Uttarakhand: Abandoned villages along the international border pose security risk

Uttarakhand had 16,826 revenue villages of which 15,761 were inhabited and 1,065 uninhabited (2011 Census), constituting 6.33 per cent of all revenue villages

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BK Joshi

Uttarakhand had 16,826 revenue villages of which 15,761 were inhabited and 1,065 uninhabited (2011 Census), constituting 6.33 per cent of all revenue villages.

The Commission's report suggests that the process of depopulation of villages has continued unabated after 2011. Consequently, a total of 734 revenue villages/toks (hamlets) spread across all 13 districts that have been depopulated after 2011 have been identified. The largest number (186) is in Pauri Garhwal and the least (7) in Dehradun.

The Commission has also classified the post-2011 depopulated revenue villages in terms of those that are not connected by road, are not electrified, do not have drinking water within one kilometer, and do not have a PHC.

Of the 734 revenue villages/toks depopulated after 2011 the largest number – 660 – lacked a Primary Health Centre. This was followed by 482 that were without road connectivity, 399 without drinking water within a distance of one kilometer and 358 were not electrified.

The data do not tell us how many villages/toks lacked more than one or all of the named facilities. The Commission's data also points to a more serious issue viz., reduction in the population of 565 revenue villages/toks by half since 2011.

Uttarakhand: Abandoned villages along the international border pose security risk

Out of the total of 565 villages whose population was reduced by half, 510 did not have a PHC, 367 were without road connectivity, 203 did not have drinking water available within 1 km. and 119 did not have electricity.

The presumption underlying these data is that absence of any one or more of the facilities may have been responsible for the people deciding to leave the villages. This may not be quite accurate.

On the contrary, migration has not spared many a village that had one or more of these facilities. Hence, it need not necessarily follow that provision of these facilities would have prevented the depopulation of these villages. Factors responsible for migration are much more complex.

Providing physical and social infrastructure facilities in all revenue villages and toks of Uttarakhand is a major challenge mainly because the population of many villages/toks is rather small to justify the expenditure involved.

According to the 2011 census there were 15,745 inhabited revenue villages in Uttarakhand. Of these 7,823 villages, or almost half, had a population of less than 200. Many of these villages are likely to have more than one tok or hamlet. Toks in Uttarakhand villages tend to be scattered over a large area and are often separated from each other and from the main village by considerable distance which is rendered even more arduous by the nature of the terrain and topography.

Further complication arises from the existence of isolated households scattered over the hillsides and considered part of a revenue village which may be situated at a considerable distance. Hence, to assert that provision of these amenities to the villages/toks will help in checking migrating and prevent further depopulation seems to be rather simplistic.

It would be more relevant to ask and investigate why some villages continue to be deprived of important physical and social infrastructure facilities.

An important issue relates to the existence of such villages near international borders. It is rightly feared that if people abandon villages near the border it can pose a serious security threat.

Uttarakhand, it may be recalled, shares international border with China and Nepal. China disputes the alignment of the border and occasionally reports of incursion into Indian territory by Chinese troops appear in the press. Hence the need to prevent depopulation of border villages.

The report of the Migration Commission has also addressed this issue by presenting information on the number of uninhabited villages within 5 kilometers of the international border. The total number of such villages has been identified as 14. Of these, 9 are situated on the border with Nepal and only 5 along the border with China.

It is also possible that the end to trade with Tibet after the India-China conflict of 1962 led to the abandonment of these villages.

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