Rahul Singh Shekhawat | Feb 5, 2019 | 5 min read
“We might as well have not separated from Uttar Pradesh if this was going to be the state of affairs”: this is the common thought more and more Uttarakhand villagers are giving voice to. Reason: the 40-year-old problem of mass migration continues to have the hilly state, which celebrated its 18th birthday last November, in a vice-like grip.
The Rural Development and Migration Commission, set up by Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat in 2017, released its survey report early last year, and its findings paint a grim picture — in the last decade, 1,18,981 people from 3,946 gram panchayats have migrated permanently, and 3,83,726 from 6,338 gram panchayats have shifted temporarily (they visit their homes but live outside the state for work).
In search of a livelihood
Sixty-one-year-old Ganesh Dutt Bhatt of Bhatt village in Takula Development Block, 25 km from Almora district headquarters, has watched his village become emptier over the last four-odd decades. So severe is the problem that Ganesh 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 the cities in early ’80s. 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 in Almora. What’s 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 anymore given the expenditure and waste.”
You know Ganesh is not exaggerating when you look at the survey findings — 50 per cent villagers from gram panchayats have migrated in search of livelihood and employment, 15 per cent for education, and eight per cent due to lack of medical facilities in their hamlets.
He added that the 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. Now, only the uneducated and those who can’t afford to stay in cities are remaining in the village.”
As per the commission report, the highest number of those who’ve migrated are youths — 42 per cent in the age group of 26 to 35, while 29 per cent are 35+ and 28 per cent below 25.
Water sources dry, options shrink
Bhatt village’s Gram Pradhan, Girish Chandra Bhatt, echoed Ganesh and said it has even become difficult to engage 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 ‘Palayan Ek Chintan’ campaign and a resident of Pauri district, said Uttarakhand was suffering because authorities hadn’t come up with a hill-centred model of development.
“It is a matter of great concern that out of the 734 uninhabited villages, 14 are near international borders; this poses a serious threat to the area. And it’s not just wrong policies by consecutive state governments that have 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,” rued Aswal.
“Salary raises and other perks are all very well; what about basic amenities for the hills though? It’s been 18 years and Uttarakhand is still struggling. That’s not a good sign for the future.”
How the survey was done
Under its vice president S S Negi, the commission, through the Rural Development Department, surveyed 7,950 gram panchayats in January and February 2018. The commission team members toured all districts of the state and spoke to locals on various aspects of rural development and migration.
Negi said 70 per cent people from gram panchayats migrated to various places within the state, while 29 per cent went out of the state, and around one per cent left the country, after the 2011 census. “There are 565 revenue villages (also called ‘tok’ or ‘majra’), which witnessed 50 per cent decrease in population after 2011. Out of these, six are located five kilometres from the international border. Almora and Pauri are the most affected districts,” he added.
As per the report, 43 per cent people at the gram panchayat level are engaged in agriculture, and 33 per cent in labour.
What the government says
Rawat said setting up of a migration commission alone shows that his government is serious about 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,” the CM added.
He also claimed that his government had taken several steps to raise the standard of education. “I am hopeful that fruitful results will be seen soon, which will lead to reverse migration too.”
Pic-1 Ganesh Dutt Bhatt, resident of Bhatt Village in Almora
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