Understanding Out-migration from Mountains

By R S Tolia • Random Thoughts • 24 Feb 2016

Munsyari. Ever since we returned from a short break in Delhi and Dehradoon occasioned by activating applications to be filed for projects by various stake-holders under the recently announced National Mission on Himalayan Studies, its preparation, brainstorming of University staff and some departments, followed by attending presentations at the Paryavaran Bhawan in New Delhi and other matters related to the pan-Indian Montain Movement  – past five days have made us realize the travails that families have to endure who have resolved to stay back in remote hill stations, like Munsyari. These five days have beenwithout a regular supply of drinking water, one of the most essentials for human survival, anywhere. This brings me to the issue of, rather what seemingly contributes to, this ever-growing phenomenon of, out-migration from remote hill-stations ( not the ones built for recuperating  soldiers and fatigued Missionaries, by the British, during past two centuries )..

Outmigration from Mountains

Rapid and whole-scale outmigration from Uttarakhand mountain regions has been particularly and very tellingly brought home by the latest decennial Census statistics ( 2011 ). This Census, of which Caste and Economic parts were taken up subsequently, and which are bound to have their own repercussions, once these get analyzed and reveal the darkest aspects of our development trajectory ( no prizes for right guessing, as these stare at you daily ), has thrown up very strong signals for our policy-makers. Broadly these have helped reveal ( i ) our oldest districts of Almora and Pauri ( without any change in their geographicl area, over 2001 Census ), witnessing a net decrease of its populations ! A look at the distribution of population ( 2001 ) had already shown the trend, with Dehradun, Haridwar and US Nagar appearing as the most populous districts with a population density exceeding 800 persons per suare km, and Almora and Pauri within 300 to 800, or median range. Significantly, Bageshwar and Uttar Kashi, two districts remaining with Rudrapyrayag and Bageshwar, with the lowest popuation density, being at below 300 persons per sq km. It was Dehradun, the povisional capital of the new state, in 2001, that added the ranks of fastest growing districts, population-wise that is. Clearly, Dehradoon's bursting- at- the -seems has been caused by a political decision and had the location of the capital been elsewhere, much of its Litchi-gardens ( much to the litany of complaints raised by the likes of Florence Pandhi and Save Doon agitators, notwithstanding the monitoring exertions of the Supreme Court Monitoring Committeee, as also the Canals ( EC, ONGC-Garhi and NIVH ) would still have been there in tourists maps. This writer remembers when he was also targetted by burning of his effigy ( at Rudrapur and Kashipur ) when Notification restricting sale of land to non Uttarakhndi domiciles was restricted to just 500 sq mtr ( later brought down further to just 250 sq mtr). The first time his effigy was burnt in Naini Tal, went back to our UP days, when as Kumaon Commissioner, he Notified the Greater Naini Tal Master Plan, way back in early 1990s. Thanks to this Master Plan, Bhimtal received the CDO Office and various other offices shifted from the Old Secretariat building-which now houses our High Court. The trading community then eyed shifting of some 15 dpeartments to Bhim Tal, as loss to their livelihoods ! Later, of course, the association was able to apprecite the unilateral decision to enforce the Great Naini Tal Master Plan ( it still remins in force ). Soon after creation of the state,  land became the hottest trading commodity and on the last day the Doon Treasury reportedly created a single day highest registration-fee receipt record ! Loss of our Litchi-gardens and clear water Canals have now been exchanged with large multi-storeyed structures, unmanageable transportation and frequent traffic jams, solid-waste dumps populated by scavengers, large imported labor populations at any given expanding location, unheard of beggars at any cross-roads. Now, Dehradoon has all the making of a modern, if not yet a Smart City, metro-polis. This writer fondly recalls not infrequent calls from an anguished Florence Pandhi et el, which was briefly revived post Dehradun's attempts at a Smart City status, now via exchanging the not-so salubrious and profitable apologies of the so-called Tea-Gardens, spread in peri-urban area of Doon.

