A year down the line, Ladakh without Article 370 looks fully empowered
It has been one year now, since Ladakh became a Union Territory (UT) and its is time to reflect on what this means for the region. Certainly, August 5, 2019, the day of the abrogation of Article 370 and Article 35A was a watershed moment—popularly dubbed as “historical blunder being corrected in one stroke,” and a new “tryst with destiny”. It was the day when all the intricate and difficult knots that strangulated J&K for decades stood untied. It was also the day when the state was split and formed into two Union Territories (UT)—The UT of Ladakh and the UT of Jammu & Kashmir. Both came into existence on 31 October 2019.
Abrogation of Article 370 was the best political exposition of the BJP led NDA government so far—a bid to bring Kashmir out of the vortex of terror and to fully integrate it with the rest of the country. Of course, credit must be given where credit is due. It received the widest political endorsement in the country. The cynics obviously cried foul—ranging from the killing of a democratic polity, recommitting a historical blunder, a betrayal, to a sinister ploy to alter Kashmir’s demography, and so on and so forth. But it was a monumental step taken by the Modi government. In one stroke, it removed all the ills of Kashmir misfortune, boosted national domestic confidence, struck a deadly blow to Pakistan’s ‘bleeding India’ game and even called out China’s bluff.
For the BJP, it was also about fulfilling its long-promised political agenda. It meant ending the reign of terror, death, destruction, loot and rape being perpetuated in the Valley since 1948. As it is, history has often been unkind to Kashmir. The people were killed like “insects in the fire” by Turkic warriors. The Mughals did nothing except build gardens of joy in the Valley. The Afghans let loose a reign of terror, murder, loot and rape during their 67 years’ rule.
Abrogation of Article 370 meant rationalising the territorial reality of J&K. The fact was that 82 percent of J&K was neither Jammu, nor Kashmir; it was Ladakh and Gilgit-Baltistan. It was a flawed arrangement where 15 percent people ruled the rest of 85 percent population of the state. The removal of Article 370 also meant changing the Kashmir narrative, its duplicitous political culture of intrigue and blackmail, perpetually played and exploited by a few corrupt Kashmiri elite. It meant busting the deep nexus between local political structures and Pakistani agencies. The separatist kingpin Syed Ali Shah Geelani and his Pakistani network of agents are almost dismantled. It means reenactment of Kashmir’s dignity, removing distrust, restoring stability, removing its backwardness and inequality. It is about making a million aspirations and opportunities.
A year down the line, J&K and Ladakh without Article 370 is peaceful. All the prophecies of a doomsday scenario, bloodbath and violence haven’t come true. Sporadic terrorist incidents do take place, but separatist rhetoric is down. External detractors were amazed and started resorting to internationalising the issue. China has even hurriedly plotted military aggression in Ladakh over the change in Kashmir status. It is too early to assess the reality on the ground, but changes are afoot in Kashmir.
As the UTs of Ladakh and J&K start on their new journey, there are obviously the initial hiccups and teething problems of transition. The new UT administration seems to be facing monumental tasks in rebuilding a region that was hopelessly backward as a result of chaos created by separatists. Industry was non-existent, and the state was living on subsidies and loan waivers. In fact, the entire re-organisation, restructuring and overhauling of the entire legal and administrative framework must have been a mammoth task. Implementing the bifurcation and splitting the state administration, its employees, assets and finance into two Union Territories would have been quite an effort. And there were problems of legal procedures to be streamlined.
Fixing the old issues riddled with inherent contradictions is not easy, especially when it is no longer about viewing J&K only through the prism of the Valley. Finding ways to smoothen them would take time. However, the two UT administrations are now gearing up to implement big-ticket economic projects, ramping up infrastructure, investment and employment issues. In a big jump, the Centre allocated a separate fund of Rs 30,757 crore for J&K and Rs 5,958 crore for Ladakh for fiscal 2020-21. While the nation waits for greater triumphs and achievements in the future, the government would be celebrating its achievements so far before grasping new opportunities. Clearly, a year down the line, Article 370 is already history and it no longer appears to be existing in people’s consciousness or in their daily conversation — except that it still lingers in the minds of political brokers and blackmailers.
