I feel exceptionally privileged to address this august gang of youth and distinguished guests. It is most appropriate that this Youth Conclave is being organised at a time when the youth of Manipur are at cross-roads.
Acknovwledging that there is a problem is the first step towards solving it.
Every year thousands of youth pass out from the colleges and universities, but there is no scope of their employment in Manipur even for a small number.
Our former President APJ. Abdul Kalamji, in his later years, spent considerable time with the youth encouraging them to 'dream'. He famously said, "A dream is not something that happens while you are asleep, a dream is something that does not let you sleep".
He had also famously said, "The north east region is endowed with billions of dollars worth of medicinal plants that may provide life-saving drugs for the present and future diseases."
Yet, our people live in abject poverty, and the youth have no scope of local employment, and they, especially women, have to migrate to faraway places to do unskilled work. This also creates social problems.
A Better Future' does not happen by itself, it has to be made to happen. It requires a definitive policy environment. Policies emerge from leaders who have a vision for a better future for the mankind.
We have found that the central policies have very little relevance for a state like Manipur. We have a large hill area and a valley.
We have multi-cultural ethnicity. I want to emphasise that the policy for a better future for the people, especially the youth, of Manipur, has to evolve from Manipur itself.
One of the outcomes of this Conclave may be to constitute a Working Group' (a think tank) to suggest to the government the policy options for a better future for the youth of Manipur.
Another point that I want to emphasise is that the hill and the valley are intrinsically inter-connected.
The recurring floods that happen in the valley are because of the massive deforestation that has taken place in the hills leading to climate change.
We see significant changes in the rainfall patterns and rise in temperatures. The floods submerge the paddy fields as well as the fish ponds in the valley. A friend of mine once joked that everywhere in India people suffer due to flood, but in the Manipur valley everyone is happily fishing in the flood waters to catch the fish that has escaped from the fish ponds. In order to arrest the floods in the valley, the forests have to be recreated in the hill area. The forests function like a water tank. It receives the rain water and releases it slowly.
In my Hengbung Village, we have demonstrated that by growing shade-loving plant like cardamom and fruit trees, forests can be recreated.
The soil, pH and the climate are very suitable to grow exotic fruit trees like blue and black berries, kiwifruit, peach etc. Youth need to take short courses in horticulture and agro-forestry. There is enormous scope for self- employment.
The government can establish horticulture and agro-forestry parks like IT parks.
We are all fish eaters but fish is brought from outside the state. Hi-tech semi- intensive fish culture can be promoted across Manipur where two crops can be taken up. It involves bed preparation, quality fingerlings, feed management, artificial aeration, optimal stocking etc. Fish parks can be created near water resources or where water is available at a shallow depth. Solar-operated water pumps can be used to pump water as well as to run artificial aerators. Government is giving huge subsidies for solar-operated products. Youth can take courses in semi-intensive fish culture and take it up as a micro-enterprise for self-employment.
Women in some parts of the valley carry on their head three, four pots of water, one upon the other, to irrigate vegetable plots. Vegetables can be grown throughout the year and throughout Manipur under the protected cultivation system micro-irrigated by the solar-operated water pump.
This will put an end to women's drudgery and generate income.
Improved poultry breeds like Vanaraja that are double the size of the local birds can be reared by the youth in the backyard. Small incubators are available to hatch the eggs. Housewives and youth throughout Manipur can take this up to augment the family income and for self-employment.
People of Manipur are skilful in weaving and in making products out of cane and bamboo. I have seen in the trade fairs in Delhi stalls from the northeast regions.
Furniture made of cane is sold immediately but not the cloths because the designs are meant for the local people only. Government needs to set up public amenities, like IT parks, weaving and cane parks, engage designers and train the youth. I have seen in the Himachal, Andhra and Karnataka Bhavans in Delhi, permanent shops selling their state products.
Sales counters can be opened in Manipur Bhavans.
This will facilitate marketing. It is not sufficient to organise technical courses on the above subjects, but what is crucial is also creating entrepreneurship in the youth by organising entrepreneurship development programmes.
All the above activities must be taken up based on a bankable business plan and as a micro-enterprise.
The resources in Manipur offer enormous scope for the self-employment and for the upliftment of the youth, and it is in your hands to use them sustainably and develop yourself.
In summary, I wish to state the following:
The government should come out with a policy, framework and guidelines for the upliftment and self-employment of the youth.
This Conclave may constitute a 'Working Group' (a think tank) to suggest inputs for the preparation of the policy framework. Where appropriate, like IT parks, the government should set up parks for horticulture, agro-forestry, vegetable cultivation in poly houses, fish culture, weaving and furniture making.
Designers should be engaged to design marketable designs.
Simple products can be made out of the medicinal, aromatic and edible plants available locally.
The government should organise three to six months skill development courses in horticulture, agro-forestry, vegetable cultivation in poly houses, fish culture, weaving and furniture making.
Importantly, entrepreneurship development programmes must be organised so that the youth may take up these activities as a micro-enterprise.
The government should promote solar-operated water pumps, aerators etc. and easy ways of disbursing the subsidy.
Permanent sales outlets may be opened in the Manipur Bhavans to sell cloth furniture etc.
I wish to express my deep gratitude for inviting me to speak on this occasion.
The writer is a chief of Hengbung Village, president, FEEDS, Hengbung, Senapati District, National vice-president, BJP (ST Morcha), North East in-charge and former Minister.