Jambey Tashi, 27, is a first generation literate from Chumba village in the Tawang district of Arunchal Pradesh. The village is close to the Sino-Indian border that was once a trade route to Tibet. Jambey had trekked half a day to reach Tawang town, taken a Tata Sumo to Bomdila the next day, from where he spent another day journeying through bumpy dusty tracks to reach the capital Itanagar.
“I come from a poor family and my parents are yak grazers from Tawang,” says Jamey. “I had to drop out after completing my higher secondary. I wanted to study but did not have enough money and now I want a job to help my family. I just want to land a small-time job and leave this place.” A lack of job opportunities is the biggest challenge facing Arunachal Pradesh. With an 8.7 percent GDP growth rate and a population of 13.8 lakh, the only investment the state has seen is in hydro power. Over the past decade, the state government has signed as many as 150 MoUs with hydro power developers to tap the estimated 46,000 MW ‘powerhouse of the nation’.
“Being a border state, Arunachal is always sensitive, but the biggest challenge for the state government is to create jobs,” says Hari Krishna Paliwal, chief secretary of Arunchal Pradesh. “While our endeavour is to create more jobs inside the state, through a unique job fair, we have tried to create a scope for our youth to avail of job opportunities outside the state.” Paliwal is referring to the job fair held in Itanagar from 30 August-1 September. The three-day long fair, a brainchild of Chief Minister Nabam Tuki, was an instant hit. Forty companies turned up to interview over 14,000 job-seekers from across the state. Nearly 12,000 were selected in various vocational courses.
For job-seekers like Jambey, this fair has come as a rare occasion. “The youth of Arunachal want to go places and do well in their life like the rest of the country,” says Sangita Alay, 21, a college student from Bomdila, who wants to become a hairstylist. “We are not too concerned with Chinese incursions, such things happen in a border state. We know we are Indians and want to compete with other Indians. There is no industry apart from hydro power, no private investment, and so we need to look for jobs outside the state.” Like Sangita, Jambey too wants to train to become a bartender so that he can get a job outside the state.
One of the major impediments in Arunachal Pradesh is the problem of communication and infrastructure. Says Sangita, “Even to reach Itanagar from my hometown Bomdila, I need to spend Rs 2,000 and travel two days. Imagine if I have to travel to Mumbai and Delhi for the same kind of interview and training, my parents would not be able to afford that.”
The state government is aware of the problem. In fact, this was one of the driving forces behind the job fair. “We know that Arunachal has a huge communication bottleneck due to the treacherous geography of the hills. So the government got the vocational training providers to come here and interview the unemployed youth. The selected will undergo training, which will be sponsored by the state government, and later they will get placed outside the state,” explains Paliwal on the sidelines of the fair.
For over a decade, Arunachal Pradesh has received media attention only when there has been an incursion by the Chinese army or in case of a controversy over the hyrdo-power projects. The casualty in all this has been the youth who have fallen through the cracks and now the state is faced with an alarming situation.
A 2011 survey found that the state will have an incremental manpower supply of 7.5 lakh by 2021, while the state government will at best be able to employ 1.47 lakh youth. “This is perhaps an even bigger threat then a Chinese incursion,” says Chief Minister Nabam Tuki. “Within 10 years, unemployment will be a huge issue here. Hence, we decided to make employment our thrust area along with infrastructure development. Being a backward state, some students drop out of schools and colleges. They do not have information about vocational skill development programmes, which can earn them a living, their mindset is to look for a government job. But we can’t employ everyone, and so we thought of this job fair where we have trainers, employers and candidates under one roof. Despite our own financial constraints, the government will bear all costs for training those who need to be taken outside the state.”
With a 40 percent dropout rate, Tuki has set a target of providing at least 1 lakh jobs in the 12th Five Year Plan. Last year, his government was been able to generate 17,000 new jobs within the state. This year, the target is 20,000 and it appears he has his calculation set. He has already set up a Skill Development Council and an Employment Development Council in the state. “This was the need of the hour,” says Topu Basar Ete, a beautician from Itanagar. “When I took vocational training in New Delhi, I had to manage the course fee on my own, but now I am training young Arunachalees and the government is sponsoring the course. After completion, it will help them with loans to start their own ventures.”
Despite the state being a favoured destination of all major power corporations, Arunachal Pradesh has not benefited much from the many companies that have set up shop here. “The hydro-power companies have not been able to generate much local employment, since our youth are not trained for this industry,” says a senior bureaucrat. Even the lower-level jobs have been farmed out to workers these companies have brought with them. Add to that a growing number of drop-outs and it’s not difficult to see why the government thought of this fair.
“To begin with, we are looking at drop-outs and youth from poor and remote areas,” says CM Tuki. “Security agencies, aviation, hospitality and beauty-care sectors has huge potential for them.”
Away from the glare of the shimmering lights of malls and shopping centres in metropolitan cities, the despair among the youth can be felt by the footfall in the Itanagar job fair. On the positive side, the potential has been spotted by many recruiters. “The youth of Arunchal Pradesh are fashionable, presentable, well-mannered and very dedicated. That’s why they have clicked in the hospitality, beauty and healthcare industries,” says Manav Dhingra, CEO of Delhi-based International Institute of Wellness Studies (IIWS), whose institute has trained more than 200 Arunachalees and placed 90 percent of them. Tuki is hoping this initiative will bring in many such new recruiters and trainers.