CONVOCATION ADDRESS By Jiji Thomson IAS Former Chief Secretary, Govt of Kerala
Jiji Thomson IAS Former Chief Secretary, Govt of Kerala | The Knowledge Review | Jiji Thomson IAS Former Chief Secretary, Govt of Kerala | the education magazine

Dr Paul Dhinakaran, esteemed Chancellor of KarunyaUniversity,MrsPaul Dhinakaran, Dr MannarJawahar, Honorable Vice Chancellor, Mrs Stella Dhinakaran and Samuel Paul Dhinakaran, Justice Paul Vasantha kumar, Mrs Grace Pinto, distinguished guests, members of the faculty , my young graduates, ladies and gentlemen!

I consider it a great privilege to be with you this afternoon. This is my first visit to this great temple of learning and I am happy that it is to address you, young friends on the day of your graduation. For you it is a day of joy; for your parents, a day of satisfaction! Today, you are passing a milestone in your life’s journey. Today is the day when you start dreaming about your future. ‘Should I go for further studies or hunt for that elusive job?’ We have no idea of what is in store for us; nevertheless we start in right earnest. It’s customary on the part of the chief guest to wish you all the best. But, I would like to make a departure. I wouldn’t like to wish you everything in plenty; but only in moderation. If you get everything in plenty, you wouldn’t value it much. If you get plenty of sunshine, you wouldn’t know the value of it. If you get plenty of rain, you wouldn’t know how precious each drop of water is. So, my dear young friends, my wish is that you have only sufficient for your sustenance. Have sufficient water, sufficient sunshine, sufficient hardships and sufficient victories!There’s a beautiful prayer in the Book of Proverbs. Let me quote:

“Two things I request of you: Deprive me not before I die.
Remove falsehood and lies from me;
Give me neither poverty nor riches; but give me only my daily bread
Lest I be full and deny you and say, “Who is the Lord?”
Or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God”
This prayer is about contentment which is difficult to practice. Man’s lust for money, power and position has poisoned Mother Earth, and devastated our value system. Let not you be one amongst them! That’s my wish!

Let me also take this opportunity to congratulate Justice Paul Vasanthakumar and Mrs Grace Pinto, the recipients of Doctor of Letters- Honoris Causa, for their great services to the people and the country.May this conferment of honorary Doctorate induce them to bring more glory in their respective spheres of activity.”I am also very elated that I am sharing the dais with Dr Paul Dhinakaran, the son of a great evangelist, D G S Dhinakaran, a man who dedicated his entire life in the service of God. I have heard both father and son, and they have inspired me tremendously. How lucky you are, my young friends to have a servant of God as your Chancellor! ”

As young graduates and post graduates, you should be aware of the socio- economic conditions prevailing in our country and the challenges lying before us.As a student of economics I cannot but talk on this. In a month’s time we will be celebrating our 72nd anniversary of Independence. The fact that we could remain as a sovereign, democratic Republic despite enormous problems affecting the unity of the country, is itself a great achievement. Unlike our neighbouring China, we have the freedom to travel anywhere in the country, follow any religion of our choice and speak out whatever we feel is right. We should thank our founding fathers for enshrining these great liberties in our Constitution. We have also made tremendous progress in many spheres that is the envy of others. But, at the same time, we should not to be oblivious to some startling realities that our country faces today.

At the time of independence our biggest problem was the ever increasing population. India will soon become the World’s most populous country as our population is predicted to surpass that of China within the next decade. We have today, more than 50% of the population below the age of 25 and more than 65% below the age of 35. By 2020, the average age of an Indian will be29 years, compared to 37 for China and 48 for Japan. This shows that we are the youngest nation in the world. And what do the young population need? Jobs! Yes, they require jobs! I agree that India is one of the fastest growing economies in the world; but, has it converted to employment generation or widened inequality? Every year more and more Indians are entering the list of billionaires. FORBES listhas 101 Indians in 2017. The combined wealth of top 10 richest Indians is more than the wealth of the bottom 40% of Indian population.

The billionaire boom is not the sign of a thriving economy but a symptom of a failing economic system. Those working hard growing food for the country, building infrastructure, and working in factories are struggling to find their children’s education, buy medicines for family members and manage two meals a day. The growing divide undermines democracy and promotes corruption and cronyism.

In 2017, the Washington based International Food Policy Research Institute(IFPR) released Global Hunger Index (GHI), where India is ranked 100 among the 119 countries studied. In this study, India falls behind war ravaged Iraq, and the international “outcast” North Korea. Only two countries in Asia- Afghanistan and Pakistan – are below India in ranking.

I vividly remember what a commoner told me when I, as Chief Secretary of the State,visited his house ravaged in floods. Standing knee deep in dirty water, with folded hands he told me: “Sir, we are not interested in Government‘s metro project. We don’t care whether it is‘lightmetro’ or‘major metro’. All we need is some good drinking water and effective steps to save us from infectious diseases.” State governments all over the country are after mega projects. They feel that it is the only way to bring development. A metro line in the heart of the city will make lasting impression on the minds of voters, whereas the the sewage cleaning work will not attract any attention! There’s inadequate recognition that the common man’s needs have to be the priority of a democratic government.There’s not enough recognition of the power of the informal sector, currently numbering six crore, as a change agent, and the critical importance of making resources available to them at affordable rates. There’s not enough recognition that primary and secondary education can be a change agent in the next ten years, if there is genuine reform. Please note: Top economies in the world are closely identified with high quality education, public health and nutrition. I have not even an iota of doubt in my mind that unless we reform our policies relating to education, public health and nutrition we are not going to make any headway in development.