Empowering the Region: The Ladakh Viewpoint
The abrogation of Article 370 and bifurcation of J&K was a dream come true for the people of Ladakh as they had been struggling for UT status since 1947. It was a watershed moment for Ladakh to have its long history of coercion and discrimination under J&K, corrected in one stroke. It meant restoration of the identity and dignity of Ladakh as a formidable Western Himalayan region of India, like Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh.
Since independence, the people of Ladakh have persistently resisted being a part of the unitary framework of J&K. But Jawaharlal Nehru refused to heed to the Ladakhi demand and left the people of the region to the mercy of Kashmiris, despite its territorial incompatibility. Nehru’s decision was based on his own wistful familial links with the Valley that not only undercut Ladakh’s interests but also the interests of the nation in several poignant ways.
For the past seven decades, Ladakh was virtually kept hostage to the likes of J&K, its instability, and to the mercy of the leadership in the Valley, where the Abdullah’s and Mufti’s held sway but had no emotional links whatsoever with Ladakh. The region remained neglected and exploited, despite its strategic importance and contribution of its people to the country’s defence. Josef Korbel (then UN staff representative in Kashmir and father of former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright) in his book “Danger Kashmir” (1951) detailed how Sheikh Abdullah fully exploited Kushok Bakula’s political ignorance and tricked the Lamas to surrender while frightening them of the threats coming from the Soviets and Chinese to their religion. Despite Kashmir’s dire record of tricks and mischief, Nehru and others continued to appease the Valley. In the late 1970s, Sheikh Abdullah even launched a nefarious “Greater Kashmir” concept to obliterate the identity of Ladakh. Now, with the UT status of Ladakh, the political marginalisation, neglect and apathy to which the people of the region were subjected, stands addressed.
Article 370 had allowed the Valley leadership to apply their well-known ploys while exploiting the simplicity and fragility of Ladakh, played on the local fault-lines i.e., splintering Ladakh along communal lines (Kargil versus Leh), pitting Muslims against Buddhists, causing dissension and factionalism within the Buddhists and Muslims, skilfully crushing people’s aspiration by assiduously co-opting ambitious local leaders into the Darbar in Srinagar. Therefore, politically, the August 5 development meant reversal of Nehru’s policy that supplemented Ladakh to Kashmir.
Article 370 also kept Ladakh backward and impeded its development. Despite its accounting for almost 60 percent of State’s territorial size, it suffered blatant economic and administrative discriminations. The disparity and discrimination against Ladakh finds mention in several State Commission Reports such as the Gajendragadkar (1967-68), Sikri (1979-80), Wazir (1982-83), and Singhal (1998) etc. The most convenient alibi cited for denying justice to Ladakh was its demographic deficiency. This flawed thinking led to Ladakh’s economic potentials not just being unrealised, but sadly, not even thought of. Nothing was done to harness the colossal Indus water resources of Zanskar, Suru, Dras and Shyok tributaries, the waters of which only benefited Pakistani farmers in Punjab and Sind. Only 5 percent of Ladakh’s arid land was irrigated. Article 370 impeded outside investments and tourism, the only viable source of income for the locals remained hostage to instability in the Valley. Poor connectivity, in any case, limited the flow of tourists to Ladakh. Poor connectivity also meant that Ladakh remained isolated; its vast borderland with scant population was left vulnerable to encroachment by external adversaries. The Kashmir-centric government displayed myopic leadership when it came to issues that concerned Ladakh, and they failed to check both China and Pakistan from eating into the state’s territory. Over 55 percent of the state’s 222,236 sq. km remain occupied either by China or Pakistan.
