Not all ghost stories are fiction, at least in Uttarakhand
Abject lack of employment in the hill districts has led to large-scale migration to the plains, leaving entire mountain villages uninhabited.
- Total Shares
If Uttarakhand is one of India's most beautiful tourist destinations, the state also happens to house the most intriguing abandoned settlements - modern ghost villages. Ironically, it is sixth richest state in India in terms of per capita income, but those living in its hill districts have a different story to tell.
It seems as if Uttarakhand was created for the development of Haridwar, Haldwani, Rudrapur and Dehradun - all cities in the plains - and not for the 16,000-plus villages in the hills. The irony is that the state was carved out of Uttar Pradesh in 2000 in order to give the required attention to development of its remote hill districts.
Since its formation, the BJP and the Congress have in turn ruled the state, which has had seven chief ministers in 17 years. That's one every two-and-a-half years. Only veteran ND Tiwari could complete his full five-year tenure. Seventeen years since, the hills of Uttarakhand are still deprived of basic facilities, most importantly healthcare.
The issue of migration often makes it to the election manifestos of many political parties, but not much has been done to check the problem beyond political rhetoric. Abject lack of employment in these districts has led to large-scale migration to the plains, leaving entire mountain villages uninhabited. Farming, which used to be the primary occupation in the hills, is crippled by small land holdings and lack of agricultural initiatives by the governments.
Uttarakhand chief minister Trivendra Singh Rawat. The state has seen seven chief ministers in 17 years.
Even in the past people living in the mountains used to migrate to the plains in search of jobs, but they would leave their families behind. But now migrations to the plains involve entire families moving from the hills to the plains, either within Uttarakhand or to other parts of the country. While hill districts in the state saw a decadal population growth of 12.75 per cent, the plains recorded almost 32 per cent.
This is a sure sign of large scale migration of entire families from the hills. The intra-state migration has led to a demographic drain from the hill-districts leading to creation of ghost villages. There are 1,048 villages in the state that are uninhabited , according to Census 2011.
As many as 80 per cent villages across the 13 districts, including Pauri, Tehri, Almora, Uttarkashi, Chamoli and Pithoragarh have registered a population of less than 500. There has been a negative decadal growth of -1.38 observed in the district of Almora. The Pauri Garhwal district has also seen negative growth of -1.41 per cent. Ironically, Uttarakhand CM Trivendra Singh Rawat, UP CM Yogi Adityanath, Army chief Bipin Rawat, NSA Ajit Doval and RAW chief Anil Dhasmana hail from villages in Pauri Garhwal.
The population in both the districts together fell by 17,868 people between 2001 and 2011.
In 2015, the National Institute for Rural Development and Panchayat Raj conducted a survey in 217 households in Almora and Pauri Garhwal to understand the dynamics of exodus in the state. The top reason for migration was found to be unemployment.
The attraction to cities in plains arising due to hardship of village life in hills such as poor commuting facilities, lack of water, inadequate healthcare facilities, poor educational facilities and inaccessible markets have further accelerated the process of migration of youth. There has also been slowing down of growth in agriculture and allied activities in Uttarakhand.
Its annual, average growth stood at 4 per cent between 2010 and 2015 compared with Himachal Pradesh’s 9 per cent in the same period.
Himachal Pradesh earns more than Rs 15,000 crore every year from horticulture and agriculture because of its government policies. It seems the Uttarakhand government never focussed on developing agriculture and that is why there is such a deep decline.
What's more, with migrants abandoning their land to the village community, vacant farmlands are attracting wild animals from surrounding forests and this is leading to man-animal conflicts.
The hill population in villages live as communities and work as communities. If a faction of population starts migrating then it becomes difficult for the rest to stay back. There is an inevitable socio-economic pressure to migrate on the community. The already migrated populace also helps others to settle in other cities by providing help in seeking employment or temporary accommodation.
The Panchayati Raj Act of Uttarakhand, passed as late as 2016, clearly states that local hill-governments have not been given the importance that was meant to be accorded to them during the creation of the state. Agriculture has become furthermore difficult to manage with productive land scattered between the barren land left by the resettled population. (Land turns barren after abandonment or gets covered with deep-rooted weeds and shrubs). Also, increasing water scarcity has made irrigation of land almost impossible.
These are the primary causes of migration. The decline in agriculture should be the first step towards checking the problem of migration because farming is the main occupation of the people. Any issue that plagues the villages cannot be resolved without solving problems related to agriculture. No major initiatives have been taken up to improve agriculture and its productivity through its diversification in favour of high value crops. Also, the barren land has the potential to be redeveloped and consolidated with farmlands.
The crops could also be diversified with focus on cash crops like mushrooms that require less irrigation. There are many alternatives to revive the agricultural sector, but there’s no support from the government’s side. Farmers are not getting the required support of agricultural extension services, development of irrigation channels, use of better seeds, improved inputs, technology and marketing.
While the respective governments have been busy playing political games, the common people of the state have hardly mattered.
These are the real "constitutional" crises of the state today (right to life and livelihood) that need quick remedies, not electoral gimmicks. Uttarakhandis who have migrated out of the state can also play a role here by adopting the affected villages.