According to many international experts, India is poised to become the next economic superpower by 2050. A major underlying reason for this is the Indian Demographic Dividend. By 2020, the average age in India will be 29 and it is set to become the world’s youngest country with 64% of its population in the working age group. Such a huge number of young minds, if utilized judiciously and in the right way can increase India’s GDP growth exponentially. This will give a double-digit growth rate of the Indian Economy which might transform into millions of jobs leading to reduction in poverty and economic inequality in India.

But to extract the potential advantages of the ‘Youth Bulge’ in India, the country needs to use this youth force in the right manner, i.e. the youth needs to be skilful, competitive, confident, healthy and employed. All these attributes, currently are lacking in Indian youth which is posing the risks of the Indian Demographic Dividend turning into a Demographic Disaster. This is because if these youths are not gainfully employed now, they would become a burden for the nation now and in the future when they grow old. There are many structural and economic issues which are creating obstacles in utilising this Indian youth-force. But there is a bigger, more serious and a neglected issue which is a major roadblock in the way of reaping India’s Demographic Dividend. This is the problem of Reservations which is prevalent in the Indian socio-economic system. Reservations in jobs and educational institutions is hampering and preventing the positive use of the Indian youth in many ways. This is not only proving to be an obstacle in encashing the demographic dividend but is also increasing the risks of a demographic disaster situation for India in future.

First of all, reservations have prevented from developing, a system and environment of competition in the economy and among the youth. The ideal system of competition is replaced by the inefficient and unjust system of reservations which gives a ‘wrong signal’ to the youth (getting reservations), that goals can be reached without hard work and dedication. On the other hand, it also says (to the youth not getting reservations) that they won’t get their due success and recognition even if they work hard and sincere. This is a dangerous outcome which promotes inefficiency and endangers India’s demographic dividend. The Indian youth currently needs to be skilful and competitive so as to become gainfully employed and contribute to India’s economic growth. For this to happen, the system of reservations needs to go.

Secondly, the Indian youth today seems to be more interested in getting reservations than in enhancing their skills and working hard to achieve their goals. The recent Jat protests for reservations in govt. jobs highlights this fact reasonably well. The talent of the youth is getting diverted and wasted in violent protests for reservations. These violent pro-reservation protests by youths is a double-blow to the nation as instead of using the youth-force for productive and constructive work, it is being diverted in the wrong direction where they are damaging public property and tilting towards criminal tendencies. Japan is a stellar example of using its youth-force in the right direction through a system of Meritocracy. The credit of the unbelievable success of Japan which had a scarcity of resources goes to its young people, who excelled owing the efficient system of competition among themselves. India also needs to follow the Japan example, if it has to become a developed country. For this, the system of reservations needs to be replaced by the system of meritocracy and competition.

Thirdly, the system of reservations in India have promoted and increased Unemployment among the youth. This is because of the development of low or no skills among the youth due to the inefficiencies created in them by the reservation system. Also, the system of reservations has repelled and reduced private investments in the economy as it increases costs and reduces profits for firms. This reduction in investments have led to reduction in employment activities in the economy. This increase in unemployment due to reservations have caused several disadvantages to the country. It has not only prevented the attainment of potential economic growth for Indian economy but has also increased poverty and inequality. Apart from this, the youth today, in the age of social media, are easily being radicalised, landing them outside the mainstream. To increase the employment activities and unleash the youth-productivity in the economy, the employability of the youth needs to be enhanced which can be done single-handedly by abolishing the system of reservations.

The system of reservations is also responsible for the bad condition of the Indian Education System which has the most important role in shaping the career and destiny of the youth. Reservations in the educational institutions have led to the absorption of less efficient students in these institutions, leaving out the efficient ones. This, on one hand encourages and creates an increase in the no. of failed students in the university examinations along with a spike in the dropout rates of brighter students. It has also led to the process of Brain-Drain of Indian students to foreign universities who ultimately settle there. Reservations in educational institutions, according to many reports and studies, has also created a demand-supply mismatch in the education system. This is because absorption of less efficient students in a college, raises costs for the institution in terms of the quality of results, increased efforts to get the inefficient student over the line in exams, etc. Deterioration in the quality of education system has serious repercussions for the country in general and for the youth in particular. It prevents the youth from becoming an asset to their family, society and the country by arresting their growth as a responsible and efficient citizen of the country. On the contrary, a less than satisfactory educational system risks the future of its youth and hence the country. To give the right direction to the country it is important to ensure that its youth are kept on the right track through a fully efficient education system. This in India entails the destruction of the sub-optimal policy of reservations in the Indian Education System.

Indian youth is at the centre of the Indian Demographic Dividend. But this window is a fast-closing one. The govt. needs to quickly abolish the system of reservations to bring in the system of meritocracy and competition in govt. jobs and educational institutions. Whether this is done or not at the soonest, will decide whether The Indian youth proves to be a blessing or a curse for India in future. Currently, a vicious circle has developed in India where there is a lack of planning for youth which has magnified the cry for reservations in the system which again fuels a policy paralysis regarding the Indian youth. The Indian govt. needs to show strong Political Will to attain its agenda of ‘Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas’ which can be achieved only by introducing the system of meritocracy. Whether India’s youth will be a blessing or a curse, a demographic dividend or a disaster, firmly rests in the hands of the government and the pro-youth policies it implements.