New Delhi’s tagging of Ladakh to J&K also underscored its lack of strategic clarity. The fact remains that the constitutional arrangement sought for J&K under Article 370 and Article 35A had essentially contained the seeds needed for India’s own destruction. The cumulative impact of those missteps has been getting clearer by the day. Ladakh is critical for India’s national security as without Ladakh, China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) would be sitting on the southern foothills of the Himalayas. It has hurt India’s strategic interests to have ignored Ladakh thus far, even failing to underpin its strategic value for India to gain direct access to the Tarim Basin and the Tibetan Plateau. It has cost the nation heavily, while keeping such a vast strategic frontier area in the hands of separatist-oriented Valley leadership.
Reordering J&K was not so much a choice as it was a strategic imperative. The Chinese forays into Gilgit-Baltistan, albeit under the China–Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) pretext, may not be without its historical claim over the region since the Tang Dynasty. China’s eventual control over Pakistan occupied Kashmir (POK) would have had immediate consequences for Ladakh. Ladakh’s unique geographical location should now offer the country a huge counter-offensive potential in terms of leveraging connectivity to the Eurasian region and to China. In any case, India needed to blunt the CPEC and to counter the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Therefore, it was essential to alter existing equations and provide growing opportunities for uplifting the Western Himalayan region of Ladakh in terms of integrating it with the national mainstream, promoting sustainable economy and tourism, besides environmental protection was paramount.
The myth of J&K as a unitary state had also long outlived its historical inviolability. It was never a functional state and has cost the country dearly. In any case, with Kashmir having bogged down in separatist mode, Ladakh risked sliding into disarray amid simmering anger among the people. The situation had become untenable in the post-Burhan Wani incident in July 2016 due to pro-azadi protests, hartals and shutdowns, which spread to other parts of the state.
Problems of Transition
UT was a long-time demand of Ladakh, predating even the Telangana movement, but no government at the Centre heeded to Ladakhi cause. Now, with Ladakh finally getting UT status, the people are upbeat and their confidence stands boosted. The decision has struck a deadly blow to Pakistan and has also called out China’s bluff, which has for long been eying Ladakh’s abundant land. As Ladakh celebrates the first anniversary of its separation from J&K, the people are jubilant. But there will be the inevitable teething problems of transition, and changes are afoot to address them despite multiple constraints. Some of the major challenges of transition are:
- This vast high-altitude region was hopelessly left behind due to long years of neglect. Industry here is non-existent and people lived on subsistence farming and government subsidies.
- The reorganisation of the State since October 2019 seemed to have taken enormous time to complete. The State bifurcation process involved an arduous task of dividing employees, assets from finance to buildings between the two UTs. And, there were problems of legal procedures to be streamlined.
- The formation of UT was followed by a long spell of harsh winter. Before it receded, the Covid-19 outbreak and prolonged lockdown played a sure spoilsport to start any development activity.
- The challenge now, is to put in place an effective administration in this climatically most hostile region. For example, arrangement of staffing and logistic seems a nightmare. Very few officials and professional seem to be opting for postings in Ladakh despite impressive packages of salaries and allowances offered by the government. As an interim measure some 118 officials from J&K have been brought on deputation to Ladakh to fill up the staff shortages.
As Ladakh remains cut off from the rest of the country for five to six months, fulfilling the basic needs of the people is never an easy task. In an interview given on the first anniversary of UT status, Shri RK Mathur, the Lieutenant Governor of Ladakh, RK Mathur said that the new UT administration had a daunting task during the winter months, but it resolutely addressed the challenges as under:
- Steady power supply was maintained and from February 2020, 24×7 power supply has been ensured. DG set (58) availability in remote unconnected areas was increased by about 6 to 8 hrs per day.
- Large no of additional water tankers were arranged to give the best ever drinking water supply of about 3.5 lac litres per day during winters.
- With the help of Indian Air Force, 415 MT of fresh vegetables and essential commodities were airlifted.
- A total of 2125 passengers and patients were moved in and out of Ladakh, primarily from Kargil, by the IAF during the Corona lockdown period as well as winters.
- About 1000 pilgrims who had gone to Iran/Iraq and were stranded there due to lockdown were brought back with the help of Govt. of India.
- 18 satellite phones were placed in different areas which get cut off during winters to ensure communication for evacuation of patients and availability of essential supplies.
