The summer unrest in the Kashmir Valley was spearheaded by teenaged school boys, quite obviously indoctrinated and misled into following this destructive path by forces inimical to ushering of peace and prosperity in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, especially s, in the valley.
It has become quite apparent that channelising the energy of the youth towards constructive activity is a key result area and an imperative for the governments policy to fight terrorism, unrest and separatism in the state.
Education forms the fulcrum in this regard, not only because it is the best route for progress but also because the Kashmiri are very conscious of its importance in meeting their aspirations. In Kashmir an educated person draws more respect than an uneducated businessman who is earning in millions, such is the thought process of the society. Education, therefore, needs to be given due attention right from the formative years to the highest level that affords employability.
Inadequacy of higher education infrastructure in Kashmir valley is a major disadvantage for students aspiring to compete at the national level for examinations that afford entrance into institutes like Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) and other professional colleges.
The problem gets amplified for children from the lower socio-economic strata of the valley, since they do not have the resources to access high quality coaching centers located outside the region.
Accordingly, in 2013, the Srinagar based Chinar Corps of the Indian Army in concert with the Centre for Social Responsibility and Leadership (CSRL), a Delhi based Non Governmental Organisation (NGO), conceptualised an initiative to provide a platform for the underprivileged yet talented students of the Kashmir Valley.
The two organisations joined hands to set up a free coaching programme for taking the competitive examination for Indian Institutes of Technology/Joint Entrance Exam (IIT/JEE) and also for J&K Common Entrance Test (JKCET). The objective was to facilitate the students towards securing admission to premier Engineering Colleges within the state and across the country.
The project initially christened ‘Kashmir Super 30’ drew inspiration from the widely acclaimed Super-30 Programme initiated by Shri Abhayanand, for aspiring students from socially disadvantaged background in Bihar.
Every year since 2013, 40 students (35 boys and 05 girls) are selected from economically weaker section of society in J&K who have scored above 60% marks in 10+2, and have aptitude and capability to sit for competitive examinations in the Engineering stream. Students are selected by process of advertisement, visits to schools in remote areas and a rigorous aptitude test.
The facility has been established at an army civilian welfare structure at the Tatto ground in Srinagar named the Muskaan Complex. It is here that the selected boys are lodged free of cost and provided expert coaching for a period of 11 months from May to Apr every year. The girls are accommodated at the Noida, Uttar Pradesh facility of the NGO.
Infrastructure includes classrooms for teaching, computer laboratories, study room, dormitory, dining hall etc. Civilian support staff has been employed to maintain the facility administratively. A representative of the Army is permanently stationed at the facility for overall management and supervision.
A resident faculty comprising of three members – one each for Physics, Chemistry and Mathematics is permanently stationed in the Muskaan Complex to provide coaching in concert with a structured curriculum. Necessary value addition and the critical competitive edge is provided by a number of faculty members with wider experience being brought in from Delhi, Kota, and other places.
The budgetary support for the programme is provided through public/private companies under their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives and the funds are routed through CSRL. For the pilot project in 2013-14, Power Grid India contributed Rs 30 lakhs; for the second batch Rs 50 lakhs were provided by Rural Electrification Council (REC); the third batch was funded for Rs 50 lakhs by TATA Relief Committee (TRC).
The first batch commenced training in June 2013 with 23 students. The results achieved were encouraging with one student cracking the IIT/JEE, seven students joining the NIT, Srinagar and the remaining securing admission in other State Engineering Colleges.
The second batch of 36 students, commenced training in June 2014; of these three qualified for the IIT/JEE, nine for NIT, Srinagar, nine for AMU and 13 for the JKCET.
The third batch of 26 students commenced training in July 2015. Out of these 15 students cleared the IIT/JEE mains and 03 students qualified for IIT-JEE adv. 13 Students cleared the JKCET exam.
For the current i.e. fourth batch, a tripartite agreement has been signed among Petronet LNG Limited (PLL), Indian Army and CSRL. PLL has agreed to provide Rupees Eighty Nine Lakh Fifty Thousand for the project as part of its CSR initiative. The funds are released by PLL directly to CSRL progressively, as per a schedule which forms part of the agreement.
It is notable that even when the Kashmir Valley was enveloped in unrest and turmoil during the summer months, the coaching of the current batch went on unhindered. The students are now in an advanced state of readiness to compete with the very best in India when the examination is held.
In view of the huge response and unprecedented success ratio, efforts are underway to enhance the batch strength to 50 in the coming academic year.
Due to its long association with the people of the state the army has the capability of catching the local pulse and coming up with such initiatives that are close to their heart. School education in the form of Army Goodwill School, vocational training and woman empowerment through many centres opened across the state and now the Super 30/40 programme have been path breakers in the process of meeting local aspirations.
The Army, however, has a limited capacity in this domain which it is using to the hilt. A good option for the government would be to ride on the model provided by the Army and provide extend such initiatives across the board. In case every student is given an opportunity to reach the highest level of his literary competence the problems of Kashmir will ease out considerably in a short span of time.
(A well known columnist and author Jaibans Singh takes keen interest in J&K affairs)