Palayan in remote Himalayas of Uttarakhand
By Vidisha Nainwal
The 2013 flash floods that destroyed villages and innumerable towns in the interior areas of Uttarakhand have only intensified the migration of people from hilly areas to the plains. According to the sociologists and the activists, it won’t be long when we’ll have to face a major crisis if the rural infrastructure remains neglected. “PALAYAN” or amass exodus of the people living in the Uttarakhand hills to the plains have turned these remote areas into ghost villages, rampantly. Today,migration is one of the main socio-economic issues that the hills of Uttarakhand are facing. But, unlike the inter-state migration which was prevalent in the Garhwal region in the second half of the 20th century,the villages are now witnessing intra-state migration. People are leaving the rural, hilly areas and moving to the urban centersin search of better economic opportunities. This has led to the decline of the overall economic growth of Uttarakhand.
The economic growth of the state has been disturbed drastically, so much so that the per capita income in Bageshwar, Champawat, Tehri, Garhwal and Almora districts is almost half of that in Dehradun and Haridwar. The main reasons for migration being, lack of job opportunities and healthcare facilities which, ironically are the most important ones too. The other reasons are severe dearth of proper education and connectivity along with a persistent problem of depletion water table and barren landholdings. Reacting to the issue, Anil Joshi, an environmental activist and convenor of the “Gaon Bachao Andolan”(a campaign to tackle the state’s migration issue) said, “Uttarakhand was not founded for the development of Haridwar and Haldwani but for the development of the 16,000 plus villages in the hills of the state. But nothing is being done for them.” With reference to the above problem, the Chief Minister of Uttarakhand, Mr. Trivendra Singh Rawat, was heardstating that in order to keep a check on the growing problem of migration from hill villages, his government would soon create a separate ministry for the generation of employment and skill development. He further added that a committee had already been formed under senior Cabinet Minister Mr. Satpal Maharaj (the State Tourism Minister and Palayan Samadhan Samiti chairman) to look into the issue. On 7th June 2017,Mr. Satpal Maharaj summoned a meeting with district administrations and asked for suggestions from the district magistrates and others for the ways to mitigate the rate of migration.
The Chief Minister said that the State Government was determined to keep the four-shrine pilgrimage, continuing all the year round in order to help the people who run eateries and cater to the other needs of the pilgrims. Furthermore, tourist police would be recruited in order to make sure that the things run efficiently. The district administration has been asked to set aside a certain amount of fund in order to generate employment and provide the villagers with basic amenities like education, health, drinking water,electricity, network and the like. According to Dr.Krishnakant Paul, the governor of UK, the organizations that are working in the field of skill development should give importance to the short-term computer training for local people in order to make them a part of the tourism industry too. He further said that the computer knowledge, combined with the internet, will prove to be very beneficial for the homestay tourism which is a better and efficient way of earning house sitting. Furthermore, the state government has decided to integrate the welfare projects with the principal ones. It has made sure to promote agriculture, horticulture and mining as the primary sectors as well as stress on the development of cottage industry and service sector. For this, foreign investment is encouraged too. In order to promote agriculture,the state government has released a draft of a land bill to work towards the revitalization of barren agricultural landholdings in the hills by theconsolidation of small and scattered holdings.
On coming in contact with one of the residents of Bitgaon regarding the aforementioned issue, the villager had this to say, “If even a third of the village is gone, it becomes difficult for the rest to stay back and put the pieces back together”. Well, it is true. Due to migration, there is anabandonment of villages which leads to degradation of farmlands making the villages uninhabitable. Hence, it becomes impossible to revive the area which further leads to migration, creating a vicious cycle. Therefore it becomes very important to take the necessary steps beforehand. More than the solutions, it is the IMPLEMENTATION of these solutions that the government should focus on. The problem of migration is not only limited to this. It is crucial as far as the strategic point of view is concerned because out of the 625-km-long international border, 350 km is shared with China and out of the 13 districts, 5 are on the border.
Development of hilly areas has always been a policy priority in the national planning process. But there is still a long way to go. In order to give a further boost to employment, the government has decided to exploit the huge hydropower potential. But due to the ecological tensions and delay in getting clearances under the Forest Conservation Act, around 200 major projects are still awaiting the clearances. But adding to its credit,the state government has greatly improved connectivity to villages in the hills. Out of the 5,852 km of roads that have been built between 2010-11 and 2014-15, almost 4,000 km have been built in rural areas. Access to primary education has also improved significantly, with all hilly districts having at least one primary school for every two villages, as per the Union District Information System for Education (U-DISE) 2013-14. But this growth is invisible as far as thenumber of high schools in hilly areas is concerned. Most of the villages are still dependent on the urban centers for good education.
With the growing emphasis on the protection of the environment, the role of Hill and mountain Regions is considered to be critical towards this endeavor. In this direction, an environmental force can be created on the lines of Territorial Army by recruiting local people, who can be of help in forestation and its maintenance. This will not only help in improving the environment but also provide salaried employment to the local youth.The implementation of the State Rural Livelihood Mission that started with the primary objective of reducing poverty by ensuring that the poor households had access to gainful self-employment and skilled wage employment opportunities, resulted in appreciable improvement in their livelihoods on a sustainable basis. This was possible due to the building of strong grassroots institutions of the poor. Along with the financial support of International Fund for Agriculture Development (IFAD), the Government of Uttarakhand implemented a project called Uttarakhand Livelihoods Improvement Project for the Himalayas (ULIPH) in five hilly districts of Almora, Bageshwar, Chamoli, Tehri, and Uttarkashi, covering 959 villages across 17 Development Blocks. The programme was successful in improving the farm productivity, ensuring food security and providing access to markets, credit, and rural households. Moreover, it also supports rural tourism and skill development for remunerative employment. The State Government even launched the Veer Chandra Singh Garhwali Paryatan Swarozgar Yojana for promoting tourism-related enterprise development. It is a 21 credit-cum-subsidy scheme under which aid is given to fast food centers, for setting up of retail outlets for local handicrafts, transport, motels, hotels, equipment for adventure sports, setting up of tourist information centers with PCs and restaurants.
Despite the existence of extensive comprehensive organizational structures and targeted programmes that were initiated over the years for agriculture and horticulture development, the situation of the agriculture and horticulture development in Hill Region could not improve at the desired levels. The reason being, there still exists a big gap between the productive employment needs of rural households and the efforts that are being made by the government towards this end. Giving opinion on the same,a retired bureaucrat, SS Pangtey, claimed that the hilly districts face political neglect and that the passing of the Panchayati Raj Act of Uttarakhand as late as 2016, itself shows that the local hill-governments have not been given the importance that was meant to be accorded to them during the creation of the state. At last, it won’t be wrong to say that, in order to make sure that the state prospers, it is essential thateach and every individual living in the remote area benefitsfrom these government plans.