Ghost village in uttarakhand, once a bustling village with a population of more than 2,000 people, Saur in Tehri district was on the verge of turning into a ghost village.
Thanks to the community-based tourism project initiated by one of its residents, the abandoned village, 110km from Dehradun, has received a new lease of life.
The change has come with 60-year-old social entrepreneur Sushil Ramola starting tourism activity and involving villagers in the project.
Charity begins at home: The regeneration project began when local entrepreneur Sushil Ramola decided to restore his 70-year-old family house
A ghost village is where housing infrastructure exists without inhabitants
According to an Uttarakhand government survey, there are about 120 ghost villages in the hill state.
A ghost village is where housing infrastructure exists without inhabitants.
The bad days for Saur started some four decades back when its local residents decided to settle permanently about five km away from the main village.
People from Saur used to migrate to Jadipani (near Kanatal) and a cluster of six villages near it with their cattle in summer for pasture.
The winter village lost its charm when Kanatal got connected with the Mussoorie-Chamba Highway.
Personal project: Ramola was born in Saur and has fond memories of it
However, the effort of Ramola, who formed a company DueNorth Eco Venture Pvt Ltd, is proving to be a boon in the revival of this remote hamlet.
Ramola was born in Saur and has many fond memories of the village.
His move has made villagers resume agricultural activities in the discarded fields and a few have even returned to live in the village.
The project began with Ramola restoring his 70-year-old family house last year to launch the tourism project.
He had to spend huge money and use the expertise of an Italian architect Marco to restore the old building to its prime.
DueNorth Eco Venture will be restoring another half a dozen houses in the village.
The restoration of the identified houses is all set to kick off after monsoon.
The villagers will be paid monthly rental for their houses and the company will restore the infrastructure at their own cost.
The current population of Saur is about 45.
Ramola said: “It is a social project in which I want to contribute something for my village.
“We believe that the success of this project can create a viable model for addressing the livelihood needs of the villagers.”
Saur’s village head Mohan Lall said: “We are hopeful that our village will soon become fully inhabited.”
Ramola did his graduation with a gold medal in chemical engineering and his PGDM from IIM, Ahmedabad.
MAIL TODAY 29 JULY2013
The Crisis of Uttarakhand’s Ghost Villages: Causes, Realities, and Hopes for the Future
The Indian state of Uttarakhand, nestled in the Himalayan mountains, is facing a crisis. Over the past decade, hundreds of remote villages across the state have been completely abandoned by their inhabitants. These empty relics of once-thriving communities have earned the moniker “ghost villages.”
As of 2022, official government surveys have identified over 1,300 ghost villages in Uttarakhand. The numbers continue to rise year after year, with one report finding that 734 villages have been fully deserted since just 2011. Behind these statistics lies a complex tale of how climate change, lack of economic opportunity, and even wildlife attacks have combined to force mass migration away from rural villages.
The abandonment of Uttarakhand’s villages has very real human impacts. Generations-old communities have been lost, along with their associated traditions and ways of life. The migration crisis also raises questions about the future habitability of the region if clear steps are not taken soon.
This in-depth article will analyze the key factors that have created Uttarakhand’s ghost villages. It will also highlight what life is currently like in these deserted villages and showcase some early government and grassroots efforts underway to address the crisis.
Drivers Behind the Formation of Ghost Villages
Several interconnected issues have collectively spurred the mass abandonment of remote villages across Uttarakhand in recent years:
Accelerating Climate Change
The Himalayan region is experiencing faster temperature rises than the global average, severely impacting local agriculture and ecosystems.
- Over the past few decades, average annual temperatures in Uttarakhand have increased by 1.6 to 1.9°C. More heat spikes are expected in the near-future.
- Warmer weather has led to erratic monsoon rains and reduced winter snowfall. Melting glaciers and disappearing water sources have made farming more precarious.
- The higher instances of droughts, floods, landslides, and forest fires have also made mountain villages more vulnerable and prompted migrations.
Lack of Economic Opportunities
Compounding the climate pressures, the difficult mountainous terrain and lack of infrastructure development in rural villages has led to few stable income sources locally.
- With small-scale agriculture becoming untenable, most villages have scarce local employment options.
- Poor road connectivity and lack of access to electricity and communication networks has kept these rural villages disconnected from the mainstream economy.
- Unable to envision a secure future in their native region, there has been a trend of youth migrating to cities even for basic education and jobs.
Animal Attacks and Human-Wildlife Conflicts
Higher temperatures and habitat loss has resulted in more frequent wandering of leopards, boars, monkeys and other wildlife into village peripheries – escalating dangerous human-animal encounters.
- Numerous villages have been evacuated out of the fear of increasing leopard attacks on livestock and even children.
- Rampaging groups of monkeys eating crops have also rendered farming difficult, especially for small landholders.
The Current Realities of Life in Ghost Villages
The government estimates that around 6-7 districts across Uttarakhand have been the most severely impacted by desertion of rural villages. The Pauri and Almora districts have perhaps witnessed the maximum numbers of villages being rendered uninhabited.
Some snippets of the present-day realities in these ghost villages provide a window into the extreme distress and psychological trauma faced by their few lingering residents.
The Case of Bundi Devi
82-year old Bundi Devi tragically happens to be the sole remaining resident of the village of Umreth in the Pauri Garhwal district.