'Black-holes' of Uttarakhand  

The second change that Census 2011 has high-lighted; ( ii ) excessive entire-family outmigration from the remote mountain regions, however, not entirely out of the state but moving within the state and settling around the newly emreging urban areas, like Dehradun, Kotdwara, Haldwani, Rookee, Hardwar-Rishikesh -these have manifested in upgrading of Haldwani, Haridwar and Dehradun being catapulted into Municipal Corporations. For the policy-makers, it is this phenomenon that calls for some urgent attention as well as action. it is not as if this peri-urban related development issues were unknown during UP days but the planning mechanism like the Special Aread Development Act, greater Naini Tal Master Plan, MDDA type of development mechanisms were put in place, and in many regions we have seen their fruits-if one may say so. This writer recalls early action in and around burgeoinng towns like Moradabad – which now links the Lucknow National Highway with Haridwar via Kotwali – and the results are there to see. How the Greater Naini Tal Master Plan was finalized despite an alleged shortage of staff with the Chief Town and Country Planning Officer ( T&CPO), burning mid-night oil, and almost daily monitoring leading to a two day hearing at the Ashley Hall prior to the final Notification of the Master Plan and implementation of it, could be good case study for all the Master Plans that are hanging in the air for several years ! of course, the competent authority ought to be mentally ready to bear the shocks of both effigy burning and even a marching order ( that is how this writer reached the Naini Tal Academy, thanks to the acceptance of his offer by the then Chief Secretary, Mata Prasad ). While the Master Plan and its proceedings are very much in the public domain, duly signed by this writer as Kumaon Commissioner, the effigy burning event is known to the Hotel and Trdaers Association of Naini Tal; and my request for transfer to the Academy, only known to Mr Mata Prasad. However, this writer is not complaining on either count, as consequently, he enjoyed argubaly one of the best phases of his civil service career, as Director, UP Academy of Administration ( 1995-2000 ), and now he passes the new Bhim Tal township, with fond memories of having in a way saved Naini Tal the fate, that now stares at Dehradun, Haldwani and possibly quite a few emerging townships-on way to Munsyari, these days. These turai-bhabar regions and cities remind one of a astrophysics phenomenon, called the Black-holes. Black -holes are terrestrial phenomenon that have execessively heavy mass and its gravitational pull ensures that even huge stars, many times bigger than our Sun, get pulled towards it, and even as fast moving radiation as the light cannot escape its gravitation pull. Are our emerging metro-cities like Dehradun, Haldwani, Rudrapur, Roorkee, Kotdwara are heading to become, figurateively speaking, the Black-holes of Uttarakhand – so gravitaionally heavy that almost every thing within its gravitational pull get attracted towards them – rendered unable to leave its region of influence ? One senior politician, hearing me raise this question, wondered whether I have mentioned this to our senior politicians-who leave no opportunity to espouse the cause of these growing cities. This writer promised to do so, when any of them happened to visit the impacted villages ( not yet Nagar Panchayat ) like say Munsyari – most probably during election campaigns time ( arguably the safest time to say such unpalatable home-truths ). This writer awaits such occasions, very earnestly indeed. To counter this Urban Black-hole phenomenon, our policy-makers must examine as to what Peri-Urban development measures could possibly be taken, if one accepts that the aspirational and pull-factor led agglomeration to these so-called Urban Black-holes, are unavoidable.  Peri-Urban development interventions would and are likely to cover a range of sectors and departments and it is time that a dedicated administrative architecture, named and dedicated to address, all such Peri-Urban development issues that are mushrooming by the hour. Needless to add, not only the administrative architecture of any such Peri-Urban development mechanism, will have to be thought in an out-of-box mode but those dealing with the issues at stake will have to be equally adept and knowledgeable about the various National Programmes, National Missions and related policies, in order to understand its magnitute as well as complexity. The darkest aspect of this Urban Black-hole resolution possibility is the present abysmal and neglected state of our Urban development department e.g. housing, urban development, public utilities ( water, power, sanitation ) – not least being the sensititie and sensibilities of our civil servants who seem to be living in a make-believe world of their own, besides being mostly inexperienced in such affairs.

