Respected Surjit Singh Barnalaji, Governor of Tamil Nadu,
Shri Mani Shankar Aiyerji, Minister for Panchayati Raj, Youth Affairs and Sports, Govt. of India,
Smt. Poonghothai, Minister of Social Welfare, Govt. of Tamil Nadu,
Ladies and Gentlemen and all the young people who are present here from different parts of the country,
I am pleased to be visiting the Rajiv Gandhi National Institute of Youth Development to deliver this Foundation Day Address and to inaugurate this beautiful Auditorium and the Logo of the Institute.
Rajivji was a young man with a dream of building a modern India, but in the midst of his high promise, he was snatched cruelly from us. Rajivji had great faith in the youth of India and believed in their empowerment. He took the significant decision of reducing the voting age from 21 years to 18 years, and this resulted in almost 50 million youth getting the right to participate in elections. Rajivji always extolled the youth to come to the forefront with creative ideas for taking India ahead. Speaking in 1988, he said, and I quote, "we are one of the world's oldest civilizations and one of the youngest nations. Our country's demographic profile has undergone a major revolution. Now, there is a preponderance of youth. This is a decisive factor in determining our nation's destiny." Unquote.
Between his 1988 speech and this Inaugural address, India has grown younger still. Today, the average age of India's population is below 25 years. Approximately, 77 crore of our people, or about 70 percent of the population, fall below the age of 35 and, thus, within the ambit of our National Youth Policy. It is likely that all through the first half of the 21st century, India will maintain this exceptionally young demographic profile while all of the developed world, and also China, are expected to grow older and older. This opens up for us the possibility of a demographic dividend. It is potentially the single most important comparative advantage we enjoy which could be leveraged to catapult India to the front ranks of human civilization.
At the same time, it is possible that this demographic advantage could turn into our single greatest disadvantage if the youth of India are not included in, and harnessed to, the process of development. Therefore, in order to realize this demographic dividend, focused strategies and investments will be required to develop our vast human capital. It is not enough for our people to be young. It is also necessary that they be educated, skilled, and trained to give their best to the country. Rajivji believed that the people of India were its greatest treasure and that it should be our aim to make them fully recognize their capabilities. That is a formidable task and one on which we have embarked upon ever since our Tryst with Destiny. But after six decades of Independence, there are still far too many children and adolescents who do not go to school or drop out. Too few go on to higher studies; and, even far fewer are given the opportunity to acquire the skills that would qualify them for employment in industry, IT and other sectors of growth. Equally, in respect of the two largest employment sectors of the country - namely, agriculture and handlooms - there is need for increasing the rate of growth to absorb the very large proportion of our young population, who need to be productively and remuneratively employed in these sectors.
I am glad to learn that the Rajiv Gandhi National Institute of Youth Development is contributing to skill development and training for employability, as the task of youth development is central to our national development and integral to the nation's effort to translate accelerated growth into 'inclusive growth' - the over-arching objective of the Eleventh Five Year Plan.
70 percent of our population resides in rural India. Hence, a critical aspect of inclusive growth is rural development. It is important to increase growth rates in the agricultural sector both for the overall development in the country as also for creating employment opportunities for the youth, as I had mentioned earlier. Therefore, along with increasing agricultural productivity, setting up agro-based industries, providing easier market access and credit facilities to farmers, livelihood opportunities need to be provided to the rural population. The National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, which provides 100 days of assured employment to adult members of rural households in every financial year, was a required step in the direction of generating rural employment and providing enhancement of livelihood security to households in rural areas of the country. This scheme was launched in February 2006 in 200 most backward districts, it now covers 330 districts and its extension to the remaining districts of India should be expedited. The implementation of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme involves the participation of the Central Government, the State Governments, Panchayats and the Gram Sabhas at the grassroots level - this is an important partnership, in which each stakeholder must play its role efficaciously.
In this context, I would also like to emphasize the connection between youth development and Rajivji's deep dedication to realizing Mahatma Gandhi's dream of self-governing village panchayats and urban nagarpalikas. In consequence of the historic amendments to the Constitution which Rajivji initiated, we now have a network of some 2.5 lakh elected institutions of local self-government, to which we have elected some 32 lakh representatives, about 12 lakh of whom are women. This is by far the largest number of elected representatives ever in history, or anywhere in the contemporary world. Some 40 percent to 70 percent of these representatives are young people below the age of 35. This makes the Panchayati Yuva Shakti Abhiyan, with which this Institute is closely associated, a major initiative to mobilize youth power in our panchayats, to improve governance in the country and to make the Panchayati Raj Institutions responsive and responsible to the Gram Sabhas, as envisioned in our Constitution. Rajivji always believed that it was particularly the youth in the Gram Sabhas that would hold the elected members to account and bring to their attention the pressing needs of the village. I hope that the Panchayat Yuva Shakti Abhiyan, which brings together the youth in the panchayats with the youth in the community at large, will succeed in making this crucial contribution to good governance, which alone can ensure the effective delivery of public goods and services to the intended beneficiaries, namely the vast masses of India.