- Her native village once bustled with nearly 90 inhabitants residing in around half a dozen households. Today, only crumbling ruins and overgrown vegetation surrounds Bundi’s modest hut.
- Living alone for ages in the abandoned village with no neighbors or even a paved road, her only occasional visitors are wild leopards stalking the area. She has resignated herself to a life of extreme destitution and loneliness.
Quote: “I don’t see a human face or hear a human voice for days or even months. I talk to myself or the stars…” laments Bundi Devi poignantly. Her sons also now live permanently in cities and seldom visit her.
Such depressing tales of isolation are all too common in Uttarakhand’s ghost villages primarily inhabited today by only widows and the elderly who could not migrate for socio-economic reasons.
Struggles of Remaining Inhabitants
The few folks – mostly elderly men and women – still found living in such deserted villages face enormous challenges on a daily basis:
- With no neighbors for miles, most lack any medical care and support structure in emergencies or even during illnesses.
- The villagers still reliant on subsistence agriculture struggle with damaged irrigation networks and fields overrun by animals.
- Younger members who can work and maintain village infrastructure have dwindled. The psychological toll of such disconnected existence is also immense for the remaining residents.
Government and Civil Society Interventions Thus Far
Responding to rising activism and media coverage on Uttarakhand’s migration problem, government bodies and community groups have initiated some interventions. However, the efficacy, scale, and sustainability of these efforts remains unclear.
The Uttarakhand government set up a dedicated Migration Commission in 2017 to formally study the drivers and magnitude of the crisis. Some other initiatives launched since include:
- Infrastructure Development of 100 remote villages across several districts most impacted by desertion. Additional roads, electricity and piped water connections aim to make villages more livable.
- Financialschemes like Mukhyamantri Swarojgar Yojana that provide youth with subsidized loans to set up local businesses. However, migrants claim lack of complementary training or assets make entrepreneurship untenable.
- Agricultural Support Policies promoting innovative practices around horticulture, tea plantations, beekeeping, spice and herb cultivation that align with mountain terrain.
- Animal Protection Walls have also been built around a few vulnerable villages to restrict wildlife movements. But human-animal conflicts continue unabated.
Some community-led initiatives to catalyze reverse migration have also shown minor positive outcomes thus far:
- In Pauri Garwhal district, retired Indian Army officer Major Gorki Chandola has transformed his native ancestral yet nearly empty Rawatgaon village by personally investing significant capital and sweat equity.
- He has successfully convinced two dozen migrants to return back by creating climate-resilient employment around agriculture and eco-tourism. Locals applaud his selfless efforts.
- Smaller NGOs are also training villagers on sustainable farming methods that work in the mountains. Reviving traditional crops like ragi (finger millet), traditional weaves, and other cottage industries can make simple livings possible again.
The Road Ahead: Potential Solutions
The continuing outflux of rural inhabitants even from living villages across Uttarakhand’s hills signals that existing governmental interventions have been largely ineffective thus far.
The policy discourse on resolving the state’s migration crisis and socio-economic decline revolves around 3 broad themes:
1. Climate Adaptation Initiatives
- With climate change inevitabilities like rising temperatures and changing rainfall already evident, farming systems need urgent reform through context-specific research on crops and practices optimized for mountain ecologies. Agroforestry models that sustainably combine forests with plantation crops or orchards also hold potential.
- Water conservation infrastructure like check dams, improved irrigation canals, ponds and rainwater harvesting systems can help capture and utilize the shorter bursts of intense rainfall predicted in coming years.
- Access to climate-resilient seeds, fertilizers, farm technologies and avenues to integrate with modern agricultural value chains is vital to restore the centrality of farming based livelihoods that mountain life depended upon traditionally.
2. Advance Infrastructure Building
- Prioritizing ongoing construction of all-weather motorable roads and transport connectivity between villages and nearby towns can significantly address challenges around healthcare access, mobility to jobs, and transportation logistics for village produce.
- Universal provision of clean drinking water, electricity and good digital/mobile network coverage is also essential to stem outmigration of youth seeking these basic amenities in cities.
- Government schools and primary health centers with dedicated personnel can cater to village requirements around child education and maternal care – giving young families less reason to permanently relocate.
3. Direct Livelihood Generation
- Beyond agriculture, various entrepreneurship opportunities suited for hills like food processing plants, craft breweries, adventure sports ventures can be seeded by providing appropriate financial credit channels and skill training to youth.
- Transparent and accountable implementation mechanisms for existing state government schemes supporting small businesses, animal husbandry, rural innovators need urgent reform based on inputs from migrants and grassroots civil society partners.
- The massive growth in India’s ecotourism, wellness retreats and alternative healing space also holds unique promise for scattered villages to economically benefit through sustainable models – if operationalized sensitively without exploitation by private players.
In essence, a mission approach backed by political will that activates solutions across the above three pathways in clearly defined ways is vital to reversing the worrying trend of ghost villages only expanding and multiplying across Uttarakhand’s delicate landscape.
- Over 1,300 villages lie fully deserted in Uttarakhand today due to climate stresses, resource scarcity and migration
- The few elderly left stranded in ghost villages suffer from immense destitution, lacking basic facilities
- Government programs to encourage resettlement and provide climate-resilient income sources have thus far been inadequate and unsuccessful
- Comprehensive strategies around climate adaptation, infrastructure building and entrepreneurship support are urgently needed to restore habitability and livelihoods across Uttarakhand’s emptying villages