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Development Dilemma in Uttarakhand

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By Devendra Kumar Budakoti

Uttarakhand hills have always had subsistence agriculture, supplemented by forestry and animal husbandry to sustain its population. In post independent India, a big section of people were employed in the expanding armed forces, central armed police forces and various state armed constabulary and in lower strata jobs in the state administrative machinery. As the population increased, the primary sector could not sustain the families and people started seeking jobs in the secondary manufacturing sector across the country. By the 1970s, a large section of people started settling down outside their villages for better public amenities. With no further development of the primary sector and no manufacturing sector in the hills, people started planning for permanent settlement in the foothills and other areas of the state and many outside the state. The economist had coined the term, ‘Money Order Economy’ of Uttarakhand in the 1970s and when many settled outside the village, it turned out to be ‘Pension Economy’, a term coined by me. Now we have ‘ghost villages’, where even the pensioners have moved out. With an unsustainable primary sector, the secondary and tertiary sectors never took off.

In Uttarakhand, the migratory trends began in the 1970s, and have only increased over the years. The ‘Pull and Push factors’ have let to out-migration. We instead need ‘Chakbandi’ – Land Consolidation in the state to usher in comprehensive development activities. With poor or no development of any sectors of the economy in the hills, and with many educated candidates, one can see the importance of government jobs and pension from the number of applicants for jobs of constable and peon, which include degree holders, engineers, and professionals like MBAs including PhDs. This shows the private sector and the corporate world has not given the assurance as in government jobs in terms of pay, privileges, perks and pension. Is this anything to do with state policy, plans, and programmes? At the central level, also, our educational planners did not think, plan and develop syllabi and curricula to address the issue of employment and livelihood for the coming generation.

My 85 year old mother says that ever since she has gained consciousness, she has been hearing about inflation, poverty, unemployment and also that things were cheaper in the olden days. This issue of inflation, poverty and unemployment and women’s drudgery is seen even today. In a write up in Yugvani magazine, Bacchi Singh Bisht, a social worker, writes that, women have been the backbone of traditional agricultural labour force and practices and now these women have revolted by encouraging their girls to study, seek employment/career, better life and partner and prefer a husband with government and or a permanent job, so that they don’t have to face drudgery which they have faced and, hence, the villages are getting deserted. I feel, men not finding brides in the village, also shows women’s empowerment in the hills!

For a robust panchayat involvement in rural development, we need to elect the Block Chairman and District Chairman directly by the people. It is also suggested that candidates for the panchayat elections and Municipalities – Local Urban Bodies are not allotted any symbols but numbers in alphabetic order. This may decentralise and democratise Indian Polity. Down the decades, the state development machinery right from state, district and block is doing everything from planning to implementation, without people’s involvement. It’s time we think of dismantling the whole official development machinery and hand it over to the Panchayat Raj Institutions.

The rural development programmes in the hills of Uttarakhand have failed to produce any results in terms of generating any fruitful livelihood options. My rough estimate is that 90% plus of the individuals and families who came back to their villages at the time of Covid, have returned to cities. This shows the failure of the programmes, be it the faulty design or scheme and or the leakage at the implementation stage.

Individuals, children and families used to the urban lifestyle could not adjust to rural settings. The ‘thandu rey thandu mera pahada ki hawa, thandu pane’ did not change their decision to stay back in the village and hence the song, ‘Muje pahadi pahadi mat boloji’. In a situation, where the state MLAs don’t want to have the Winter Session in Gairsain clearly also indicates the level of infrastructure and amenities available in the hills. Reverse migration has a long way to go!

(The author is a sociologist and is an alumnus of Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. His research work is quoted in books of Nobel laureate Prof Amartya Sen)