- The Leh-Srinagar Highway (Zojila-pass) was opened on 11 April by BRO, almost one month before the normal time, giving great relief to the people. Similarly, Manali-Leh Highway was opened on 18 May by BRO one month ahead of schedule.
- Early opening of internal roads viz. Khaltsi-Lingshed, Kargil-Padum (Zanskar) etc. was ensured.
The LG further added that Covid-19 also severely impacted Ladakh, forcing the administration to devote substantial energy to tackle the pandemic. Two dedicate hospitals were set up and two RT-PCR machines were installed to increase testing. In addition, the administration had ensured that the repatriation process of the people of Ladakh after unlocking was seamless and quick and they are now working to contain the spread of the pandemic, while simultaneously taking up development activities.
Achievements of UT Ladakh
All Central Laws along with the required modifications and amendments are being aligned for UT Ladakh in order to ensure its smooth transition. The immediate challenge for the administration was to create a new administrative structure in Ladakh. This include UT Administration, a new Revenue Division, two Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Councils (LAHDC) with substantially increased powers (through an amendment originally done by J&K government and subsequently approved by the Parliament), and Panchayati Raj institutions at block and village levels. The challenge was to bring in synergy between these institutions so that they work harmoniously.
Measures initiated to make the administrative structure more effective pertain to empowering the LAHDCs, Empowering Blocks & Panchayats and through Development Drive/Initiatives. These are discussed below:
LAHDC Act and its 2018 amendments was ratified by Parliament and continued. The Councils have executive powers over subjects such as science & technology, promotion and development of traditional Amchi System of Medicine, food, civil supplies and public distribution, rural development and power development etc. The post of Deputy Chairman was also created to be elected by its elected members from amongst themselves.
LAHDC in Leh and Kargil have been allocated highest ever budget of Rs. 232.41 crore each. In addition, funds amounting to Rs 2.5 crore to LAHDC Leh and Rs 3.5 crore to LAHDC Kargil were placed at their disposal for evacuation of stranded people during the corona lockdown period. The LAHDCs were authorised to identify beneficiaries under various schemes outside the District Plan, fill up vacant posts of Block Development Officers and also of technical staff of their engineering departments. A total of 188 engineers were outsourced and placed at the disposal of executing agencies of LAHDCs. The Assistant Commissioners Development and Block Development Officers of Rural Development Department have also been empowered to call tenders.
Empowering Blocks & Panchayats
In a major step towards empowering local self-government, the Administration of the UT ordered enhancement of monthly honorarium of Sarpanch(s) and fixation of monthly honorarium and allowances for the newly elected Chairpersons of Block Development Councils. Training capsules were also conducted for the Sarpanches, BDOs and MIS operators of Leh district regarding online payment systems and training programme for newly elected chairpersons of BDC was organised at National Institute of Rural Development at Hyderabad.
Administration of UT
Major administrative decisions and developmental initiatives encompassing a wide range of administrative activities such as licensing, regulation of real estate, census, wildlife, etc were constituted and notified. Proposal for constitution of Ladakh Administrative Service, Ladakh Police (Gazetted) Service, Ladakh Forest (Gazetted) Service have been finalised and 154 State Laws and 44 Central laws have been examined in detail and proposals for their adaptation have been sent to MHA. Ladakh Police has been separated from the erstwhile J&K police and has started functioning independently. Structural changes are also being carried out by the UT in industries, power sector, tourism, and police departments.
Development Initiatives and Achievement
Ladakh is no longer an ignored region. In a big jump, the Centre has allocated highest-ever budgetary allocation of Rs. 5,154 crores during 2019-20, followed by an allocation of Rs. 5,958 crores in 2020-21. In addition, the highest-ever non-lapsable budgetary allocation of Rs. 232.41 crore each has been made to the Hill Councils of Leh and Kargil.
