Representative photo. Photograph:( Reuters )
Ghost villages with their houses lying in ruins and fields overgrown with vegetation abound in Pauri district where 186 out of 298 villages are totally depopulated.
Migration from development-starved villages of Uttarakhand, especially those in the hills, continues to present a grim picture with over 700 of them totally depopulated in seven years.
Of nearly 16,500 villages in Uttarakhand, as many as 734, mostly in the hilly areas, are totally depopulated. Not a soul lives in them, Vice President of Uttarakhand Rural Development and Migration Commission S S Negi told PTI.
Such ghost villages with their houses lying in ruins and fields overgrown with vegetation abound in Pauri district where 186 out of 298 villages are totally depopulated, he said citing a report submitted to the state government recently by the commission.
Pauri is the worst hit by migration followed by Almora district where a study by a commission team is already underway.
The data covers a period of seven years after the 2011 census, he said.
Describing the situation as "grim", the commission's vice president said while migration from development-starved hill areas is a common problem total depopulation of villages is unique to Uttarakhand.
"Wherever there is lack of development in the country or anywhere in the world, migration is a reality but total depopulation of villages is a rare phenomenon which seems Uttarakhand specific," he observed.
One of the reasons behind total depopulation is that while migration from states like Bihar is of a temporary and seasonal nature, outflux from the hill villages of Uttarakhand is of a permanent nature, he said.
"While people from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, for instance, migrate often to work as labourers in urban areas temporarily and come back, those who migrate from Uttarakhand hills are often educated people who do so in search of better employment opportunities and prospects for settling down," the commission's vice president said.
There are also a number of villages in the state where the population size is 8-10 or 2-3 people.
Citing an instance, Negi said while touring Nainidanda block of Pauri district they came upon a village where no one lives except a retired postmaster and his wife who said they bolt the doors of their house at 4 pm and keep indoors in the fear of leopards.
"There are also villages in Nainidanda block where there is no male population with all of them working outside and in case of one of the women dying men have to be sent from neighbouring villages to carry the bier on their shoulders and participate in the funeral," he said.
Pegging the rate of migration at 50 per cent, Negi underlined the need for immediate steps to boost the rural economy to stop further migration from Uttarakhand's villages. "The basic factors behind the high rate of migration from Uttarakhand's villages is lack of income avenues, non-accessibility of quality education and quality health care.
The situation can be improved only through creation of better income avenues with fresh impetus to ecotourism," Negi said.
"Five-star tourism is obviously not going to work in villages. A renewed thrust on ecotourism like home stays and adventure tourism activities like trekking, rafting etc may create better income avenues for locals and stop further migration from our villages," he said.
Temple tourism is another area which needs to be paid more attention as villages of Uttarakhand abound with centuries-old temples that can attract people and generate income avenues for locals, he suggested.
Better facilities can be created for devotees around these temples which will create employment opportunities for locals and increase their income, he said.