Manipur has a population only a little over 27 lakh as per the 2011 census. Its literacy rate stands at 79.85 percent, more than 5 percent higher than the tiol average. With shrewd foresight and honest drive, a government in Manipur could have turned these figures to advantage. But that has not been so. Alarmingly, about one-fourth of the population is registered as unemployed. The problem goes deeper since uneducated laborers will hardly figure among the registered unemployed numbering nearly 7.5 lakh. No wonder Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh recently said that of all the issues confronting his government, including law and order, this is turning out to be ‘quite a headache’. And headache it is, considering that the State government continues to be the biggest employer. But it only has about 25,000 vacancies in various departments, as revealed during the recent assembly budget session. To add insult to injury, there are widespread, persistent allegations that most government posts are for sale. Recruitment processes are riddled with irregularities, results are withheld for years, candidates meanwhile cross age limits and the process goes back to square one. So where do these young people go? There are fears that sizeable numbers of youths with nothing to do are making up the ranks of 50-odd rebel outfits active in the state. Extorting taxes to run parallel governments, these outfits mostly organized on ethnic lines, try to keep cadres in good humor with easy money. The widespread feeling on the ground is that it is educated unemployment which is continuing to fuel the insurgency. The unrest makes it impossible to attract businesses from outside. The upshot is an exodus of youths out of the State, mostly trying their luck in the service sector with whatever education and skills they get to acquire in a dated curriculum. Given the prejudice against Northeasterners in many parts of the country, these youths have to run the gauntlet of more challenges than others in holding down their jobs.
Governments in Manipur needed to have a programme running to create local entrepreneurs and facilitate self-employment. That they have mostly failed has much to do with lack of vision as well as critical infrastructure. The State gets its supplies from two tiol highways — but NH2 from Numaligarh via galand remains mostly shut due to blockades called by ga groups while NH37 from Silchar is little more than a potholed dirt track. So, bringing raw materials over land route is prohibitively costly. The Railways authority has been huffing and puffing to put Manipur on the rail map; after the Silchar-Jiribam link was converted to broad gauge, the first freight train on the section ran only on February this year. A viable rail route to Guwahati and beyond is still three years away; if the Jiribam to Tupul section with as many as 34 tunnels over 39 km of rugged terrain is slated for completion this year, another two years will be needed to connect Tupul with capital Imphal. Though Chief Minister Ibobi Singh recently spoke about his government’s efforts to provide 24×7 electricity supply to all district and sub-divisiol headquarters in both hill and valley areas, entrepreneurs point to frequent power outages as one of the major disincentives in setting up small industries in the State. And so there are too few private sector jobs going around in Manipur, to add to the paucity of government jobs. It is high time for the State to introduce application-oriented education relevant for emerging industries. There is much hopeful talk of building up Manipur with a textile and handicrafts base, as a tourism hub with open links to South-East Asia, an organic State exporting a range of agri-horticultural products, a sports power and a healthcare provider. Before that, it needs to have the right infrastructure in place. And it needs to bank on its human resource, even though it is mostly exporting the cream of this resource at present.