Let me now listsome of the key challenges that are lying before us:

1. Education and Skills. India has 487 million workers, but more than two-thirds of Indian employers report that they struggle to find workers with the right skills. USA produces around 1 lakh engineers per year for a $16 Trillion economy. India produces 15 lakh engineers for a $2 Trillion economy. A typical example of high supply and low demand!
Over and above this, the skill level of an average engineer is very poor. Recently, back in Kerala I met a security guard who proudly stated that he belonged to the first batch of engineering from a nearby engineering college! Mind you, engineering doesn’t come cheap. It costs about 10-15 lakhs. For poor parents it is a huge burden. When their ward is not able to secure a job, they are devastated. And, for the nation, it is a huge loss. Leave around one lakh engineers that NASSCOM says are employable, the rest 14 lakhs have each wasted 10 lakhs of rupees as fees. That totals to around $20 Billion. Almost equal to Government‘s spending on health care. Over this, there is loss of human capital.

2. Urbanisation. More than one-third of Indians live in cities. By 2050, as many as 900 million people will be living in urban centres. Meeting their needs while safeguarding the environment will require innovative models of urban development.

3. Health. India faces the double burden of infectious diseases and a dramatic rise in non- communicable diseases, now estimated to account for more than half of the deaths. According to a study by the Forum in collaboration with Harvard School of Public Health, India stands to lose$1.5 Trillion due to non- communicable diseases and mental disorders by 2030.

4. Sanitation. Many health challenges are linked to sanitation. The Prime Minister’s pet project “Swatch Bharat” has provided millions of Indians with toilets but we have miles and miles to go.

5. Water scarcity. India’s large population places a severe strain on its natural resources, and most of its water resources are contaminated by sewage and agricultural run-off.The city of Chennai has been reeling under its worst water crisis with its four main reservoirs nearly empty. NitiAyog says that 21 Indian cities will run out of ground water by 2020 if usage continues at the current rate. Wet lands are getting encroached upon and catchment areas are vanquishing. Yet there are no formal mechanism in place to check this. Let me tell you my own experience. Way back in 1988, I was the District Collector of your neighbouringdistrict Palakkad. Palakkad is the most drought prone district in Kerala. First year, I followed the age old practice of supplying water in tanker Lorries. Revenue officers were extremely happy as a part of the money spent went directly to their pockets. While travelling extensively in the district, I noticed plenty of temple ponds and public wells, all dried up. They were used as dumping grounds. The next year, I launched a scheme – Jalanidhi- to de silt all temple ponds and public wells with mass participation. In less than a year we rejuvenated all public ponds and subsequently, water level in wells started rising. If this can happen in one district, what prevents the government to follow suit in other districts? There are more than 4000 significant water bodies in Tamil Nadu.The government needs to focus on rejuvenating all water bodies, better watershed management and rain water harvesting. Ad hoc measures will not suffice.

6. Transparency. This is a major concern.According to “Corruption Perceptions Index 2018”, India is ranked 78 out of 180 countries in 2018. Need I say anything more?

I can go on and on. But the point is very clear. The complex challenges that are lying ahead of us can not be solved by the government alone. They require a collaborative approach involving business and political leaders, members of civil society and academia, youth groups and social entrepreneurs.

Friends, these are some of the challenges facing you and me. Will you be in a position to help mitigating any of these problems? Will your knowledge help you? Will you be concerned about those people sleeping on the pavements of big cities? Will your heart ache when you see millions still living in abject poverty? Will your blood boil when you see your sisters getting raped by criminals? Will you stand on the side of justice when powerful elements deny that to the have-nots? Your degrees will be of no value if you feel disenchanted. If you are educated, if you are a human, you need to be concerned about all injustices that are being perpetuated day after day, on the hapless citizens; be it in Coimbatore or Palakkad; Chennai or Delhi ; India or abroad.
One of my favourite poets in Malayalam, NV Krishna Warrier has written about this so powerfully in his poem “Africa”. I quote:

‘“Wherever man’s hands are in fetters
It is my hands that ache;
Wherever is whipping
It is on my back that the lash falls.
Wherever a man writhes in pain to rise
I live there!”

Let these lines resonate in your ears! It is only when you feel like this, can we say that you are truly educated. That you aretruly human. That is what all education aims at- To make you a perfecthuman being!

Friends, allow me to be a preacher, for a just little bit. One night, a leader of the Jews, named Nicodimos approached Jesus Christ. He wanted to know what he should do to be saved. Jesus did not ask him to give up all his riches. He did not ask him to give all his possessions to the poor. Instead, he said something very basic. Something very fundamental. He asked him to be born again! He asked him to be a new person with a new mindset. He asked him to give up the old person in him. That’s the only way! We, the citizens of this great country also need to undergo a similar transformation. We need a thorough re engineering! A thorough overhaul! We need to give up all our our negativism and work whole heatedly for the betterment of our fellow citizens and our society. And, when we do this, others will stand up and say: here’s a man!

Thank you, ladies and gentlemen for your time and patience.


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