Challenges & Opportunities in Hills (UK)
The state of Uttarakhand has a total population of about 1.01 crore as per Census 2011. In the last 10 years, 1,18,981 people have migrated permanently. Migration commission was formed by Uttarakhand Government in 2017 with a mandate to study migration from hills over the past ten years. Recently, the commission vice chairman Sh. S.S. Negi released a detailed report which states that over 700 villages in Uttarakhand have been deserted in the past decade with over 50% of them searching for livelihood. He further stated that between the 2011 census and 2017, 734 villages were completely vacated by their inhabitants while in another 565 the population fell by 50%.
Sometime back then Hon’ble Chief Minister of Uttarakhand Sh. Trivender Rawat said “Our villages are slowly getting vacated. People are leaving the hills permanently for want of better lives. The issue of migration is real and needs urgent attention”.
Before the pandemic in September and October during his visit to Uttarakhand in border villages Hon’ble Union Minister Sh. Rajnath Singh expressed concern over the migration, calling the people who live there “A strategic asset for the Country”
With these facts and the gravity of the problem, state of Uttarakhand needs a strategic intervention to provide better livelihood opportunities based on natural resources. Mostly people migrate from villages because of tough living conditions in hills and absence of any livelihood opportunity. On the other side, hilly areas offer a scenic beauty and a village life close to nature and these two aspects are strongest asset for any tourist destination in modern times.
We are living in a world of mobility, and we watch a sea of people travelling to hills but restricting their tours to only a few known and popular destination. The reasons are many but prominent ones are lack of knowledge about new areas and connectivity. If these two factors are addressed, states like Uttarakhand will never face problem of migration from hills.
There is huge potential for promoting sustainable and environment friendly tourism interlinked with organic agriculture, hilly states like UK can become a model of sustainable development.
State can consider developing a Center of Excellence on Tourism & Hospitality in every hilly district as Hub & Resource center with state of the art facilities for Skill Development, Entrepreneurship, Incubation center for grassroot start-ups (people from Uttarakhand and from the same district), Setting up of Research and Development center to accelerate the process of developing eco-system for rural tourism and work closely with state Govt. to connect different schemes are already available for the sector as a whole and for rural tourism in particular. This Centre of Excellence will also be developed as an incubation center for entrepreneurship opportunities in rural tourism across the state.
This will address issues of Skill Development, Research, Entrepreneurship at grassroots, promotion of tourism and in particular models like home stays and local employment opportunities. As first move, 100 villages can be identified with good hill view and provide better road connectivity. Each village should be targeted to have 5 home stays to create a community. This will become a model and the same can be replicated in all the hilly districts. Similarly border hilly districts where villages are completely empty, each village can be developed as heritage of hills with best connectivity including helipads. This will bring back youth from these villages back to their roots and this will not only bring life to these ghost villages but will enhance our border security. Time of taking action is NOW.