As per the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act, 2019, the Government of India has announced a Special Development Package of about Rs. 50,000 crores. According to the LG, the UT of Ladakh has submitted its proposals for inclusion under Special Development Package. They focus primarily on development of infrastructure i.e. Health care facilities, roads, tunnels, transmission lines, higher education institutions and economic activities etc. Effective implementation of this package is expected to give a major boost to the prosperity of UT
The new UT administration seems now fully gearing up to implement the big-ticket economic projects, ramping up infrastructure, investment and addressing the employment issues, with the active support of the Centre. The Prime Minister has given an important direction for development, namely vision of Ladakh as a Carbon Neutral UT. In line with this vision, the UT is working with the Central Government on a number of initiatives in the fields of health care, traditional medicine, education, skilling, tourism, infrastructure development, development of indigenous industries in the agro sector, setting up polycarbonate green houses and a host of other schemes.
The UT administration’s initiatives have already seen great progress. Rs. 1000 per beneficiary as ex-gratia under Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana (PMGKY) has been disbursed to 6625 existing and newly sanctioned beneficiaries under NSAP. Under the Prime Minister Garib Kalyan Anna Yojna (PMGKAY), a total of 2158.41 MT Rice and 87.65 MT Pulses were distributed. In addition, 950 quintal of rice has been distributed as dry ration under mid-day meal scheme to students during lockdown period. Implementation of ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ package has also started, and 786 MSME units have been sanctioned Rs. 25.4 crores of subsidised bank loans.
The list of achievements is long. Administration is now gearing up to launch a slew of development projects including those lying in limbo for decades. The Centre has made an allocation of Rs 80.69 crore for public works, Rs 54.07 crore for power, Rs 47.50 crore for tourism sector and Rs 52 crore for civil aviation among others. There are other key sectors which are getting a makeover to smoothen the transition. For the first year since transition, these are important milestones that call for celebration.
In the years ahead UT Ladakh has to explore its economic potentials. Ladakh has vast vacant arid land. Leh district alone has 45,167 hectare of reporting area, out of which only 10,614 hectare (23%) is being brought under cultivation. The government has allocated Rs 83.38 crore this year for rural development. This should enable the administration to bring more areas under agriculture.
The region has colossal water resources that can be harnessed for agriculture and power generation. The Indus water resources of Zanskar, Suru, Dras, Shyok, Galwan, Chip-Chap, Chang-Chemo and other tributaries — thus far benefited only by Pakistani farmers in Punjab and Sind. Ladakh need not opt for the industrial path. Its varied agro-climatic conditions should open up prospects for horticulture and floriculture industries, to grow organic apple, apricot and pear, walnuts, almond, grapes and temperate vine fruits. Ladakh is known for its organic vegetables due to high alluvial soil availability. Investors should jump for commercial farming of high-value items like lavender, saffron and vine fruits.
The region’s myriad medicinal herbs can be opened for both grinding and extraction. The fruit residue of sea-buckthorn, rich in protein and amino acids, is known for making juice. Prospects are high for setting up mineral water plants, anti-ageing, antioxidant drinks plants. Of course, fixing the old issues of environmental and legal challenges is never easy. Finding ways to smoothen them would take time.
Leh district has 1.2 lakh livestock population and over 35,000 Pashmina goats and sheep. Nomadic farming could be expanded. Better technological intervention could make the local wool and woven fabric a world-class product.
Boosting tourism could be a way forward to improve the local cash economy. According to the administration, tourism has made a significant contribution to Ladakh’s economy with a turnover of nearly Rs. 600 crore that benefits about 70 percent of Ladakh’s population. Tourist figures initially went up from a meagre 527 in 1974 to 3.27 lakh in 2018. But in 2019, a slide of over 50 percent in flow was witnessed. Like Kashmir, Ladakh too lost its tourism season this year. The COVID-19 pandemic and the Indo-China border tension has had a negative impact on Ladakh’s tourism industry.
Tourism remains unpredictable, conditioned to the security environment. The uncontrolled flow of visitors also hasn’t proved sustainable due to the fragile ecosystem. However, the Ladakh Tourism Department has been allocated a budget of Rs. 247 crore for the financial year 2020-21 under the Special Development Package of UT Ladakh. Besides, the Centre has approved Rs 52 crore for developing the airport terminal in Leh.
