Monday, October 8, 2012

2014 Lok Sabha elections: Congress eyes Dalit votes with India Inc help

The Congress-led UPA government is leaning on India Inc to facilitate training and job opportunities for youths from the Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs).

The urgency to reach out to the most underprivileged section of the society is not without reason. The 2014 general elections are just one and a half years away and Dalits form a sizeable chunk of the electorate.

The Prime Minister's Office (PMO) has consulted industry leaders twice - in August and September - with its objective of meeting certain "meaningful targets involving training and employment of SC/ST youths in corporate sector".

A top government source said the target is to train one million youths in the next five years in 27 districts of five states - Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Punjab, Orissa and Chhattisgarh - which have over 47 per cent SC/ST population.The proposed initiative is also aimed at not allowing other political parties, particularly the BSP and the Samajwadi Party, score over the Congress on the issue of welfare of backward communities, the source added.

A senior PMO official, however, said the government's affirmative action plan to "enroll SC/ST youths in corporate jobs" is nothing new. It has been executed earlier too but has failed to deliver the "desired results". He said the government and the industry seem to have different takes when it comes to "corporate quota for Dalits".

Officials confirmed that as a result of the last few meetings of the coordination committee on affirmative action convened by the PMO, a new target has been given to the industry for the next five years to work in the SC/ST dominated districts.

"The numbers achieved are disappointing and they need a firm push…The corporate sector needs to redefine the achievable targets and bring this affirmative action scheme as part of the corporate social responsibility (CSR)…It should reach out to the youths among the Dalits," the official said. Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar, who is a Dalit leader, has also been pushing the affirmative action initiative. "A rejuvenated initiative will only achieve the growth involving an inclusive society," she said.

The last meeting in late September was chaired by Pulok Chatterjee, principal secretary to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, and attended by senior members from the industry, including Sunil Kant Munjal of Hero group, Assocham vice-president Sunil Kanoria, Ficci director general Dr Arbind Prasad, and CII deputy director general Supriya Banerjee. Secretaries of labour, tribal affairs and department of industrial policy and promotion also attended the meeting, which resulted in some movement forward, claimed sources in the industry. Reacting to the meetings, Munjal told Mail Today: "A fair amount of advancement has certainly been made…(but) a lot needs to be done."

Added a top government source: "The government does not want a situation where political parties may put pressure on it for ensuring jobs to Dalits in the corporate sector… A safety valve is what we are looking at to give vent to the frustration building among the unemployed youths. The PMO feels that the CSR schemes will deliver for these target groups." The industry has sounded a positive note but is cautious about the "agenda set up by the government". Ficci secretary general Rajiv Kumar said: "The initiative launched cannot just be mandatory in nature, but voluntary to…We know that the Companies Bill has already made the provision to use 2 per cent of the net profit as 'mandatory' under the CSR, but the industry feels that it would amount to possible malpractices."

It is not that the industry is not working on such projects "voluntarily". There is one such project being worked out by Ficci in Sonbhadra district in UP, while the Assocham is meeting state officials in Bihar and Chhattisgarh with their 'train-and-employ' schemes.

The industry feels that a targeted beginning has been made with a string of meetings at regular intervals in the PMO, but there is still a "disconnect" between the government and the industry over skills and training offered to the Dalits and the possible jobs for them. The industry strongly feels that any scheme under the programme will not succeed until a clear "economic target is defined".

Assocham senior adviser G.P. Srivastava said: "The skills given to the target youths have to be in sync with the jobs in the market. It has to be in telecom, retail, hospitality, real estate and automobile sectors rather than the stereotyped sectors as fitter, welders and plumbers... If the employers will not get the desired skills in a particular candidate, the scheme will not achieve the desired results."

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