I found 3Es on the wish list of this section of population – education, employment and eradication of the drug menace.
Aristotle once said, “Youth is easily deceived because it is quick to hope”.
The youths of Punjab believed Modi in 2014 but within less than two years they are repenting for the mistake they had done. It seems the prime minister forgot about the 3Ds – darkness, destruction and devastation – caused by drugs. They are wondering how the prime minister can conveniently close his eyes to the state’s turmoil just for political mileage.
What do the youths of Punjab want? Punjab is my home state and I have an emotional connect with Punjabi mitti. I have covered the state extensively with the sole objective of understanding the problems of the youths and their expectations.
I found 3Es on the wish list of Punjabi youths – education, employment and eradication of the drug menace. They want better infrastructure, policy implementation and corruption-free society. The quality of education has deteriorated over a period of time and students are incapable of finding a job in the highly skilled sector.
The education sector has hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons – irregularities, strikes by teachers, multiple scams, and so on during the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD)-BJP regime. About 75 lakh people are unemployed in Punjab. Almost 72 per cent job seekers in Punjab are educated, out of which 78 per cent have non-technical education and 22 per cent technical education.
The official data on employment generation has revealed that the employment rate in Punjab was just at an average of five to six percent since the time the SAD-BJP government took over in 2007. The figure is worse in case of reserved categories.
Today’s Punjab is lagging not only in terms of industrial growth but also in the agricultural sector because of stagnancy. There are no jobs, no future in farming, no industrialisation and deep-rooted corruption has left the state in shambles.
Eighty five per cent of Punjabi farmers are under heavy debt in the state. The youths of Punjab is being compelled to leave their soil for the want of job opportunities. Even contractual employment has become a distant dream for Punjabi youths. It seems the political leadership of the state is indifferent to issues like unemployment and that is precisely the reason both the organised and unorganised sectors have failed to create jobs. The youths of Punjab want quality education and decent employment avenues.
Besides education and employment, the third but the most important wish of the youths of Punjab is solution to the drug menace in the state. The number of thekas are more compared to the number of government schools in the state. The magnitude of the problem can be understood from the revelations of an AIIMS study which has found that Punjabis spend Rs 7,500 crore annually on drugs.
Up to 75 per cent of the state’s population have been exposed to drugs in one form or another. One in three college students are addicts and most of the addicts are in the age group of 15-35 years. There cannot be anything worse for a nation to lose its youths to drugs.
Punjabi youths who were once at the forefront of the police and armed forces of our country are nowhere close to the past figures. They have lost their hard work, bravery and enterprise to drugs. It is sad to see that Punjabi youths are found weak and unfit for defence jobs.
Punjab shares 553km of border with Pakistan. Besides, there is a huge illegal market of opioid drugs in Punjab. The state’s opioid dependents are four times more than the global average. Owing to drugs, an entire generation of Punjabis are at the risk of life-threatening diseases and is under the threat of being wiped out by addiction.
Have we lost the war? I am an optimist and I think the youths of Punjab, even though apprehensive and frustrated, have still faith that the situation will improve and Punjab will regain its lost glory.
Having said so, let me admit that the turnaround will be a challenging task. It is one of the most prosperous states in the country, but Punjab is now in a huge debt trap because of mismanagement of state finances. The debt burden of the Punjab government has gone up from Rs 48,344 crore in 2006-’07 to Rs 1.25 lakh crore in 2015-’16 which constitutes a massive 32 per cent of the gross state domestic product.
The Punjab government is paying only basic salary to its employees during their probation period. The youths of Punjab need a leader who they can trust, who is sincere about solving their problems and has a proven track record. They neither believe in fake propaganda nor want to experiment with uncertainty. There is still hope for the youths of Punjab. I cannot see a generation destroyed by the madness of drug addiction. Decent education, both in terms of skills and values, and availability of productive employment is one of the best routes to guide the youths of Punjab.