Rahul Singh Shekhawat | Feb 5, 2019 | 5 min read
For over 10 years, Shyam Prasad, a 69-year-old ex-armyman was the last man standing for his village Baluni in Pauri Garhwal district of Uttarakhand so the village doesn’t turn into a ‘ghost village’. However, one day the nightmare of Shyam Prasad turned into reality and he had to part ways with his land due to his illness.
There are many Shyam Prasads in the hill state as the concept of ‘ghost village’ has become a reality today. The villages which wear a deserted look because of the increasing migration have become uninhabited due to lack of public amenities. As per report of the Migration Commission, 734 revenue villages or Tok/Majra of the state have no population. This report puts a serious question mark on the relevance of the separated hilly state, from Uttar Pradesh.
Baluni, about 160 kilometers from the state capital Dehradun, is one among such village in the list, which saw its last inhabitant -- Shyam Prasad – move out to make this village of Sainar Gram Panchayat absolutely population-less.
Prasad, who retired from Bengal Engineering Group of the Indian Army, was residing there all alone for last five years after his son joined the army. And as there was no proper road and healthcare facilities in the hills, the old man had to sacrifice the love for his birthplace.
“There were more than 15 to 20 families in the village about 10 years ago. But they all shifted to urban areas one by one due to lack of livelihood and public amenities such as education and health. After the last family left 10 years ago, it was only my son and I who were left in the village. I stayed there because of the love for farming. Unfortunately, my fondness was broken under the pressure of growing age and poor health, and at last, I too had to leave the village,” says Prasad who now lives in Kotdwar tehsil of the district in need of better medical facilities.
The absence of roads made the life difficult for the villagers of Baluni as they had to cover a distance of five kilometers to the nearest Primary Health Center in Ghandiyal village. Similarly, to go to the nearest primary school located in Sainar village, one had to wade through the jungle for over five kilometers. Due to the absence of basic facilities, the situation of rest of the 733 deserted villages in the state are no different from Baluni’s.
Ironically, just months after its last villager decided to abandon his homeland, road connectivity reached Baluni just to be greeted by empty houses.
The newly laid road did help this reporter reach Baluni but he had to find his own ways to look for villagers in this abandoned village. There was no other option than gathering information from some other villagers, including village heads. After a long struggle he could finally find Shyam Prasad’s whereabouts.
Shyam Prasad says, “After my wife lost her life soon after my son’s birth. I raised my five daughters and the son in the same village, where scarcity of drinking water existed and still exists. After my daughters got married and my son joined Indian Army about five years ago, I resided in Baluni all alone for five years. I am 69 now and have health issues that are increasing day by day.
“My son suggested me to shift to urban area since there is no medical facility at my native place. As of now, I am staying in a rented house, in Kotdwar. I deeply miss my village but have to stay here. Once climate becomes conducive, I would like to visit my village. However, it is a bitter truth that I can’t live in the only house I built for myself and my family,” he adds.
Prem Singh Negi, Pradhan of Sainar gram panchayat says that Baluni village is fully evacuated now, since Shyama Prasad has also migrated to Kotdwar. “I often travel to that village to examine the opportunity of development work, but now the situation is that there are only restless houses. This revenue village is a bunch of bushes and the habitat of wild animals now. After Prasad left the village, a road and the line of drinking water has reached Baluni, but what’s the use,” asks Negi.
Dhiraj Garbyal, District Magistrate (DM) of Pauri says, “I am not much aware with the ground reality of it, since I took charge a fortnight ago. Of course, migration is a sensitive issue, a commission has been constituted for an in-depth study by the state government. I will look into the case of Baluni village.”
On the contrary, there is a different picture that shows a ray light of hope. Anil Baluni, BJP's Rajya Sabha member from Uttarakhand, has adopted one of the abandoned villages -- Baur village of the Yamkeshwar development block in the district of Pauri to make it habitable again.
Anil Baluni says that the Union Minister of State for Rural Development Ram Kripal Yadav has assured of the road connectivity and the MoS for Power RK Singh has made a promise of electrification of the village. The teams of Taj and the Hyatt Hotels Group also visited the village of Baur. He said apart from this, the information of residents fleeing this village is being collected. The plan is to develop Baur as a model of rural tourism. “I hope this effort will prove to be a milestone in the direction of reverse migrations in ghost villages of Uttarakhand,” he added.
Ganesh Kala, a local activist says, lack of the basic facilities in very odd geographical conditions are the major reasons behind the migration problem in Uttarakhand. “The government policies, irrespective of political parties, are also responsible up to an extent. The reverse migration is still a distant dream, but to contain the ongoing migration some strong measures have to be taken on urgent basis,” he adds.
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