Editor's Note: The idea of a 'ghost village' is now a reality in Uttarakhand, where remote villages in the hills lack basic amenities like roadways, health centres and schools. This seven-part series will examine the root cause of this migration and the measures being taken to tackle the problem.
Dehradun, Uttarakhand: It’s been 18 years since Uttarakhand was carved out of Uttar Pradesh, but poor road connectivity in its remote hilly areas is leading to mass exodus and empty villages. Dinesh Mahtolia is a professional trainer and motivator hailing from Uttarakhand’s Bhadrakot village in Nainital; unfortunately, there is little about his own hometown that motivates him: more than 50 percent of the residents, including the Mahtolias, have long since migrated from the village, when we spoke to him. Reason: it’s been 18 years since Uttarakhand came into existence, but Mahtolia’s native place still lacks road connectivity, as do thousands of others.
Unlike many other states, Uttarakhand doesn’t have the luxury of multiple transport options; road is the only option. That’s the harsh reality of the hilly state, one of the main reasons behind mass migration of locals heading to other areas with better connectivity and basic amenities.
No road map in sight
“Several families, including mine, shifted to Haldwani city in the same district; many others left the state altogether, some even the country, due to lack of proper road infrastructure,” said Mahtolia. “And this despite hailing from a VVIP district — Nainital — that was, in fact, the summer capital of the United Provinces during the British Raj. Also, three-time Uttar Pradesh chief minister, the late Narayan Dutt Tiwari, who was also Uttarakhand chief minister, hails from Nainital. If a popular district as this is in such poor shape, what can be expected for others in remote regions?”
It’s ironic that Uttarakhand was created out of Uttar Pradesh to better handle the hilly area’s infrastructural development, which was “ignored” in the huge state’s governance. The BJP and Congress have played musical chairs with Uttarakhand’s seat of power nine times thus far, and yet, those residing in thousands of its villages still don’t have access to proper roads.
Authorities paint different picture
According to Public Works Department (PWD) data, there are 15,745 villages (tok) in Uttarakhand. Of these, 12,225 have road connectivity. Which means 3,520 villages (25 percent) don’t.
Mahtolia explained, “We have to cross the Gola river to reach the nearest road. Come monsoon, even this option is taken away, as the rising water level cuts villages off, and there is no bridge yet to cross it. The alternative is to walk a 7 to 8 kilometre hilly stretch.” PWD head RC Purohit, however, defended the department, saying roads have been sanctioned in 2,519 villages. “We have a target of laying 800 to 900 kilometres of road per year. The government and PWD are committed to connecting every citizen,” he said.
Official figures, however, paint a one-sided picture. According to government data, 34,000 kilometres of road has been laid in Uttarakhand over the past 18 years, but only 24,000 kilometres is black-topped, that is concretised. In the rest, work hasn’t progressed after the initial hillside cutting. With 10,000 kilometres left uneven, driving is at the motorists’ risk. Worse still, questions have been raised over the construction quality of completed roads, as most deteriorated soon after construction.
Home is where the road is
Mahtolia said, “I have a deep emotional bond with my village, but if I want to ensure a good education and future for my children, I can’t go back there. I visit once or twice a year, but I have to put up in someone else’s house, as my home is in complete disrepair.”
Echoing Mahtolia, Dipak Mudila, a resident of Kusail village on the border district of Pithoragarh, said his native place in Didihat development block also lacks road connectivity. “My village is in danger of being completely abandoned. Residents have migrated to places that give them access to basic amenities. I have shifted to the district headquarters. The worst thing though is hillside cutting for roads; authorities include those areas in the list of road-connected villages, but these stretches are not at all safe to drive on, especially during the monsoon,” he added.
Mudila said further, “I go to Salla village from Pithoragarh where I lecture at the the Inter College. There are very dangerous spots at many places but contractors have not repaired it for the past four years. Although a large sum of money is allocated every year to repair roads in the name of disaster management, there's never any improvement. The story is the same in almost all remote hilly areas, as there is no monitoring and accountability.” He added that highways are in much better shape compared to link roads.
State government’s promises
However, Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat sought to assure that his government is serious in tackling the problem of migration and enhancing road connectivity. “I admit that thousands of villages are yet to be connected, but it’s also true that 4,270 kilometres of new road has been laid and 1,472 roads have been reconstructed over the past 22 months. At the same time, 155 new bridges have been sanctioned, so that transportation can be smoother,” he said.
Pointing out the constraints, Rawat added that Uttarakhand has limited resources and a complex geographical situation; nevertheless, its infrastructural development would be the top priority, he promised.
Rahul Singh Shekhawat is a Dehradun-based freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters.com
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Updated Date: Feb 07, 2019 11:50:10 IST