Emerging Rural-Urban Black-holes

The third and fourth major findings that have come out, as apparent as bright a Sun collapse-flash that has been recently captured by some astro-physicists studying our cosmos, relates to ( iii ) more than average population growth in some remote administratively important locations e.g. Champawat and Uttar Kashi. Apparently, Uttar Kashi's distance and hinter-lands that cover both the Bhagirathi and Yamuna valley, has much to do with its relative exception from the general trend; while Champawat, being our recent district headquarters, is in the process of its initial growth, besides its strategic location, mid-way, linking Pithoragarh-Dhachula with Takanpur, exiting Pilibhit and othet terai regions of neighbouring UP. These two bright spots, in an otherwise despondent population migration scenario, do also suggest very special measures, if these are not to be allowed to lapse into, what Almora a and Pauri have already witnessed. The Peri-Urban development measures equally remain relevant to these new urban agglomerations and Master Plans have not only to be prepared but a futuristice development plan must get prepared in all district and administrative centres, as these are the future foci of development. Urban development, now has to be brought centre-stage, as the lietracy levels and other basic needs get demanded by a more conscious hill-citizenry.

A National Workshop was convened in Mussoorie by the Centre for Public Policy in collaboration with the IMI, in Januray 2014, and it took into account most of the features that have been discussed in this piece, as also the enmerging national perspective on a Growing Urban India. Member of Parliament, Ms Vandana, on this occason had reminded all of us in 2014 that what has remained unnoticed in India is the fact, that today more people now live in Indian urban areas than in the rural ones. Time has come when our mountain development planning should also take this fact into account. 

Finally, a unique phenomenon has also been reported by the 2011 Census, namely of a good percentage of 'big villages' adding further to their existing population, even though these are located in remote mountain regions. Its been called the 'Rural-urbanisation', or some such term by our social scientists. Now, this phenomenon needs an altogether distinct and different set of policy- interventions, as the Peri-Urban, qualification would not apply to it-as the central 'Village' is still a village, so not qualified to receive urban policy-development interventions, and so the Peri population neither retains the character of being rural nor qualified to be benefitted via the Peri-Urban benefits that are being discussed under the predominantly, plain-area phenomenon of Peri Urban development programmes and schemes. This Rural-Urbanism, is also witnessed on a very large scale in the plain regons and the peninsular India, as well. However, here the discussion is confined to the population-migration phenomenon of mountain regions and so this phenomenon also merits immediate attention of our policy-makers.

That this a 'Big Village' adding substantial population around it in neighbouring villages, calls for a major policy intervention-right from their listing, regional and development classification, ending erhaps with a legal-development dispensation like the Special Area Development zones, that were covered in the past by Special Area development planning. This phenomenon deserves immediate attention, as these 'Big Village' also form the nuclei or foci of a potential Hill-Station, in a postive modern sense, complete with the latest infrastructural development package. Their attention deserves as the only countervailing development to the inexorable phenomenon of the Urban Black-hole phenomenon, that has just been talked about. If his memory serves him right, this 'Big Village' percentage is not a small one, around plus 20 percentage, by any standard a large enough population, which look forward to Harish Rawat Government's immediate attention. Even if this be say just ten percentage it is still a large enough population, who deserves to receive the state of the art infrastructural facilities and incentives for investment by both, public and private sector..

Investment Incentives in Mountain Regions

Chief Minister Harish Rawat has announced a score of schemes that aim at inducing mountain populations to remain in the mountains and matching their investments, in various ways. This assumes either these people have their own savings, or alternatively, the banks and other investment windows are ready to help them. The second alternative, if one was to read between the lines of these schemes announced by Harish Rawat or the attitude of the scheduled banks functioning in these remote regions, seems a pipe-dream, if one were to say so. What is to be appreciated is  – Who decides to remain in the mountains, and why ? It is  to place to go deeper into analysis of the so called 'push' and 'pull' factors', but the harsh fact remains, majority of those who remain back, are either those who due to their socio-economic and family circumstances just cannot think of leaving their homes ( these include even bright students, who deserved better school and college facilities and opportunities to do well in their lives ), in an utter help-less situation, or those whose aspiration levels have not felt the irrestible gravitational pull of the Urban Blackholes that have developed in Uttarakhand, or potential one, which would also strike a death-knell to very idea of a mountain state, that was to be Uttarakhnd.

