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The Making of Ghost Villages in Uttarakhand


By Devendra Kumar Budakoti

The phenomenon of Ghost Villages in the hill areas of Uttarakhand has been making news for many years now. Analyses are being done, without any grasp of the ground reality or an understanding of development sociology.

We have to examine the development pattern in the hills to comprehend the emergence of ghost villages. The advent of what is called the ‘Money Order Economy’ in the early 1970s right up to the late 1980s was an indicator that rural development schemes were faulty. The migration trends from the 1980s shown in census reports establish that the hills still lacked basic infrastructure of roads, communication and basic amenities like drinking water and electricity; there was also poor accessibility to health services, besides low standards of school education. Today better employment statuses of the people outside their village led to permanent migration leading to what is now known as ‘Ghost Villages’ in the hills.

Some reports say that people have abandoned agricultural activities due to the damage caused to crops at regular intervals by wild animals, particularly wild boars and monkeys. This is far from the actual reality. Migration started much before the issue of wild animals destroying the crops and low agriculture yield came up. If families had to buy everything from the market, then why live in the discomfort of the village with all the drudgery, particularly faced by women folk? As the ‘pension generation’ moved to urban centres with their married children, the natural outcome was villages turning ghost.

Initially those exposed to and living ‘outside’ became the role model for one and all; leading to what is called the ‘Pull Factor’ in the 1950s to 1960s especially for the group which had school education. In the later decades, it was the ‘Push Factor’ that led the villagers to migrate for basic livelihood.

Agriculture never went into the stage of ‘Green Revolution’ due to limitation of land, infrastructure and thereby no forward and backward linkages. As land was not consolidated, cash crops, horticulture and other plantation activities did not come up.

The situation of agriculture never changed in the hills. It remained traditional and at subsistence level. It did not sustain the food security of the growing population. The villages in the plains developed as they were linked to the market and factory systems. Also in the plains, animal husbandry – dairy, poultry, goatery, linked the villages to urban centres. Agriculture markets and cooperatives came up, thus adding to the income and infrastructure development of the area. The factory system also added value to the agriculture produce. This process did not take place in the hill villages and as no surplus come from agriculture and/or animal husbandry, the villages remained poor and underdeveloped.

Tourism came up on its own in the hill stations, much before the state’s formation. The pilgrimage tourism has been there for many generations, but it has not generated enough jobs for the locals. With the state capital in Dehradun, the whole government machinery came tumbling down to the plains. The ramifications of these developments were inconceivable and also sometimes beyond the cognitive framework of the policy makers and planners.

One can imagine the level and status of development and employment, that after 18 years of the state formation, we are witnessing the abandonment of village after village, now aptly called ghost villages.

Today with roads, electricity, bridges across streams and comparatively better health and educational accessibility, the migratory trend has not stopped. Now it’s too late; the damage has been done; ghost villages will continue to come up. Families have left for urban centres, where the new generations and even the older ones have got used to the comfort of the ‘new homes’ and urban amenities; now there is no turning back. There is nothing left there, except memories, also kept alive by the songs of Narendra Singh Negi, for the generation which has a history of living in the hill village.

However, the question is – Why are migrants living in comfort zones worried about migration? Let it remain, as the slogan goes, ‘Uttarakhand-Abode of Gods’- Devabhumi!

(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)