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Union Cabinet clears projects for Corporation and Central University

Ladakh had a joyous celebration recently to mark the completion of two years after it became a Union Territory (UT) on August 5, 2019. It was on this day that the erstwhile Jammu and Kashmir State was bifurcated into two UTs, J&K and Ladakh, by abrogating Article 370 and Article 35 that gave the erstwhile State special privileges, mainly its own Constitution and flag.

In the Leh region, Ladakh Member of Parliament, Jamyang Tsering Namgyal, led the celebrations with thousands of local people dancing away the whole day in the local market. Their sense of fulfilment after 70 years of sweat and struggle and loss of several lives for the UT cause was exhibited in their exuberance in non-stop dancing and singing.

Ever since Ladakh became a UT, it has never looked back. Its development in terms of infrastructure has taken a galloping speed as there is no lack of Central govt plans, fully supported by ample funds.

The latest and perhaps the most meaningful announcement by the Central Govt for Ladakh was the establishment of an Integrated Multi-purpose Corporation for Ladakh UT. This corporation will have a share capital of Rs 25 crore, and will be the first such organisation dedicated to the region’s welfare. Apart from infrastructure, the corporation will also lay stress on industry, tourism, transport, handicraft and marketing of local products, among other things. The entire project is based on the ideals of the goal of Atmanirbhar Bharat that has the aim of realisation of employment generation, and the overall inclusive and integrated development of both the regions of Leh and Kargil.

This decision was taken by the Union Cabinet, chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. In order to run the corporation effectively and efficiently, the Cabinet also approved the creation of the post of a Managing Director in the pay scale of Rs 1,44,200-2,18,200. And, of the Rs 25 crore share capital, the recurring expenditure will be approximately Rs 2.42 crore per annum. Experts believe that the project has a great potentiality of creating thousands of jobs, and the overall socio-economic development of the region and its people.

The L-G’s vision                                                        

The impact of such a project can be seen in multi-dimensional areas. One of the problems for Ladakhis has been the development and marketing of its products, and the proper use of their services. It is in this regard that the corporation comes in to take care of such problems. The Lt-Governor of Ladakh, R K Mathur, announced on the occasion of the two years’ completion as UT, that his priorities were categorised into three broad areas: Further development of infrastructure; to have world-class education system; and creating jobs for the local youth. He said that infrastructure and good education were in themselves a great means to create jobs for the jobless. He added that hundreds of jobs had been already provided to the local youth, and the coming years will have many more job vacancies.

He, however, reminded the people that right now there is a little hurdle in giving jobs for the local youth because the Central government was yet to decide on how to go about the question: Who is a Ladakhi? Are we to go by the erstwhile J&K state definition of a Ladakhi, or by any other yardstick? He assured the people that the Central government was engaged with the local representatives on the issue, and that a solution would emerge soon. And, once that is done, giving jobs would become quite easy, the L-G said. He understands, he said, that unemployment is a problem right now, but that is a temporary issue. Once the job criteria are fixed, there won’t be any unemployment issue, he added.

Central University                                                           

Along with the corporation to take care of developmental activities, the Union Cabinet also approved another big project – the establishment of a Central University in Ladakh. Tentatively, to be known as Sindhu Central University of Ladakh, this will give a big flip to the education system in the region. This comes as a big boon for those students who cannot afford to go out of Ladakh to have higher education in their choice of subjects. Right now, most of the students have to go to Delhi, Chandigarh, Jammu and other states for pursuing their interests in higher education. But not all Ladakhi students can afford to have higher education outside their region.

This Central university plan carries weight all the more because it will take the shape of reputed universities of yore, like Nalanda and Taxila. As a result, this university will be the seat of knowledge and research work not only for Ladakhi students but for others in India and abroad, particularly South Asia.

The university, at a cost of Rs 750 crore, will be set up at Khaltse, a beautiful place and equi-distant from Leh and  Kargil cities, the twin districts of Ladakh. The distance from Kargil south to the farthest eastern side of Leh is approximately 400 kms, and Khaltse is the mid-point from the farthest points of the two districts. This decision was taken recently by the Lt-Governor after hearing both the sides. There were demands from both the sides of Leh and Kargil that the university should be located somewhere near their cities. And it was impossible to have a consensus on such demands. Even Khaltse as the location of the university is not acceptable to some people on both the sides.

Carbon-free region                                                        

Another big Central gift for Ladakh is to make it a model region not only for India but for the entire world, by turning it into a carbon-free zone. This ambitious project can be achieved but would take a long time. To begin with, the local administration will gradually reduce the carbon-emitting sources of energy, and will start having solar and renewal energy to sustain not only the environment but even the energy sources too.

