Ghost Villages of Uttarakhand

Uttarakhand fondly known as the Abode of God due to its rich cultural and religious history which is still stored in many temples sprawled across the state is also the origin of river Ganga and Yamuna , two of the most sacred rivers of India. The shrine of Baba Amarnath and Kedarnath in the state makes it a famous destination for pilgrims from all over the world not to mention the large number of tourists it attracts every year due to the picturesque scenery which the state offers . Despite such rich heritage of the state, in the last two decades it has faced a major issue where out of 16.739 villages in the state, 1702 villages were declared “Ghost villages” as they have no inhabitants. Whereas about 405 villages have less than 10 people as its residents( The data is based on the Census of 2011). The question is that why the area which was separated from Uttar Pradesh to form a separate state of UTTARAKHAND so that the people here may have better growth opportunities, has seen such a drastic decline in population over the last decade. Is there really some ghost as the title “ghost village” suggests that has occupied the place of the human beings? What is the reason that despite such a large number of tourists and pilgrims visiting the state every year, the villages here which act as a treasure chest preserving the culture, the heritage and the history of the place, are empty? This blog will answer all these questions.

Why are the villages devoid of any human habitant?

People from the villages have migrated to other states and other cities of Uttarakhand such as Rishikesh , Haridwar , Dehradun etc. in search of employment with an aim to have better lives. Initially, it was just the youngsters who would migrate to other places for earning but eventually as the time passed and the villages remained remote, elders also started to shift simultaneously as the cities offer better healthcare facilities. Imagine the emotional turmoil which people go through when they have to leave their homeland, their birthplace just to feed themselves.

The reasons for migration

  • The villages in Uttarakhand are least developed with many villages still having a narrow risky trek which connects them to the main road. Electricity till a decade ago was foreign to these places. Authorities pay absolutely no attention in catering to the needs of the people living there. Though the state is blessed with two of the most sacred rivers, yet the residents specially in the villages have to struggle even for water. Urbanisation in the hills brought with it such affects that many villages which were blessed with the streams full of water almost the entire year many decades back are now witnessing dried streams and barren land . Though the famous tourist places of the state, such as Almora, Nainital, Rishikesh, Haridwar, the capital city Dehradun etc. are provided with the facilities which ensures the safety and well being of humans, villages are still untouched.
  • Safety is another big issue which the residents have to face. The villages which are located amidst the dense jungles of the Himalayas are home to many wild animals many of which are man eaters. Even if the animal is not a man eater, wild animals such as wild boar , wild pig destroys the crops leaving no source of living for the people.
  • Since the entire state is situated in the mountains, the paths there are steep which leaves scope only for terrace farming and does not allows the growth of many crops. The crops which are grown are either destroyed by wild animals or by the famous mountain rains with very little left to fill the stomach with. Owing to these reasons, people have gradually stopped farming. Also, the extremely effective implementation of welfare schemes like the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) which allows the people working as laborers under the MGNREGA projects give them enough amount for sustenance and the enforcement of the food Security Act gives them enough ration to survive with . The reasons mentioned under this bullet point can be considered as the reasons for the decline of farming which was the sustenance profession of the state since years and validates the moving of people in search of better life opportunities.
  • Also, the people in the villages feel that City life is a heaven with all sorts of opportunities something which is rarely visible to them in the naturistic villages. Litle did they realize , that the reason for a large number of tourists coming to the state every year is their want to escape from the monstrous daily problems of the city life. How ironic it is , that geography has created such a vast opinion between two sets of human beings each one thinking that the other set resides in heaven! Well, this is how life is full of oxymorons and ironies!

Is the presence of ghost villages good for the state?

The answer is a big NO. Experts say that migration leads to abandonment of villages which causes degradation of land, makes villages unlivable, and further fuels migration. In fact, the migration to cities has been in such great numbers that Uttarakhand has recorded the highest increase in the share of urban population in any of the Himalayan states of the country while its rural decadal growth rate is the lowest. The inter state migration which was at its peek during the early 2000s when the state was newly formed was transformed into an intra-state migration after the devastating floods which destroyed Uttarakhand in 2013. The consequences being that the cities are overpopulated as they had no proper arrangements made to accommodate such a large number with the standards of living deteriorating for everyone. Whereas the villages have lost their mark.

The empty village homes are now covered with the wild shrubs and has increased the area of exploration to the wild animals such as tigers and leopards many of which are man eaters. The increase encroachment of animalsin the human settlements may prove fatal to the villages which are still lively though in less numbers.

Owing to the nationwide lockdown in 2020, many of the migrants have come back home to resettle in their roots and are now trying farming which is more difficult now owing to the covering of the farming areas by the wild shrubs which are difficult to remove. The resettling phase will again be a difficult one as these villages are still the same with no better facilities.

Environmentalist Anil Joshi, who in 2015 undertook a 20-day march across Uttarakhand as part of the Gaon Bachao Andolan (“save village movement”) to address the issue of migration from villages says ” we should ask the government why there is still a need to migrate”. His words hits a deep chord forcing us to think, why is it this difficult to fulfill the basic needs of the simple villagers so that they can stay close to their roots saving our culture and our future.