they have distributed crores of money for the benefit of the farmers but the question is whether the farmers have been able to make the best use of the money?
In its earlier stage, FOCUS also included in its ambit the promotion of nano enterprises, and service providers. Nano enterprises are those in which the owner employs two or more assistants in her/his unit and the service provider is one who provides service for the different needs of the farmers in the village. The service could be providing transportation or providing immediate and basic veterinary services in their respective villages. This is also a good idea that would have helped create more jobs, but the same was not continued in the program.

Rural Backyard Piggery Scheme and Piggery Mission
A few months back Chief Minister Conrad K Sangma also launched a flagship program called Rural Backyard Piggery scheme. The government’s goal is to help improve the income of the farmers, but this scheme was destined to fail because the piglets were brought from outside the state and also the cost of a fattened pig in Meghalaya has fallen sharply because of the pigs that cames to the Meghalaya from outside the state. The other flagship program of the MDA – the Piggery mission will also suffer the same fate because of the import of pigs from outside Meghalaya. It is, therefore, safe to say that the schemes that the MDA government launched to create employment for the youths have not been able to achieve the expected goals.

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