Ladakh was among the first places in India way back in the 1960s to experiment on solar energy because of the intensity of the sun’s heat in the region as it has a highly rarefied atmosphere. And, moreover, Ladakh’s sky remains clear most of the year as the rains are very scanty in the region. Experts say Ladakh has the potential to produce 23 GW (23,000 MW) of solar power per annum.

Besides that, Ladakh is very rich in hot and boiling water springs in many areas. There are already experiments being done how to tap these resources for energy production. These hot springs have been used, traditionally, to cure certain types of illnesses, and people from all over the world visit and make the best use of them. There is a local saying, albeit not founded on scientific basis, that these hot springs can cure any illness barring those cases where surgery is needed.

Wind-power: Yet another natural and renewable natural source of energy in Ladakh could be wind-power. Ladakh is among the windiest regions anywhere in the world. Therefore, the potentiality of harnessing wind-energy is enormous in Ladakh, as experts say that the region has the potentiality of producing one lakh MW of wind energy per annum. And it is a matter of time before these ambitious projects become feasible and are implemented. The Central government is fully aware of such possibilities.

Ladakh is also rich in minerals of various kinds. And there are already plans to exploit its natural resources. Experts say Ladakh is known to have: Arsenic ores, and this kind of minerals are used in manufacturing medicines for several purposes. And then it has also known to have a lot of bauxite. This mineral is of great value in the sense that it can be used, among others, in making utensils and refractory bricks.

Borax is another mineral that is yet to be exploited in the region. This mineral too is used in making medicines and boric acid. The famous lake, Tsokar Lake, in the deserts of eastern Ladakh, is said to be the depository of rich borax. And, finally, coal deposits are in plenty in the region, and that can be used as fuel and industrial mineral. This mineral is found in the form of anthracite and bituminous substances.

Strategic importance                                                  

The Central government has a special interest in Ladakh because of its geographical position and historical background, with China and Pakistan surrounding it from the north and the west, respectively. And the incidents of clashes and wars that took place in these regions in the recent and distant past can’t be forgotten easily. All safety measures to build Ladakh in a manner that it can challenge any threat, be it from the north or the west, are being put in place. As China is building up infrastructure and villages along the LAC, which is 3,844 km from Pakistan in the west to Arunachal Pradesh in the north-east, India too has already taken steps to build up its infrastructure along the LAC, and will further strengthen them. Several airfields and helipads are already built and many more are in the offing. By the way, China always says that the LAC is only 2,000 km, thereby assuming and claiming certain parts in the north-east of India to be theirs.

It was with these points in view that the Central government had sanctioned, in 2020-2021, a sum of Rs 5,958 crore in its first full year as UT. This was a huge grant the like of which Ladakh had never received in its existence as an integral part of the Union of India.

As a part of the erstwhile J&K state, Ladakh used to get funds in ‘trickles’ that could not be good enough even for repairing purposes, forget about taking up of new projects. Now that the Central funds are pouring in, the Ladakhis are confident that their aspirations would be taken care of, and that they can hope to live a life that is decent and fruitful, a life that will be graceful and worth living, and not requiring to beg for every minor need of comfort.

Easy connectivity

A key factor in developmental activities is easy connectivity. Ladakh has been all through the ages at a disadvantage because of lack of connectivity during the six months of winter season when all the approach routes, be it Zojila near Sonamarg in Kashmir or Rohtang Pass near Manali, are closed for six months because of heavy snowfall. The Central government is quite aware of these hurdles, and is trying to speed up the tunnel work at Zojila and other places on the Manali side. An easy-access route is also being done to connect Nimoo village, 36 kms from Leh city, with Darcha in Himachal Pradesh. This route will cut travelling time by at least 12 hours, from Pathankot to Leh. For the Indian Army too, this route would be of a great strategic importance for quick access to the LAC areas in times of emergency. Transportation of troops, ammunition and ration materials could get a big boost.

And, in the education sector, the announcement of a Central university, a seat of learning and research for students across Asia, is going to be a game-changer. All these activities and fresh ones to come in the times ahead will be taken care of by the multi-purpose corporation for Ladakh UT. The corporation will be headed by a Managing Director who will steer clear all the projects for a new Ladakh UT that will stand up with great pride as the real crown of Mother India!

To sum up, the developmental progress in the region in the last two years have come as a dream-come-true for Ladakhis.  After the fulfilment of their demand for UT just two years ago, the strategically important border region has taken leaps and bounds in developmental activities. Several projects to reduce distances in the hilly and rocky region, to tap the local resources like water, wind and sun power for energy production have been launched. More significantly, the plan to turn the region into a carbon-free zone as a model in the country, has a hearty welcome by the local people.

(The writer is a New Delhi-based Editor-at-large, columnist and profession speaker. The views expressed are his own)

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