Uttarakhand Election 2017: Dehradun-oriented development of state left its hills in disarray

Pahadi pahadi mat bolo... mein Dehradun wala huhn...” (I am a Doonite, don’t call me Pahadi) — thus goes the lyrical satire written and sung by Narendra Singh Negi, the popular singer of Uttarakhand.

Negi has tried to depict the irony of Uttarakhand through this song, the way young folks from hills are migrating to Dehradun and other urban centres, attracted by the convenience and the glamour of city life. Ayodhya Prasad, a resident of Jakh village in the Tehri district says,“Villages are abandoned. Both of my sons have made their homes in Dehradun. Their children are studying in schools and colleges there and they hardly visit their native place.The farmland is deserted, the population of monkeys and wild boars have increased.”

Senior Journalist Jaisingh Rawat laments, “Uttarakhand was basically a hill state. Apart from the economic and geographical factors, the cultural identity of the mountains was also a major issue which fuelled the demand for a separate state. The hilly areas used to be ignored in Uttar Pradesh. But the problems of hills remained the same even after the formation of Uttarakhand. Moreover, it is fast losing its hilly nature too because people have migrated to the plains.”

Representational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

According to the National census 2011, out of 16,793 villages, more than one thousand are deserted. 400 villages are as such where maximum ten residents remain. The Kedarnath Natural Disaster in 2013 triggered the rate of migration and it is alarming to know that during the last three years people have vacated the rural areas in hill districts at a faster rate. According to an estimate, the number of such villages has increased to 3,500 where few persons are living.

The reflections of the migration are visible in the elections too. When Uttarakhand is gearing up to elect its fourth assembly, there are many mountain villages where hardly any voters are left. A media report says that in the Champawat district of Kumaon division, there are 37 villages where all the voters are above 60 years of age. And this old population can be counted on fingers. According to another estimate, more than 3.2 million people have left their native places in the last sixteen years.

On the other hand, the share of young voters is increasing in the urban centres. Out of 7.5 million voters, 5.6 million voters are below fifty years of age. Out of these 2.1 million voters are between the age of 20-29 and 1.8 million are 30-39 years old.

There is no doubt that the young population has left the hills in search of convenient opportunities. It was but obvious that people would leave for better education, employment, and better standards of living in the urban centres. The question arises, “then who will stay in the hills?”

Lokanand Kumar, a teacher in Dehradun says, “People are compelled to leave hills. If hills could have developed rapidly and people had got better infrastructure, education and health facilities, why would have they left? In fact, nobody took care of the hilly areas and whatever development has been done it is in Dehradun. So people are left with no other option but to migrate to Dehradun.”

It is not only the commoners, the leaders are also migrating to the plains foreseeing the political prospects. Jaisingh Rawat says, “Many of the prominent leaders are trying their luck in the plains. Chief Minister Harish Rawat himself has left Almora and Pithoragarh and is contesting from Haridwar. Nishank, Khandoori, Yashpal Arya, Kishore Upadhyaya, all of them and many others have become leaders of the plains. Now their residences and constituencies are in the plains and none of them could claim themselves as a true representative of the mountains.”

If one looks at the election manifestos, all parties, may it be BJP, Congress or the regional party, Uttarakhand Kranti Dal, UKD have raised the issues of unemployment and migration. But the irony is that no government could frame a policy guideline to arrest the ever increasing unemployment and migration. Though present government quotes statistics to praise its own efforts.

Amidst severe allegations of corruptions and scams, Harish Rawat claims that the per capita income in Uttarakhand has increased to 1,64,000 rupees. The Industrial development has registered a faster rate of 16 percent, the service sector is growing at the rate of 12.5 percent and the rate of agriculture growth is 5.5 percent in the state. But there is no specific data available for the hills. And this so called “prosperous” data also not reflects the real condition of hill community as far as industry and income are concerned.

Out of 70 seats in the state assembly, only 34 seats are in the nine hill districts while the rest of the 36 seats are concentrated in the four plain districts. Is this not a question of shrinking of the hill’s representation in the assembly? Jaisingh Rawat replies, “The political power of the hills is eroding. The aim was to make it a mountain state, a Himalayan state but where is that state, the new state seems to be restricted to Dehradun, Haridwar and Haldwani.”

How could the hills reclaim its political vigour? Is there a need to build an alternative apart from BJP and the Congress? The popular young political leader and CPIML candidate in this election from Karnprayag Assembly seat of Chamoli district, Indresh Maikhuri says, “that is why we are contesting these elections so that we could raise people’s voices in the assembly. We want to form an opposition which will not limit itself to power politics and horse trading but will represent the interests of the hills and will fight against the anti-hills approach of the successive governments.”

The deterioration rate of the hill state compelled, few years ago when he was alive, Girish Tewary Girda, the poet-activist, to comment in one of his poems that Uttarakhand, “this poor state is just reduced to Dehra-Delhi express.”

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Updated Date: Feb 13, 2017 15:42:44 IST

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