The administration seems all set revive the tourism industry once things start to normalise in the aftermath of the pandemic. Under Atma Nirbhar Bharat Package announced by Government of India, the administration is encouraging all hotels and other services industries to register as MSMEs. This has already assisted many of the worst affected to get moratorium and subsidised additional loans.
The UT administration is also exploring other options besides tourism. It is working on strengthening alternative livelihoods especially in agriculture and allied sectors that can make Ladakh self-sustainable, revitalising Ladakh’s traditional wisdom and practices related to agriculture, tapping the latent potential of sectors such horticulture, as well as medicinal and aromatic plants and bolster them with technological interventions. Focus is also being laid on developing animal resources, particularly pashmina goats. The intention is to develop the full value chain, from the harvesting of pashmina wool to the sale of pashmina products.
The government is planning industrialising Ladakh in the renewable energy sector. According to the National Institute of Wind Energy (NIWE), Ladakh’s wind power potential is immense at 100,000 megawatt (Mw). According to NIWE, Ladakh’s temporal variation holds an estimated potential of 5,311 Megawatt at a hub height of 50 meters. For example, at this height the wind speeds measured between 3.12 metre per second (Diskit site) to 6.60 mps (Chushul site). The potential goes up to 100,000 Mw at a height of 120 meters. A high level meeting was held in Leh in December 2019 that was attended by the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy, the Army, the Border Roads Organisation, the Ladakh Renewable Energy Development Agency and the National Institute of Wind Energy (NIWE).
A study of the NIWE suggests that region holds tremendous promise for setting up commercial scale wind energy projects. The Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) is exploring the possibilities of setting up Wind Power projects in Ladakh including setting up of wind masts for validation of wind resource and other issues. The potential areas of setting up wind masts are found in Chushul (Eastern Ladakh), Nubra and in Kargil. The Ministry is soon expected to invite the wind industry to put up wind farms in Ladakh.
Wind Solar Hybrid Industry
Ladakh has extremely high solar potential as well. Because of the clear air and more albedo, the potentials for power generation from solar plants is tremendous. The government has announced a mega protect of Rs 50,000 crore grid-connected solar photo-voltaic project to harness 7,500 MW of solar power. The proposed transmission corridor will transmit power from Pang in Ladakh to Kaithal in Haryana. In fact, the Ministry is envisaging promoting a combination of solar and wind plants in Ladakh that would optimise the transmission system. The solar power project is to be executed by SECI. Bid submission for the project is underway and site visits for the prospective bidders have been conducted.
The next focus should be on exploiting Ladakh’s huge hydro-power potentials within the provisions of the Indus Water Treaty (IWT). Of the 1,000-MW power potential identified, very little has been exploited so far.
Due to high altitude terrain climatic condition the road and communication connectivity always remains a challenge in Ladakh. Recently, the Prime Minister inaugurated the ultra-modern 9.02 km long Atal Tunnel at Rohtang Pass, which provides all weather connectivity from Manali in Himachal Pradesh to Leh and reduces travel time by about five hours. The tunnel will spur economic activities of Ladakh, especially boost tourism and strengthen India’s border infrastructure.
After Rohtang, the government is focusing on building a 13.5 km-long tunnel at Shinku La that will provide the shortest, safer and the third alternative corridor to connect Ladakh with rest of the country. This is necessary because after Rohtang Pass the 475 – km-long Manali-Leh roads gets further blocked by Shinku La and three other passes. The alternative third connectivity is to build a road from Keylong to Leh via Darcha in Zanskar Valley – a distance of some 170 km from Manali. From Darcha, the road will have to cut across the Shinku La to reach Padum in Zanskar to move further towards Leh. This 444-km long Manali-Darcha-Padum-Nimmu-Leh road has been identified as the third strategic alternative to Ladakh in wake of the threat from Pakistan and China.
