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: For over 10 years, former army man Shyam Prasad was the last man standing at his Baluni village in Uttarakhand's Pauri Garhwal district so it didn't turn into a 'ghost village'. But one day, the 69-year-old had to part ways with his land because of an illness.
There are many Shyam Prasads in the hill state, where the concept of a 'ghost village' has become a reality today. The villages that wear a deserted look because of increasing migration from Uttarakhand became uninhabited due to lack of public amenities. According to a Migration Commission report, 734 revenue villages of the state have no residents, putting a serious question mark on the relevance of the hilly state carved out of Uttar Pradesh.
Baluni, around 160 kilometers from state capital Dehradun, is one such village on the list. After its last inhabitant, Shyam Prasad, moved out, the village of the Sainar Gram Panchayat became absolutely devoid of population.
Prasad, who retired from the Bengal Engineering Group of the Indian Army, lived there all alone for the past five years after his son joined the army. He was forced to leave his birthplace as there were neither any proper roads nor any healthcare facilities in the hills.
"There were more than 15 to 20 families in the village about 10 years ago. But all of them shifted to urban areas one by one due to lack of opportunities to earn a livelihood and public amenities, such as education and healthcare facilities. After the last family left 10 years ago, it was only me and my son left in the village. I stayed there because of my love for farming. Unfortunately, my fondness died under the pressure of old age and poor health, and at last, I had to leave the village, as well," said Prasad, who moved to the district's Kotdwar tehsil for better medical aid.
The absence of roads made life difficult for the villagers of Baluni as the nearest Primary Health Center was 5 kilometers away in Ghandiyal village. Similarly, to go to the closest primary school in Sainar village, children had to make their way through a jungle for over 5 kilometers.
The situation in the remaining 733 deserted villages in Uttarakhand is no difference from Baluni's because of the absence of basic facilities.
Ironically, just months after its last villager was forced to abandon his birthplace, road connectivity reached Baluni, only to be greeted by empty houses. The newly-laid road helped this reporter reach Baluni, but he had to find his own ways to look for people in this abandoned region.
"After my wife died soon after our son's birth, I raised my five daughters and one son in the same village where scarcity of drinking water still exists. After my daughters got married and my son joined the Indian Army, I lived in Baluni all alone for five years. I am 69 now and have health issues that are increasing day by day," Shyam Prasad said.
"My son suggested that I shift to an urban area as there is no medical facility at my native place. Right now, I live in a rented house in Kotdwar. I deeply miss my village, but I have no choice but to stay here. Once the climate becomes conducive, I would like to visit my village. But it is the bitter truth that I can't live in the only house I built for myself and my family," he added.
Prem Singh Negi, Pradhan of the Sainar Gram Panchayat said Baluni village was empty now as Shyama Prasad had also migrated to Kotdwar.
"I often travel to the village to examine opportunities of development work, but now the situation is such that there are only empty houses. This revenue village is a bunch of bushes and only a habitat of wild animals now. After Prasad left, a road and a drinking water line reached Baluni, but what's the use now?" Negi said.
The District Magistrate of Paurim Dhiraj Garbyal, said: "I am not much aware of the ground reality since I took charge only a fortnight ago. Of course, migration is a sensitive issue. A commission has been constituted for an in-depth study by the Uttarakhand government. I will look into the case of Baluni village."
However, there's one positive development in the context of these 'ghost villages'. Anil Baluni, BJP's Rajya Sabha MP from Uttarakhand, has adopted one of the abandoned villages — Baur of the Yamkeshwar development block in Pauri district — to make it habitable again.
Anil Baluni said Union Minister of State for Rural Development Ram Kripal Yadav had assured him of bringing road connectivity to the region and Minister of State for Power RK Singh had promised electrification of the village. Teams of the Taj and Hyatt groups of hotels had also visited Baur.
The BJP parliamentarian said authorities were gathering information on residents leaving the village as they plan to develop Baur as a model for rural tourism. "I hope this effort proves to be a milestone that paves the way for reverse migrations in the 'ghost villages' of Uttarakhand," he added.
Local activist Ganesh Kala said lack of basic facilities in remote geographical regions is the primary reason behind such migrations in Uttarakhand. "Government policies, irrespective of which political party is in power, are also responsible for this situation, to an extent. The possibility of reverse migration is still a distant dream, but to contain the ongoing migration, some strong measures have to be taken on an urgent basis," he asserted.
The author is a Dehradun-based freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters.com
Your guide to the latest election news, analysis, commentary, live updates and schedule for Lok Sabha Elections 2019 on firstpost.com/elections. Follow us on Twitter and Instagram or like our Facebook page for updates from all 543 constituencies for the upcoming general elections.
Updated Date: Feb 05, 2019 12:55:20 IST