While there is no need to belabour the points that  (i) Uttarakhand Government needs to immediately establish a robust Uran Development administrative staructure, to address the varied urban development related issues that plague the Black-holes that already exist in the state, plus ( ii ) the fast emerging Black-holes via innovative and improved mountain versions of Peri-Urban development scahmes / programmes, and ( iii ) to develop a stand-alone 'Big Village' growing into 'Rural-Urban entities', with new legal definitions to cater to their unique developmental needs, which were not felt eralier as ths phenomenon was never highlighted by our decennial census operations.

While this writer has serious reservations ( primarily on account of an absence of ease of implementation of these several announcements, without any detailing of incentives, administrative mechanisms and also, as the home-base investment is almost non existent and these are directed at attracting investments from non-resident Uttarakhandis )  about the successful implementation of desperate and several schemes announced by Chief Minister Rawt under the general rubric of 'Mera Gaon and Mera School' etc, could there be a better possibility of attracting larger and substantive investment in favour of these  'Big Village Rural-Urban' agglomerations via developing link-roads, better conectivity, better socio-economic infrastructure ' etc ?

Big Village Rural-Urban Agglomerations

Urban development in India, as is rightly asserted, is mostly definitional, as urban areas get defined just on account of a population thresh-hold and bear no linkage with either the infrastructural or  socio-economic standards of development. In the mountain context the situation gets further complex, as even after meeting a particular population thresh-hold, the population is not big enough to justify the size investment that is presently required to build required physical infrastructure. The National Workshop on Mountain Cities, held in Mussooorie in January 2014 was precisely to draw attention towards the issues related to urbanisation in the mountain regions, including of those of the mountain cities. Here by 'mountain cities; cities like Dehradun, Haldwani, Haridwar and Roorkee were not included, and attention was to be drawn towards the plight of the mountain cities, like Mussoorie, Almora, Pauri, Uttar Kashi, Pithoragarh, Rakikhet, Kausani and so on.

Urbanisation issues in Utarakhand must equally, rather more, should be focused on the infrastructural development, including socio-economic, requirements of actual 'mountain cities', to which get added the likes of 'Big Village Rural-Urban Agglomerations' that have the potential to counter the ill-effcts of the so-called Balck-holes of Uttarakhand, that are drawing huge populations from the remote regions of our mountain districts – quite like the Black-holes of our astro-physics world, with massive magnetic pull, so massive once a physical entity gets drawn to it, its fate is deep darkness of anonimity. Mountain Urban development issues call for an equal urgency, and innovative solutions, that seems to be the main message that the whole sale mogrations underscored by Census 2011 — seems to point out. 

Rural areas of Uttarakhand today are plagued by scores of implemnettaional snags. Reforms carried out under the State-wide implementation f the Swajal model, with the single village rural drinking water shemes being handed over to the Village Committee, remains just a pipe-dream, and manifest in the dry pipes that await flow of clen drinking water. Jal Sansthan handing over unfinished or defective water schemes to an unwilling Village Committee, who need all capacity building plus other hand-holding measures, remaining stuck at the receiving end. There is no control, absolutely no administrative over sight and a remarkable indifference on the pasrt of local officials, who could not care less. With district officials hardly ever moving to the remote regions, the public feels badly cheated. Is it any wonder if one of these days the local people take to measures that would not be to the liking of the government of the day. The small state syndrome, when it comes to such measures, is seen at its worst. An indifferent, short of stff and callous administratition, is more than half the cause of out-migration from the remote mountain regions. Munsyari, notified as a Nagar Panchayat, a year back, is one such Big Village Rural-Urban agglomeration, crying out for innovative solutions for such growing so-called urban areas in remote mountains, which has attracted sizeable populations – who unfortunately are made to count their 'drinking water-less days', as this writer moves on to his fifth water-less day ! Munsyari, is a classic case of the utter neglect of a growing hill-station, that could count on a number of drinking water, electricity or LPG – less days. No wonder the urban 'Black-holes' are scoring over remote mountain villages, where people wish to stay, given the very basics of civil facilities. More, when drinking water resumes its appearance.    


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