Joshimath: As Uttarakhand gets ready to vote Wednesday, the Niti valley, a part of Badrinath constituency close to China border, seems to have remained forgotten. Far away from political hullabaloo, the valley is quiet with a majority of the natives having migrated to lower ranges for the winter.
Some of the villages they have migrated to fall under under Karnprayag and Thrali constituencies while 4,000 are listed in Badrinath constituency.
The administration puts up polling booths for them at Maso village near Nandprayag and Ghingran village near Gopeshwar and also makes arrangements to bring the voters to the booth and take them back.
Over the years, the area has also seen people migrating out of the valley in search of the greener pastures. The dwindling number of inhabitants here does not augur well from the security point of view as this valley in Chamoli district is also considered to be the second line of defense for the country. The issue of migration assumes significance in view of the reports of Chinese infiltration near Barahoti last year.
Every year, residents of 11 villages --- Jhelam, Dronagiri, Kaga, Malari, Kailashpur, Mahargaon, Farkiya, Bampa, Gamshali and Niti --- migrate to the lower ranges in winters for six months and return in summers. However, as per the official data, not even 1,500 people return to the valley in summers to till their fields or rear the sheep and cattle.
A close look at the MGNREGA scheme statistics shows that 95% of the job card holders in Niti valley are above the age of 55 making it evident that only the elderly have stayed put even as more than 60% of the inhabitants have permanently migrated out of the valley.
“While the country is entering into the digital era, there is no communication facility in the entire valley even after 70 years of Independence,” says Jai Singh, village head of Kosa. “Though each village has been provided with one digital satellite phone terminal (DLSP) yet the call charges are so high (almost ₹7 per minute) that people use it only during emergency,” he added.
The lone government hospital is at Bampa. It is run by a pharmacist in the absence of any doctor. In case of emergency, patients are taken to Joshimath, almost 60 to 90 km away from different villages, says Indra Singh Bisht, native of Jhelam village. Bisht adds that all the government schools in the valley have been shut --- the lone exception being the primary school at Malari.
While most of the villages have been connected with motorable roads, the lone bus started running on it only in 2016. People have to resort to taxis or private vehicles to reach this valley from Joshimath.
Sanjay Chauhan, a local journalist says that nothing tangible has been done to create employment opportunities to stem the tide of migration and bring the youth back to the valley. “This valley is a treasure trove of medicinal plants. Add to it the area’s natural beauty. It can be turned into a tourist destination, but the successive governments have failed on this front. The promises of strengthening the second line of defense has proven to be rhetoric, doled out at the time of elections,” says Laxman Singh Negi, president, village head association, Joshimath.
Pawan Rawat of Malari village, who is pursuing post graduation at Gopeshwar,says that job opportunities would increase and the youth could be lured back to the area if the popular demand of starting the Kailash Mansarovar Yatra through Niti valley was accepted. “It would bring back the hustle and bustle back to the valley that was lost after the sealing of the Indo-Tibet border in 1962 and cessation of the cross-border trade relations,” he adds.