• Border village, devoid of electricity or roads, hopes for a better future

    A visit to Thapliyalkheda, a village in Champawat district on the Indo-Nepal border is an illustrative example of how villages in the far-flung reaches of Uttarakhand remain disconnected from the rest of the region and the country even now in times of instant communication.

    Located around 170 km from Nainital, the judicial capital of the state and headquarters of Kumaon division, the village of around 45 families still has no electricity or road. Till 1998, the villagers were also not able to exercise their voting rights since their names were not included in the area’s electoral rolls due to few officials visiting the place because of its inaccessibility. Visiting the village is like going back a few decades in time — in the absence of electricity, life comes to a standstill after sunset although some families have started using solar powered lanterns provided by the Sahastra Seema Bal (SSB) which guards the border areas. The irony is that the National Hydropower Corporation-operated Tanakpur power plant on Sharda river is just nine kilometres from the village.

    The other irony is that the area is represented by a MLA of the ruling Congress but still has to struggle with basic sadak, bijli, paani issues. Residents say that till the time the SSB moved into the area (in 2001), they also had to grapple with mischievous elements from across the border. “People from Nepal used to come and take away away our cattle. We were helpless as no official used to visit us. Only sometimes, officials from the forest department came to our area. We had to struggle a lot in order to get our names included in the voters’ list which happened only in 1998,” said Mohan Singh, the village head.

    The remoteness of the village can be gauged from the fact that the only sound one can hear is of an occasional vehicle of the armed forces making its way to the border outpost which is just a few kilometres away. Most of the youth of the village work either as daily wagers or farmers. With the arrival of the SSB in the area though, some hope has sparked amongst villagers of a better future. The border force has started providing basic amenities to villagers like solar lanterns, medical and public phone facilities as well as guidance for those youngsters who want to join the armed forces. In the pipeline, says Shyam Singh, inspector general, of SSB frontier Ranikhet, is a plan to light up around 10,000 homes in the border areas with solar units. SSB has collaborated to this effect with the NGO SCALE (Society to Create Awareness Towards Life & Environment). According to Arun Sinha, general secretary, SCALE, solar lanterns for use in villages like Thapliyalkheda are being manufactured in Uttarakhand for which units and workshops have been set up in Haldwani and other towns.

    Radha, a class nine student of Thapliyalkheda student who uses a solar lantern to study, says she wants to “become a doctor and cure everyone in the village.” Similar aspirations abound among other youngsters. Pooja Dhek, a 23-year-old graduate has recently appeared in the physical fitness test for entry into the SSB. “I want to get a government job so that I can support my family and do something for my village,” she says, eyes sparkling with hope for the future. Ryan Allen Jersey

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