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 Suvarna.
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.