Maharashtra's coastal Konkan region conjures up vivid, enchanting images of virgin beaches, the Arabian Sea and looming hillocks dotted by imposing seashore forts and lush greenery.There are snaky hilly roads hugging the hillsides, with lush orchards of mangoes, especially the world-famous Alphonso variety, cashewnuts, chickoos, bananas, paddy fields in the valleys mirroring the tall hills with big and small villages at regular intervals, all of which magically come alive during the annual 10-day Ganesh festival during the monsoon.But, amidst the rugged, unexploited natural beauty of Konkan, with abundant rainfall, spread across 31,000 sq km in Mumbai, Thane, Palghar, Raigad, Ratnagiri and Sindhudurg districts, there is seething unrest.
Barring a few tokenist tourism ventures, the region which has thrown up six awardees of the Bharat Ratna - India's highest civilian honour - remains vastly underdeveloped with massive unemployment plaguing the youth and gen-next, who are forced to migrate to Mumbai or Pune and other big cities to take up marginal jobs."This region has been overlooked by the government and industry for development. The problem is compounded futher since the 1970s. The migrants slave in nearby cities and send money home to their families. It is uncharitably referred to as a 'Postal Money Order Economy'," Satish Parab, a top-notch insurance consultant and founder-chairman of Mumbai's SuvarnaKonkan Foundation (SKF) NGO, told IANS.
He lamented that although there are many educational institutions and even a separate SSC/HSC examinations board, the region does not have a full-fledged university, except an agro-research varsity, Ratnagiri's Konkan Krishi Vidyapeeth."Lacking opportunities, the Konkan youth are virtually addicted to low-paying jobs in the unorganized sector in the cities, eking out a bare living and sending a few thousand rupees to support their families," Parab explained.This month, SKF launched a mission to change the scenario and implement Chhatrapati Shivaji's mission of *Swarajya* (self-rule) with a minor twist - "Majha Swaraj" (my self-rule) - by making the youth independent of small-time jobs and equipping them with skills and abilities to become entrepreneurs.
The region has given many national-level figures to the country, among them six Bharat Ratna awardees: in B.R. Ambedkar (born in Mhow, but hailing from Konkan), Lata Mangeshkar, Vinayak Narhari 'Vinoba' Bhave, Sachin Tendulkar, Pandurang Vaman Kane and Maharshi Dhondo Keshav Karve.Some other prominent names are: Bal Gangadhar Lokmanya Tilak, Sarkhel (admiral) Kanhoji Angre, scholar R.G. Bhandarkar, religious preachers Pandurang Sadashiv Sane Guruji, Shree Narayan Vishnu alias Nana Dharmadhikari, his son Dattaraya alias Appasaheb Dharmadhikari, renowned socialist leader Madhu Dandavate - and individuals who brought laurels in sports, the arts, culture, movies, music, academics and other fields in India and globally to Konkan, already famous for its lipsmacking 'Malvan' style of cuisine.However, Parab lamented that all this failed to bring about the much-needed change in the lives of the average Konkanis, who continue to depend on small, slaving jobs while ignoring their independent entrepreneurial skills.
"The population of the coastal Maharashtra region is more than 2.5 crore (25 million) - or roughly 10 percent of the state's total as per 2011 Census. It is blessed with two major and 48 small ports. It has the Tarapur Atomic Power Station and the upcoming Jaitapur Nuclear Power Project and other things dotting its 760-km-long coastline.But there are only 11,000 industrial units and barely 20,000 developed industrial plots. The MIDC has 10 IT parks and there are six private industrial parks, 60 SEZs, around 26,000 MSMEs and 1,250 large enterprises, Parab said, quoting official statistics."But these do not generate sufficient employment opportunities for the locals. Thus, Konkanis comprise nearly 50 percent of the migrant unorganized working population of Mumbai and Thane. This must change. New entrepreneurial opportunities need to be created so that there is reverse migration and pressures on the big cities reduce," Parab said.
The SKF has already begun with a media blitzkrieg, holding seminars and workshops in schools, colleges and existing business enterprises and reaching out to the ordinary Konkani village folk, emphasizing the quest for entrepreneurship.
"Most people ask us: 'What about finance?' I tell them that banks and other institutions are flush with funds and ready to finance big or small viable projects. How many of you have approached banks with viable projects? At this, they look down," Parab said.Attempting to catch 'em young, SKF is distributing thousands of information booklets, conducting online public awareness drives and reaching out through social media networks and at bus stands from where the youth travel to and from Mumbai-Thane and at cinemas and shopping plazas.Although authentic figures of migrants are not available, Parab estimates at least two people from each family - or nearly 50 percent of the working-age Konkani population - fall in this category."If one Konkani becomes an entrepreneur, he/she can create at least five new jobs. Then, Konkani youth will not be driven to cities, they can work, learn and earn while living at home," Parab explained."Our target is modest - 'ghar wapasi' of around 10 percent of the migrants - so that by 2025, the entire Konkan region becomes a hub of entrepreneurship andself-sufficency in all economic respects," Parab said optimistically.The SKF will institute an annual Konkan Ratna Award for those who have already taken to entrepreneurship and represent inspiring rags-to-riches stories, a School of Entrepreneurs for creating and crafting the Art of Entrepreneurship, Balkadu Yojana for the primary school children and showcasing the unique products of Konkan to the world through promotion, branding and modern marketing techniques.