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Numbers Scare

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‘Concern’ has been expressed at the reported ‘extraordinary’ increase in the number of voters, generally, in Uttarakhand, and specifically in some constituencies. Demands are being raised from several quarters for an inquiry into the causes for this. The fear obviously is that illegal immigrants may have found secure refuge in the state and should be investigated. On the face of it though, it is unlikely, and the population increase may actually be due to a number of natural factors.

First of all, it should be remembered that the decadal census has been delayed so the necessary comparisons cannot be made with earlier trends, including the population growth rate. It has, however, been mentioned that the increase in number of voters in the hill districts is quite low, which indicates that the effects of migration continue. What needs to be considered is the fact that, while migration from the hills in earlier years was to other states and the major metropolises, it is now to the districts of the plains within the state. In fact, to the extent that reverse migration has taken place, it is also to these districts. At the same time, the number of well-to-do people who have chosen to settle here from other states is also a significant number. This can be gauged from the numerous multi-storied housing complexes that continue to come up in all parts of the state.

There is also the economic factor. The faster increase in income levels as compared to several other states has meant a higher quality of life and expanding demand for a plethora of services. The youth of Uttarakhand cannot meet this demand as it aspires for better quality of jobs. So, there is a large workforce that has come from UP, Bihar and other states. Many of them have spent more than a decade here and are likely to have established semi-permanent residences and got registered as voters. There are many opposed to this factor entering local politics, but the long term solution to that is the proposed ‘remote voting’ scheme proposed by the ECI. Unless that happens, the trend will continue and certainly make an impact. However, all of this is in the realm of speculation and till such time the census is held, or other detailed surveys undertaken, it would be hard to come to definite conclusions. It should also not be forgotten that a decline in population has far more severe adverse social and economic consequences than any increase.

In the meanwhile, however, conspiracy theorists will have a field day with their narratives.