‘Vikas Nahi Hua’ But Uttarakhand’s Ghost Villages Want Modi Back
Video Editors: Vishal Kumar, Mohd Irshad
“Do you ever want your kids to come back and settle in your native village here in the hills of Uttarakhand?”
“They will come back only if they get some income, right? What will they eat if they come here? There is absolutely nothing,” said 58-year-old Parmishri Devi, pointing at the hills that surround her little cottage in Pauri district’s Pipal Koti village.
‘Modi Didn’t Work for Us, But At Least He Worked for Others’
Sitting beside her was her 60-year-old husband Ramesh Sharma, who has partially lost his eyesight and has decided to spend the rest of his life in his native village, grazing cattle and cultivating fields. He noted, “When it comes to 2019 Lok Sabha elections, I will vote for Modi. It is true he didn’t do much for us but he worked a lot for others. See how he took revenge from Pakistan? He killed 400 in return of four of our jawans. Had it been 400, he would have killed 1,600.”
Uttarakhand will be voting in the first phase of the Lok Sabha elections, on 11 April.
As per the 2011 Census, at least 1,034 villages in Uttarakhand have been completely abandoned due to lack of development, employment, and educational and health facilities. In 2017, ahead of the state elections, PM Narendra Modi acknowledged migration to be a major problem in the hill states, and promised to take measures to improve conditions if voted to power.
The same year, the Trivendra Singh Rawat-led Bharatiya Janata Party government in the state set up the Uttarakhand Rural Development and Migration Commission, to submit a report and evolve policies to curb migration from the rural areas.
SS Negi, the vice chairman of the commission said the conditions are dire especially in the Pauri and the Almora districts.
A visit to the Pauri district told us that he was right. Besides completely abandoned villages, we also found settlements with 20-25 houses but which had only six families living there.
“There is a uniqueness of migration problem in Uttarakhand as compared to other states. In Uttarakhand, there are more people who have permanently migrated. In other states, there is seasonal migration,” said Negi.
‘Will Vote for Modi, There is No Alternative’
In Pauri’s Marora village, Brijeswari sat alone in the second floor of her ancient wooden house, chopping onions for lunch. She now moved to Delhi’s Mayur Vihar and had only gone back for a few days to check on her native village. She noted, “Earlier, there used to be cultivation, now there is no rain or water. How will crops grow?”
She added, “When I got married and came to this village, so many people used to live here. Now there is barely anyone. They come during vacations to repair their homes and again go back. There is hardly any development here.”
But when asked who would she vote for, given that both the Congress and the BJP have failed in their promises of development, Brijeswari grinned and said, “Modi, who else?” She added, “We have to give him some more time. There is no alternative.”
There are Schools, but Hardly Any Students
In another part of Pauri, principals in both a primary school and an inter college told us that the number of students taking admissions is reducing with every passing year due to migration from the villages.
“Year after year, number of kids taking admissions in the school are reducing. Last time, the total number of kids in the school were 150 from Class 6-10. This year the strength has reduced to 115. There are hardly kids in villages because of migration,” said Arun Thapliyal, principal of Government Inter College in Chaubattakhal.
The principal of the primary school in the same village, Arvind Singh Rawat, said, “Villages are three to four kilometre far. And because of attacks by wild animals, kids are not sent to school. It is very difficult to run the school during winters. Because bears come out during winters, and parents come and take the kids back during school hours. What can I do?”
While Rawat also blamed women not wanting to marry in the hills as one of the primary reasons for the male youths to migrate, Negi noted that his commission is working towards more women-centric policies since the male-female ratio in the hills is in favour of the latter.
When asked about solutions to the migration problem, Negi said, “To begin with we have to improve the agricultural set up in the villages, which could lead to a lot more small-scale industries. We are also encouraging locals to open up their houses for home-stays so that eco-tourism can grow.”