Such mobilization of youth calls for both motivation and training. I congratulate the Rajiv Gandhi National Institute of Youth Development on its initiative to provide facilities that enable Panchayati Raj representatives from all over the country, and particularly from the southern States and Union Territories, to frequently come together to interact and learn from each other's experience. By doing so, this Institute is significantly contributing to the widening and deepening of our country's Panchayat biradari.
The other activities of this Institute, particularly its vocational training and skills development programme, has set benchmarks to which we must aspire, if the vast talents of our youth are to be employment-creating and income-generating. Sriperumbudur was largely agricultural when this Institute was first conceived and it is now developing into a major manufacturing and IT hub. These advanced hubs need talented young men and women with the right skills and attitudes. There is considerable scope for this Institute to collaborate with these advanced technological units in sharpening the skills of young people who would then find employment in Sriperumbudur itself or elsewhere in our fast growing economy. I hope it might prove possible for such an arrangement to be worked out.
Rajivji sought to use scientific know-how to serve the needs of the people and had a vision of India as a technologically advanced country in the 21st century. It is heartening to see that today, as a result of our collective efforts, and guided by the vision of Rajivji, India has emerged as a global leader in knowledge based industries and in the IT sector. However, to sustain this position we have to continue with our efforts. In this context, the Institute should train youth in the practical application of technology to address developmental needs of the country.
The young are also deeply interested in sports. I understand that the Government will be launching a nation-wide Panchayat Yuva Khel aur Krida Abhiyan which, within a decade or less, will bring organized sports and games facilities to every Panchayat in the country. I am sure this Institute, as an effective resource agency and think-tank for youth policies and programmes, could play a major role in realizing the objectives of the Abhiyan.
Among the many challenges facing our youth is the challenge of HIV / AIDS. This is a dreaded disease, which, could also menace the young, but is equally a disease that is entirely avoidable. Youth United for Victory over AIDS that is the YUVA programme, is a step in the direction of providing information, skills and access to HIV prevention services and facilities in a conducive, safe and supportive environment. I am glad to learn that this institute is conscious of its duties in this national campaign.
The footprints of today will shape our tomorrow, just as the actions of our forefathers have given to us our rich heritage. As Rajivji said, India is an old country but a young nation. As a young nation, we are the proud inheritors of one of the oldest and uninterrupted civilizations known to humankind. Ours is a proud heritage with a rich and diverse culture. To bring culture closer to the lives of the people, seven Zonal Cultural Centres were established in the country at the initiative of Rajivji. These Zonal centers provide a platform for promoting greater cultural exchange and understanding amongst the people within each zone and among zones, and at the same time aim to preserve and to protect our rich cultural heritage and its values of compassion, tolerance and harmonious living. Even as we move towards the future, we must preserve and strengthen our links to our time tested civilizational values. In the joy of song and dance, painting and sculpture, literature and poetry, our youth discover and imbibe the best that has been passed on to us from generation to generation over millennia. The importance of linking our past with our future cannot be over-stated.
The youth of our country are in search of a bright future and seek to build a new India. It is, therefore, incumbent upon us to provide them the necessary opportunities and facilities as also address the problems facing them. At the same time, it is incumbent upon the youth of our country to prepare themselves for the responsibilities that lie ahead and to look at the challenges facing the nation. The youth have a role to play in addressing social issues, including eliminating evil social customs, contributing to India's economic development, participating in its political life, protecting the environment, preserving India's good age old traditions and living up to the high standards of India's ideals and values. For meeting the future with confidence and fulfilling the dream of modern India, the youth would have to inculcate in themselves a sense of discipline, a spirit of tolerance, a quest for knowledge, a positive mind and respect for fellow human beings.
I close, as I began, with an inspiring message to the youth from Shri Rajiv Gandhi, which reverberates down the corridors of time - I quote:
"A century of endeavour beckons us.
A great country is not one which merely has a great past.
Out of that past must arise a glorious future.
Let us build an India
- disciplined and efficient;
- fortified by ethical and spiritual values;
- a fearless force for peace on earth;
- a new civilization, with the strength of our heritage, the creativity of the spring time of Youth and the unconquerable spirit of our people."
Speech taken from website: http://www.presidentofindia.nic.in/sp010907.html.