Rahul Singh Shekhawat | Feb 7, 2019 | 5 min read
INTRO: It’s been 18 years since the state 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 of the remote Okhalkanda Development Block in Nainital; unfortunately, there is little about his own hometown that motivates him — more than 50 per cent of the residents, including the Mahtolias, had long migrated from the village, when we spoke to him. Reason: it’s been 18 years since Uttarakhand came into existence, but Mahtolia’s native village 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 one. What, then, would be the state of affairs if that very thing is not laid out? 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,” rued 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 UP CM, the late Narayan Dutt Tiwari, who was also Uttarakhand’s CM, 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 UP 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 so far, and yet, those residing in thousands of its villages still don’t have access to proper roads.
Authorities’ one-sided picture
According to Public Works Department (PWD) data, there are 15,745 villages (tok) in Uttarakhand, and of these, 12,225 have road connectivity. This means as many as 3,520 villages, 25 per cent of the total, don’t.
Mahtolia explained, “We have to across the Gola river to reach the nearest roadhead. Come monsoon, even this option is taken away, as the rising water level cuts villagers off, and there is no bridge yet to cross it. The remaining alternative then is to walk a 7-8-kilometre hilly stretch full of ups and downs.”
PWD head R C Purohit, however, defended the department, saying roads have been sanctioned in 2,519 villages. “We have a target of laying 800 to 900 km of roads in a year. The government and PWD are committed to connecting every citizen,” he claimed.
These official figures, however, show only one side of the picture. According to government data, 34,000 km of roads has been laid in Uttarakhand in the last 18 years, but only 24,000 km of it is black-topped, i.e. concretised. In case of the rest, work hasn’t progressed after the initial hillside cutting. With 10,000 km left uneven, driving is at 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
Lamenting about this sorry state, 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 now.”
Echoing Mahtolia, Dipak Mudila, a resident of Kusail village on the border district of Pithoragarh, said his native place in Didihat development block, too, lacks road connectivity. “My village is in danger of being completely abandoned as well. Residents have migrated to places that give them access to basic amenities. I myself 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, on working day, where posted as a lecturer at the Inter College. There are very dangerous spots at many places, inviting major accidents, but since made contractor have not repaired it, since last four years. Although, in the name of disaster management, a big amount of money is released every year, to improve the road's condition during monsoon, but these places are never improved. Not only here but also else where, story is the same, of almost all the link or village roads in the remote hilly areas, as there is no monitoring and accountability as well.” Although, high Way's roads are in better shape compare to link roads, he added.
State government’s promises
However, Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat sought to assure of his government’s seriousness in curbing migration and enhancing road connectivity. “I admit that thousands of villages are yet to be connected to roads, but it’s also true that 4,270 km of new roads has been laid and 1,472 roads have been reconstructed over the last 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.
Pic-3 dinesh mahtolia, in front of his deserted house at Bhadrakot, a remote village in nainital
Pic-4 people climbing hills to reach Bhadrakot village, in the absence of a road
Pic-5 people crossings river to reach Bhadrakot village, in the absence of a road
Rest of all the pics, of the hill cutting roads are from the district of Pithauragarh,
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