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: "We might as well have not separated from Uttar Pradesh if this was going to be the state of affairs" — this is the common train of thought that villagers in Uttarakhand have been voicing. Reason: the 40-year-old problem of mass migration that continues to hold the hilly region in its grip.
The Rural Development and Migration Commission, set up by Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat in 2017, released its survey report early last year. Its findings paint a grim picture of the state of affairs — in the past decade, 1,18,981 people from 3,946 gram panchayats migrated permanently, and 3,83,726 people from 6,338 gram panchayats shifted temporarily (they visit their homes but live outside the state for work).
In search of a livelihood
Ganesh Dutt Bhatt of Bhatt village in Takula development block, 25 kilometres from the Almora district headquarters, has watched his village become emptier and emptier over the past four-odd decades. So severe is the problem that the 61-year-old himself migrated a few days ago, despite his age. He now runs a small shop in Almora.
"When I was 15, there were 100-odd families in my village. But facilities were so few and poor that people started leaving for cities in the early 1980s. Now, 35-odd families are left," he said.
"The educated are the first to leave as they get good jobs in cities and settle there. My eldest brother stays in Nainital district's Haldwani town, and two other brothers are in Almora. What is one to do when there aren't many options for livelihood in the village? There are hardly any industries or factories in the development block. Earlier, people cultivated crops, but monkeys, pigs and other animals have made even that difficult now. It's just not viable (to live in Bhatt) anymore, given the expenditure and waste."
Ganesh is not exaggerating. When you look at the findings of the survey, you can see that 50 percent of villagers from gram panchayats migrated in search of livelihood and employment, 15 percent for education and 8 percent due to lack of medical facilities in their hamlets.
He added that Bhatt village got a road only five years ago, before which the sick had to be transported in palanquins.
"We lived in such circumstances, making do with whatever we had, but it's harder for the younger generation. Also, for us, there was that emotional bond with our roots that made us stay for so long. But the youths, especially those who are financially more stable, have left. Only the uneducated and those who can't afford to stay in cities are left in the village now," Ganesh explained.
As per the commission's report, youths constitute the highest number of those who migrated from Uttarakhand — 42 percent are in the age group of 26 to 35, 29 percent are over 35 years old and 28 percent below 25.
Water sources dry, options shrink
Gram Pradhan of Bhatt village, Girish Chandra Bhatt, echoed Ganesh's views and said it has become difficult to engage even in the traditional occupation of animal husbandry due to lack of grass.
"The unemployed were dependent on it; so naturally, they are struggling to make ends meet now. Not just that, there's an abundance of pine (forest patches), but that doesn't allow anything else to grow around it. There's a water crisis too — natural sources in the mountains have dried up, and monsoon has become erratic. How can one do farming or animal husbandry in such a scenario?" he asked.
"Years ago, it was different, needs were fewer… People managed to survive. But now, that's difficult. With traditional sources of livelihood shrinking in the hills, people are forced to migrate."
Ratan Singh Aswal, convenor of the 'Palayan Ek Chintan' campaign and resident of Pauri district, said Uttarakhand was suffering because authorities had not come up with a hill-centred model of development yet.
"It is a matter of great concern that of the 734 uninhabited villages, 14 are near the international border. This poses a serious threat to the area. Wrong policies by consecutive state governments alone have not emptied villages; the educated and financially-sound residents, like teachers and ex-army personnel, are abandoning their hometowns for urban areas. Ever since the sixth and seventh pay commission increased people's purchasing power, they made a beeline for Dehradun, Haldwani and other cities," Aswal rued.
"Salary hikes and other perks are all very well. But what about basic amenities for the hills? It's been 18 years (since Uttarakhand was carved out of Uttar Pradesh) and the state is still struggling. That's not a good sign for the future," he added.
How the survey was done
Under its vice-president SS Negi, the commission, through the Department of Rural Development, surveyed 7,950 gram panchayats in January and February 2018. The team toured all districts of Uttarakhand and spoke to local residents about various aspects of rural development and migration.
Negi said 70 percent of the people who migrated left gram panchayats for various places within the state, while 29 percent of them left the state and around 1 per cent left the country, after the 2011 census.
"There are 565 revenue villages (also called 'tok' or 'majra'), that witnessed a 50 percent decrease in population after 2011. Of these, six are located around 5 kilometres from the international border. Almora and Pauri are the most-affected districts of the lot," he added.
As per the report, 43 percent of the people who migrated from gram panchayats are engaged in agriculture and 33 percent in labour.
What the government says
The Uttarakhand chief minister said establishing the migration commission was evidence of his government's seriousness in addressing this issue.
"Providing new employment opportunities, quality education and better healthcare facilities in these villages is first on the government's agenda. With the help of these measures, migration can be stopped in an effective manner," Rawat added.
He also claimed that his government had taken several masures to raise the standard of education in Uttarakhand .
"I am hopeful that fruitful results will be seen soon, which will lead to reverse migration."
The author is a Dehradun-based freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters.com
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Updated Date: Feb 05, 2019 14:13:43 IST