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Chhattisgarh’s test of skill

A year after pioneering a law that gives its youth the right to develop their skills, state crawls towards target and continues to face an employment challenge.

Dantewada Livelihood College, set up in 2011, later replicated across state. (Source: Express) Dantewada Livelihood College, set up in 2011, later replicated across state. (Source: Express)

In May 2013, Chhattisgarh became the first state — it remains the only one so far — to enact a law to provide training in various skills to its unemployed youth. The first year has seen some progress but simultaneously highlighted various challenges the state faces in meeting an ambitious target it has set for itself.

Chahttisgarh’s Right of Youth to Skill Development Act followed the National Skill Development Policy undertaken by the UPA. The national policy sets a target of 500 million skilled workers by 2022, given that every year 12.8 million workers were entering the labour market, 26 million the organised sector and 433 million the unorganised sector.

The state’s target is 12.5 million “certified skilled technicians”, also by 2022. That represents over half the current population of 24 million in a state where 80 per cent live in rural areas, and where around 40 lakh out of 56 lakh households live below the poverty line. In the first year, the government has provided training to some 1.18 lakh youths, one per cent of the target, leaving it with a lot of catching up to do in the remaining eight years.

“It’s an aspirational and indicative target; the state is making all endeavours to achieve it,” says Amit Agrawal, secretary, technical education.

One drawback of the Act is that it does not define a penalty for any official who fails to train an applicant within a defined period. And even if the government meets the target, one challenge will be to provide employment to the skilled youth in a state that is struggling to cater even to its demand for MNREGA jobs, which rarely call for such skills.

The objective
The Act provides that no one aged between 14 and 45 should be denied an opportunity to get skilled in a vocation of one’s choice, subject to one’s qualification. The Act lists out 346 vocations which come under 51 categories such as Information Technology, Electrical, Beauty Culture, Textile, Fashion Design, Banking and Accounting, Medical and Nursing, Sericulture, and Poultry. The minimum qualification is class VIII for a basic skills course , after which one can go for intermediary and advanced courses.

Under the Act, once a person applies the government will identify a vocational training provider “and inform the applicant within 90 days”. A VTP could be an institution or an individual; Chhattisgarh has around 2,000 VTPs. Once the course is complete, the trained worker gets a certificate.

The Act provides for District Skill Development Authorities in each district, to be monitored by the State Skill Development Authority, which in turn is supervised by a governing council headed by the chief minister.

Significantly, if an applicant lives at a distance from the VTPs and the government finds that “commutation is beyond the capacity of the applicant”, the applicant may be provided residential accommodation during the training. Also, the government has ordered that all educational institutes that teach above class X provide their premises after classes for skill development courses.

The law, incidentally, follows Chhattsigarh’s first livelihood college set up by then Dantewada collector O P Chaudhary in 2011-12. The college in the Maoist-hit zone saw a large number of tribals from adjoining areas being trained in various vocations and finding placement in several metros. Subsequently, the government adopted the model across the state.

The drawback
If an applicant doesn’t receive the skill training within the stipulated 90 days, there is no provision of a penalty on the officers concerned, nor any compensation for the applicant. A chapter in the Act, “Grievance Redressal Mechanism”, states that an aggrieved applicant may make a representation before an authority and the authority will hear the case decide within 60 days. If the applicant is still not satisfied, he or she may prefer a second representation within 45 days of the first decision and the reviewing authority will hear the grievance and decide again within 90 days; this is final.

The government denies enforcement is weak. “It doesn’t provide for any compensation but it does give an applicant an opportunity of a hearing, and his case will be disposed of within the stipulated period,” says Amit Agrawal. Asked about compensation, he says, “The question of compensation arises only for financial losses incurred. This may be relevant for an employment guarantee, not so much for training.”

Finding jobs
The Act notes: “Every year, out of about 1.2 crore new entrants into the national job market, only 40 lakh job seekers are skilled, which leads to low wages, poor income levels, low productivity and stagnation… The state government sincerely attempts to provide for vocational training programmes which are employment-oriented.”

Employment, however, is in itself a challenge. Last year, Chief Minister Raman Singh announced that Chhattisgarh has become the first state to introduce 150 mandays in MNREGA, against the stipulated 100. The average mandays provided per household in 2013-14, however, was just 35, says the latest report of the Panchayat and Rural Development Ministry. Out of 24.4 lakh households  — nearly half the state’s total — that demanded employment under NREGA in 2013-14, only 80,274, or just over 3 per cent, could get 100 days’ work.

And this large number was opting for a programme meant for the unskilled poor who have little other means of survival. The state could spend only 63 per cent of the total allocated funds, while UP and West Bengal spent over 80 per cent.

Also, according to India Labour and Employment Report 2014, Chhattisgarh stands at 17th among states in terms of the Employment Situation Index, which takes into account the breakup of the workforce in formal work and casual labour, how many self-employed workers live below the poverty line, and other factors such as wages and the unemployment rate for people who have completed school.

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