Originally Published 2011-11-18 00:00:00 Published on Nov 18, 2011
If Uttar Pradesh was to be declared a separate country, it would be the sixth-largest nation. With a population at par with Brazil and per-capita income similar to Kenya's,
UP is home to people with dangerously wide gaps in skills, income and caste
If Uttar Pradesh was to be declared a separate country today, it would be the sixth-largest nation. With a total population at par with Brazil, population density comparable to that of the UK and per-capita income similar to Kenya's, it indicates the paradox of its citizen occupying the same space as his Latin and UK counterparts, yet living in conditions similar to those in Africa.

Setting this hypothesis aside, let us visit a few demographic facts. Uttar Pradesh has nearly 80% rural population, and its 76% population comprises scheduled castes (SC) and backward classes. A quick analysis shows that by 2016, more than 95% of the 8.5 crore population in the 25-60 age group would be looking for earning opportunities with neither sufficient education nor skills.

Even in the best-case scenario, we cannot expect more than 5-7 lakh graduates along with another 10 lakh secondary-educated in that age-group. The remaining would have attended only primary or middle school, or no education at all. The picture becomes more alarming when we see that the quality of education at lower levels ispoor and completely disconnected from increasing employability.

Statisticians might argue that the unemployment rate in UP at 2-3% is quite low, and it may be true; but when we view this through the lens ofnature of employment, a different picture emerges. About 96% of the economic activity in Uttar Pradesh is in the informal sector with low productivity and low income.

This mostly includes daily wagers working as agriculture labourers, construction workers, drivers, cleaners, carpenters, cooks, waiters, kirana owners and so on. With very low monthly per-capita expenditure (MPCE) - about 828 rural and 1,365 urban - we see a grave danger of incomes not matching expenditure.

The low education levels and work skills along with poor socioeconomic bargaining power further dampen productivity, thereby affecting income levels and making people more vulnerable. This vulnerability would be significantly high in the age group of 25-34 years, which would see the highest rise in population to a whopping 3.5 crore in 2016, almost a 25% rise over the present population of 2.8 crore.

The aggregate position may be alarming, but a region- and religion-wise dissection is starker. As in 2011, nearly 8 crore of the 20 crore people in UP are spread over 27 districts of east UP who live in despair with a MPCE of 838 compared to 1,124 of west UP that comprises Noida, Ghaziabad and richer districts of upper Gangetic Plain. With more that a third of the state population at the lowest MPCE, 90% rural and a burgeoning youth population, east UP is one of the most vulnerable regions in India. No wonder we have hotbeds of crime like Azamgarh, Gorakhpur and others.

Now, let us look at west UP that has nearly 32% Muslim population in 10 high-growth districts compared to an average of 17% in all of UP, yet the benefits of growth seem to elude them.

The MPCE of Muslims in west UP is 49% lower than that of Hindus whereas in east UP, the difference is only 16%. Another alarming figure is that west UP has the highest urban population of 35%, indicating a strong case where the two religious groups are strongly concentrated near each other with wide disparities in income, creating a situation that could be easily exploited by religious forces.

Though the state has witnessed sensitive situations between religious groups in the past, the last two decades have seen sharper divisions along caste and class lines. The state's 51% OBCs are divided in over 230 groups and its 25% SCs are now more sensitive around caste and class than religion. The OBCs in west UP have become stronger and are 23% more prosperous than their counterparts in east UP.

Similarly, SCs in east UP have become the poorest in the country with an MPCE of 699 while their counterparts in west UP are located much above the state average at 948. Such disparities have been consistently exploited by political parties, leading to inequity at the time of distribution of wealth, justice and services.

Uttar Pradesh, which represents nearly a fifth of India, is reckoned as the biggest contributor to the demographic and economic paradigm in the country. With rapidly-changing demographic trends, the state would soon have a very large uneducated, unskilled and low-income workforce that is vulnerable to crime, anti-social activity and an easy target for radical groups.

A lot of debate today revolves around India's demographic dividend, drawing comparisons with China. However, we fail to analyse that China in the 1980s made some radical reforms in education and employment apart from industrial and investment policies which led to its phenomenal growth over the last two decades.

Learning from what China did 30 years ago, the government and policymakers in our country and states have to put together an integrated approach to manage this looming danger. Industrial, investment, education and employment policies have to be aligned, parallel systems of skill enhancement have to be set up and labour markets have to be organised.

We cannot politicise the issue as the danger cuts across party, religious and caste lines. Over the next decade, the large pool of uneducated and unskilled youth mostly engaged in the informal sector with low productivity may become a 'liability' instead of 'dividend', unless acted upon now.

(The writer is a Programme Adviser to ORF)
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