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Ghost Villages : Assets-in-Waiting

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We, the Citizens

By Hugh & Colleen Gantzer

There are Seven Hundred and Thirty Four Ghost Villages in Uttarakhand. That is more than enough of abandoned border lands to tempt any aggressive neighbour! But when they grab terrain they convert it swiftly into thriving settlements. With a little bit of dedication, and tapping the expertise that is freely available, we can do even better.

All our netas need to do is to stop waiting for diktats to come from above and start thinking of us. This is why we elected you!

To start with, the villages were abandoned because the farmers could not earn enough from the traditional crops grown in their fields. Clearly, the answer is to change the crops. They need to move to low-bulk-high-value-non-perishable products for the modern food industry. Spices, for instance, are excellent. But the majority of spices prefer the tropics. There is, however, one speciality food flavouring that likes high altitudes. Strangely, though it is an essential ingredient of our rich array of regional cuisines from Kashmir to Kanyakumari, including Gujarat, it is not grown commercially in India. It is called Hing or Heeng otherwise known as Asafoetida. We do not know if it can be grown in the Ghost Villages of our state but the best way of finding out is to ask the CSIR – Institute of Himalayan Bioresource Technology at Palampur, Himachal. If they can discover such alternative crops for our high-altitude farmers the villages could thrive!

It is certainly worth a try.

But let us not restrict our Out-of-the-box-thinking to plants. Merino sheep; Angora rabbits sheared for their long, silken, hair; the whole range of poultry with exotic names like Rhode Island, Minorca and White Leghorn show their exotic origins. What they do not show is that all breeds of domestic fowls descended from Indian ancestors! Foreigners took our jungli murgi, used genetics to create new varieties, and sold them back to us with exotic names!

Happily, not all free-thinking Indians have to go abroad today. Some have found a place in Palampur!.

While those keen biotechnologists are doing their creative breakthroughs, our Cabinet should take an important decision. Considering the fact that Ghost Villages yield no revenues to our state exchequer, our government should declare every Ghost Village a No State Tax on Village Products Area. This exemption from state levies should also extend to all infrastructure directly involved in creating such products. This exemption is product-specific and does not permit corporations to register their offices in such villages to create corporate tax havens. The definition of ‘Product’ should include handicrafts made out of raw materials grown or accessed by residents of the village from natural products of the Himalayas within a specified area around the village.

When they have passed this exemption, our state government should give wide publicity to such tax-free laws, using the media, extensively, to reach out to all potential investors. Then stop interfering and await results.

We anticipate that such a scheme will attract the attention of individual and corporate houses which have been hit by the pandemic, and are looking for new ways to expand their reach. The clear welfare-altruistic benefits will arouse a certain amount of suspicion: nowadays no state-sponsored scheme is entirely free of mistrust. Since political shenanigans have created an atmosphere of insincerity, the scheme could take time to be accepted. Cautious investors will wait and watch to spot the first to take the plunge. But once the ice has been broken there will be a rush to jump in.

Having said all that we must admit a certain truth about ourselves!

We Indians, like the British, are basically a nation of traders. We are, historically, tarazu oriented. And we are not alone in this. Switzerland’s grip on the purse-strings of the globe ensures its prosperity in spite of being hardly a blip on the military map of Earth! That is also why Singapore carries so much clout.

So, to return to our Ghost Villages, if we can release the genie of Free Enterprise from its confining Socialist Bottle we will have solved many problems. Successive governments have not been able to restore life to those abandoned hamlets.

Now take a break and let Indian enterprise do it.