The BRO is now studying the feasibility of constructing a tunnel beneath the 13.5-km-long snow avalanche-prone Shinku La that will reduce the distance between Manali and Leh. A team led by the Managing Director (MD) of National Highway and Infrastructure Development Corporation limited (NHIDCL) has just visited Zanskar to inspect the progress of Shinku La tunnel work. The double lane road is under construction and likely to be completed by 2023. This is top priority of the government and the construction will be completed on a war footing. On completion of the Shinku La tunnel, the Manali-Kargil highway will remain open throughout the year, the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways said in a statement last week. Another blockbuster connectivity project is the construction of a 14.15-km bi-directional tunnel across Zoji-la that will provide all-year connectivity between Leh and Srinagar. The Centre has already envisaged a plan to connect Leh by rail. The 498-km line from Bilaspur to Leh via Manali is expected to cost Rs 22,831 crore.
More Aspirations – Demand for 6th Schedule
A year down the line, Article 370 and association with J&K has already become a history in Ladakh. But now there are apprehension about the UT status coming without legal safeguards. Like in J&K, protection is an emotive issue in Ladakh as well. The key issues pertain to environmental protection, developmental challenges, identity, land and job protection. The expectation was that Ladakh will be covered under the 6th Schedule, as applied to other ‘tribal areas’ in the Northeast. But that would have pushed Ladakh towards further isolation and underdevelopment. But the local population does fear getting marginalised, if outsiders seeking opportunities move into this peaceful Himalayan region. People are also fearful of losing jobs to outsiders.
Against this anxiety, some Ladakhi veteran leaders, on the eve of the first anniversary of the UT formation, have launched a People’s Movement for the 6th Schedule for Ladakh. A delegation of its apex body recently met Home Minister Amit Shah and put forward their demand for constitutional safeguards to protect their land, jobs and culture. How such safeguards will materialise, remains to be seen.
Linked to this is the contentious issue of the status of the pre-existing governance body, the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council (LAHDC)-Kargil and LAHDC-Leh that functioned as a legislative body with financial powers to micromanage local planning. Even though the roles and powers of the two LAHDCs are clearly defined by law and leave no ambiguity, a clarification is needed with respect to their functioning and business rules under the new UT system. The polls for the council in Leh are due in October 2020.
The division of J&K was a political necessity because the status-quo had become untenable and was against the democratic aspirations of the people. Addressing the Ladakh issue therefore was to be taken purely on strategic consideration especially for laying the platform for long-term solution for Kashmir crisis as well as for nurturing the strategic utility of Ladakh for India’s national interest. The UT for Ladakh is a strategic move and could even become the kernel for boundary solution with China.
Clearly, Ladakh is on the path of getting empowered in every sense of its polity and economic development. In fact, the UT administration, it seems already has a draft vision document titled ‘Ladakh 2050’ ready. Among other things, the document aspires to make Ladakh the renewable energy capital of India. Similarly, through the development strategy, it aspires to achieve a carbon-neutral Ladakh. The empowerment of Ladakh is clearly underway and is geared to fulfil the rising expectations and aspirations of youth in Ladakh.
(Stobdan is former Indian ambassador to Kyrgyzstan and founder of the Ladakh International Centre. He is on the Advisory Council of Oxus Society for Central Asian Affairs.)
 “Tourism is unpredictable, need to explore other sectors in Ladakh: RK Mathur”, August 6, 2020 at https://jknewsline.com/tourism-is-unpredictable-need-to-explore-other-sectors-in-ladakh-rk-mathur/Jknewsline
 “Ladakh has wind energy potential of 100,000 MW”, December 17, 2019 at https://www.evwind.es/2019/12/17/ladakh-has-wind-energy-potential-of-100000-mw/72557
 “Govt invites wind industry to Ladakh”, December 13, 2019 at https://www.thehindubusinessline.com/economy/policy/govt-invites-wind-industry-to-ladakh/article
 “A peek inside the Atal Rohtang Tunnel, India Today Insight”, August 24, 2020
 “After Rohtang, focus now on Shinku La tunnel amid tension in Himalayas”, Times of India, September 28, 2020, https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/after-rohtang-focus-now-on-shinku-la-tunnel-amid-tension-in-himalayas/articleshow/78346269.cms