Migration, monkeys major problem

Hustle and bustle of agriculture missing in Uttarakhand

Migration, monkeys major problem

Bright students prefer to study in Delhi or the plains   

Govind Singh has fought three wars against Pakistan and China, but he feels helpless against simians that plunder his terraced fields in the picturesque lower Himalayan mountains. In late January, 73-year-old Singh was away for a day visiting his relatives in a neighbouring village when a troop of monkeys ravaged orange trees and green peas plants that were just about bearing the fruits of his labour.

At a little distance in the mountains, Chured wears a deserted look. Only three people stay in the tiny hamlet as the rest have left their homes and hearths in search of jobs in the plains. The same story repeats in village after village in the Pauri Garhwal district of Uttarakhand – barren fields and absence of the daily hustle and bustle that is the hallmark of rural life.

“There are hardly any people in the village. Whatever little we grow is destroyed by monkeys who come in hordes,” 68-year-old Saraswati Devi said. Saraswati Devi’s two sons have left the village to settle in the plains of Kotdwar, a larger town near the border with Uttar Pradesh.

“There are no jobs in villages and whatever we earn from agriculture is not enough to sustain a large family,” she told DH. Her children migrated to the plains almost two decades ago.

Bilochan Singh retired from Assam Rifles as a havildar in 1999. He has been tending to a small part of his terraced farm. “I remember, when I  retired, we used to grow wheat and jangoora (jungle rice) all over the mountain. Now, everything is barren,” 60-year-old Bilochan said, pointing to the mountain slopes near Daantedhar.

Large tracts of untended land have increased the human-animal conflict. According to a report by Dehradun-based Wildlife Institute of India, on an average 50 people are killed every year by leopards in Uttarakhand.

Bilochan Singh said the absence of people in villages have made the fields prone to attacks by monkeys and wild boars, making farming very difficult. “We also see occasional attacks by bears,” he said.

Sati Devi has erected a fence of dried thorny shrubs around her small patch of land to prevent it from being raided by wild boars. 

Govind Singh, who retired from Garhwal Rifles in 1980, also recalls instances of leopards wandering in villages in search of food and doing away with livestock. “The number of bullocks too has reduced in the hills as farms are barren,” said Singh.

Migration and unemployment have been neglected by successive governments in the state and whatever little industry Uttarakhand has seen has been limited to the plains.

Mayank Rawat is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in science at the Government Degree College in Chaubattakhal. Rawat is lucky as three generations of his family stay under one roof at Jagsyakhal village about 2 km from Chaubattakhal.

His father works as a clerk in the tehsil office in Chaubattakhal, while is grandfather Gabbar Singh spent his life tending to the family farms. However, Mayank has no plans to continue staying in the village. “After graduation, I plan to go to Delhi or Dehradun to pursue a course in hotel management,” Mayank said. He eyes a career as a bar tender.

The Government Degree College at Chaubattakhal has classes for arts and science streams. Situated on a mountain top, the college has a bird’s eye view of the valley below and the numerous hamlets located there.

“We have 250 students pursuing higher studies,” R K Verma, associate professor of Hindi, told DH. He said the number was higher this academic year. “Last year, we had 180 students,” he said attributing the higher number this year to the repeated extensions to the last date for seeking admissions.

“Bright students prefer colleges in Delhi or the plains – Haridwar or Dehradun. What we get here is the chaff,” M Maurya, associate professor of geography said.

The cut-off marks for admissions to arts courses is just 40%, while those seeking to pursue studies in science need a minimum of 45% marks.

As per Census 2011, of Uttarakhand’s 16,793 villages, 1,053 had no inhabitants and another 405 had a population of less than 10. The number of such ghost villages has reportedly risen after the earthquake and flash floods of 2013.

“In the context of the hill region in Uttarakhand, while widespread low earnings in agriculture and limited employment opportunities outside  agriculture for increasing population at a remunerative incomes have been dominant reasons for migration,” Rajendra Prasad Mamgain, Professor of Economics at the Giri Institute of Development Studies, Lucknow, said in a report titled “Outmigration from Hill Region of Uttarakhand: Magnitude, Challenges and Policy Options” commissioned by the National Institute of Rural Development and Panchayati Raj.

“Nearly half of the migration was due to lack of employment opportunities in the region. Due to abysmally low levels of agricultural productivity most of the people would like to discontinue farming provided they get some alternate source of income and that too of regular   nature,” said the report.

No wonder, migration and unemployment was a key election issue in 2017 with both the Congress and the BJP promising to reverse the trend of migration to re-populate the villages.

While Chief Minister Harish Rawat has spoken about promoting eco-tourism in remote villages and making them centres producing fruits, vegetables and medicinal herbs, the BJP has promised setting up IT parks in hill regions to tap the potential of the youth.

However, analysts link the migration to the plains as a natural but worrisome process. “How can you expect people to stay in the villages when leaders themselves are fleeing to the plains,” a political scientist quipped pointing out that Harish Rawat and former chief ministers Ramesh Pokhriyal and B C Khanduri – all hill leaders – had chosen to contest elections from seats in the plains.

DH Newsletter Privacy Policy Get top news in your inbox daily
Comments (+)