Opinion

Hard living in the Himalayas

Nilabja Ghosh | Updated on January 05, 2012 Published on January 05, 2012


A large number of constraints bind all the States and countries that dot the slopes of the Himalayas, but for India, their population density, far lower than the country's average, is the saving grace.

Till now, their troubles have been addressed largely by political responses and armed interventions, but social and economic focus on the problems of the Himalayan States is largely missing in mainstream society.

CENSUS 2011

The concerns that Census 2011 has, at least tentatively, raised provide enough reason to think that the government needs to give more attention to our citizens on a higher elevation than before. Barring only Nagaland, where apparently the population has declined, the density of population is on the rise. The growth rate has been approximately 28 per cent, 27 per cent and 25 per cent in Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh and Jammu & Kashmir, respectively, in the census for the decade 2001-11, compared to the all-India average of 17.6 per cent.

The simple average of the 11 States constituting the Indian Himalayan Region (IHR) isn't very different, though. There are wide divergences across districts within these States, but districts like Rai Bhoi, Lower and Upper Subansiri, in the Northeast, and Kupwara and Anantnag in J&K, grew by more than 40 per cent, many of the J&K and Meghalaya districts grew by 30 per cent or more, and these across-the-board growth rates had little relation to the heights of the locations. Most of the high-growth Himalayan districts also grew in population in the previous census decade, making this expansion an ongoing process.

Some other myths are also dispelled by the latest census. While the falling sex ratio is a concern in India, sometimes mountain States are credited for the better position they accord to women, and in any case, migration helps to raise the sex ratio.

Admittedly, the sex ratio in the mountain States is generally better than the all-India average — J&K being a notable exception — and has shown improvement, as it has done at the all-India level, but the drop in the corresponding ratio of the 0-6 years age group, considered to be a more revealing statistic, from 951 to 935, against India's 927 to 914 decline, suggests that all isn't well in this region.

URBANISATION TRENDS

Another ground for complacency comes from the perception that the mountain States are essentially rural in character, and a comfort that rural people make few demands. The share of the urban population rose to 26 per cent in 2011, from 21 per cent in 2001. This is still considerably less than the all-India figure, which crossed the 30 per cent mark this time, with the rapid pace of urbanisation presenting an enormous challenge to the country.

The urban population in the Himalayan states grew at not less than 40 per cent, much more than the meagre 12 per cent growth of their rural population, and certainly faster than the growth in the all-India picture.

The mountain States, with their population scattered across vast areas with different altitudes, regardless of political borders, rely heavily on communication with plains and some neighbouring mountainous areas for their necessities, given the limitations on their agriculture and industry that the slopes compel. Presence of good roads and some other infrastructure is critical for ensuring supplies of food, clean fuel, and water without disturbing the ecology. The shortage of electricity in many areas has become a serious issue, despite the sizable potential for producing hydro-electric power. Population growth is a reminder that more action is required to address the concerns of mountain people, especially women.

(The author is Associate Professor, Institute of Economic Growth, University of Delhi Enclave - North.)

Published on January 05, 2012
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