In a democracy, policy and politics share an extremely nuanced, indelible relationship. The politics of the day directly shape policy, and policies made determine the kind of politics leaders articulate. With the growing relevance of the youth as not only a demographic group but also a voter base, policies in India have slowly begun to lay greater emphasis on different aspects of the youth and their advancement.
A lot of youth policy today is routed through the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports, responsible for drafting the National Youth Policy, among other things. However, things were not always this way. It is important to recognise that this Ministry is among the youngest in the Cabinet - coming into existence only in 1982 as the Sports Department. In 1985, commemorating the United Nations’ International Youth Year, the Department was renamed to include Youth Affairs too. It was only in 2000 that it was given the status of a separate ministry. These changes can in fact be seen as congruent with larger changes in demography and technology that made the voice of the younger population more and more visible in political spheres.
In the last twenty years, the Ministry has introduced and brought under its wing several schemes, focussing on different aspects of youth policy. Other Ministries too, often work on schemes closely aligned with Youth Development. This article examines the dimensions of youth welfare, and the schemes articulated in their contexts.
Education remains perhaps the most relevant issue in the context of the youth. It has a direct bearing on other prospects, especially employment. Through the National Education Policy, the Ministry of Education takes centrestage in this sphere, however, the Youth Ministry also deals in several important initiatives. Among them is SAMVAY, or Skills Assessment Metric for Vocational Assessment. This scheme introduces a credit framework to encourage vocational training, continuously monitor learning outcomes and make young adults more employable with work skills.
Over time, governments have shifted focus from the youth as job-seekers to the youth as job-makers. Creating a framework that promotes entrepreneurship is difficult, since it involves serious structural and institutional changes in how policy deals with business. It is also many-pronged, and aims to give equal importance to start-ups in both urban and rural settings. The PM Mudra Scheme is a flagship loan-provision programme, supporting small and micro enterprises which are outside of both the corporate and agricultural sector. The Agriculture Accelerator Fund, proposed in the Budget for FY 23-24 is a similar funding scheme, targeted at young rural entrepreneurs.
Engagement of the youth with institutions of the state and politics are also concerns of the government. Through initiatives such as the National Programme for Youth and Adolescent Development (NPYAD), it seeks to increase youth participation in the mainstream discourse. Under this umbrella scheme, several incentive based events, festivals and drives have been launched to involve more young people in social and cultural conversations. It also includes initiatives for life skills training, counselling, career guidance and inter-state exchange of culture and ideas among students.
Health of children and senior citizens is often in conversation. Health of the youth remains understated in conversations on policy, for several reasons. Recently, however, aspects of youth and student health have gained greater traction. The National Mental Health Policy, 2014, is seen as an important step in this regard. It includes in its ambit the destigmatisation of mental health issues, reaching out to vulnerable populations and laying focus on equitable distribution.
While some broad areas of youth policy are addressed, there continue to be lacunae. Several aspects are not as relevant in the political discourse, and therefore, the policy space. To increase the space India’s young citizens may occupy in government budgets, political participation and relevance may be the most important way forward.