The 5th of August, 2020, saw Ladakh in a highly celebratory mood. Different regions of the twin districts of Leh and Kargil organised cultural functions to celebrate the completion of one year as a Union Territory (UT). Never before such joyous functions were held in every nook and corner of Ladakh.
What was the change that made Ladakh hopeful of a new dawn of freedom from the suppressive and oppressive leadership in Srinagar? For 70 years, funds only trickled, and that was not enough even to carry out the smallest of projects in the backward region of Ladakh. Most of the infrastructure that one can see in Ladakh today have been built mainly by the Army. Soon after Ladakh was given UT status, the Central government announced the setting up of several institutions and grant of funds.
Ladakhis are happy and grateful to Prime Minister Narendra Modi for granting UT status, and also looking towards having the 6th Schedule along with legislature. What is 6th Schedule and what purpose does it serve? In a very simplified way, one can say that the 6th Schedule of the Indian Constitution, under Article 244, gives safeguards for a particular tribal/ethnic area, and gives protection to its land, jobs, language, culture etc. such as in much of India’s northeast.
The Minister of Tribal Affairs, Mr Arjun Munda, had recommended, on Jan.24, 2020, to the Ministry of Home Affairs, that Ladakh be granted 6th Schedule in order to protect its rich legacy. Perhaps the right moment might come when, in the next 2-3 months, Ladakh goes to the polls for its Hill Councils, both in Leh and Kargil.
What is a matter of great joy and satisfaction is that Ladakh as a UT has got its first share of Central funds amounting to Rs 5,958 crore for the year 2020-21. This is a huge jump in contrast to the ‘trickling funds’ it used to get from the J&K government. As a result, no big project/s could be taken up even if those were crucial for Ladakh’s welfare and progress. But with the Central funds pouring in, Ladakhis can now dream of fulfilling their decades-long aspirations of development with absolutely necessary projects, as well as completing many a pending crucial project immediately.
The setting up of Ladakh University has already been completed, and there was, recently, an announcement of a Central University that will, apart from several subjects in art and science, also have a centre for the study of Buddhist philosophy. The idea is to attract students also from the nearby Himalayan states to study and do research work on Buddhism and its relevance in today’s competitive and materialistic world.
Another big decision was about the expansion of Leh airport at a cost of Rs 480 crore, and work on it is on a fast track. The idea is to make it big enough to attract more flights so that airfares don’t skyrocket every summer.
Prime Minister Modi, during his visit to Ladakh after it became a UT, had also promised several institutions for Ladakh, including medical and engineering colleges. The Sowa Rigpa (traditional medicinal system) centre in Leh has been accorded a ‘national status’ for research in traditional medicinal system.
Ladakh has a literacy rate of 77.48%, which is among the highest in the country; and Leh city is also among the fastest-growing cities. There are many reasons for this, but it is mainly because of its Hill Councils and its progressive women who enjoy equal status with men in all spheres of life.
The MP factor: Ladakh has a young, energetic and dynamic Member of Parliament in Mr Jamyang Tsering Namgyal. Popularly known as JTN, he won the Ladakh parliament seat a year ago with a record margin of votes. A fiery speaker, his first Parliament speech had gone viral. Wherever I go, the first question I am asked, always, is: Do you know your fiery MP? That clearly shows how much he has won the affection of the people of the country.
In the last one year, JTN has worked very hard. He has visited even the remotest nooks and corners of the Ladakh region, particularly those in Changthang, Nubra and Zanskar valleys where free India’s ‘democratic fruits’ are yet to reach. JTN has already redressed some of their decades-long grievances, and has promised them that the rest of their aspirations too would be taken care of in the coming years.
It was mainly because of his efforts that the years-old unfinished crucial road project of Leh-Nimu-Padum was made ready and thrown open to public recently. And that is a huge achievement in addressing the isolated Zanskari’s long-time demand. The new 269-km road will reduce the distance between Leh and Padum by at least 200kms, thereby making travel easier and less time-consuming. The existing route via Kargil is 463-km long and is difficult to cover it within a day, mainly because of bad-road conditions at several places. Moreover, this route remains closed for over six months and the Zanskaris are completely ‘isolated’ from the rest of the world.
This new road is also strategically very important for Ladakh to remain connected with the rest of the world. The highway via Kargil is not without any risk because of the Pakistan border factor. Recall the Kargil war of 1999 when this highway and the town came under heavy attack. Therefore, the new road via Nimu to Padum, and to Manali thereafter, gives strategic safety for any kind of Army movement and transportation.
Another big project to be completed recently at a cost of Rs7.5crore was the Choklamsar double-lane bridge across the river Sindh, with separate footpaths on either side. This replaces the decades-old bridge, in a shambles for lack of funds.
And, in the coming months, 5,000 jobs will be available in Ladakh, out of which 1,000 jobs are for the post of gazetted officers. This will come as a big morale booster for the thousands of jobless youths of Ladakh, many of whom have been waiting for jobs for years. Though there is no official figure of jobless youths, 20,000 is a conservative figure one can come out with.
Conclusion: As Prime Minister Narendra Modi said from the ramparts of the Red Fort recently, in his Independence Day speech: “Ladakh today, as a UT, is on a progressive path with several big projects to be completed soon” after years of neglect and stagnation. He has vowed to turn Ladakh into a carbon-neutral region, a model in the country.
A grateful Ladakh thanks Prime Minister Narendra Modi as it enters its 2nd year as UT; the hopes of having the 6th Schedule with legislature are there and faith in Prime Minister Narendra Modi among the people continue to be strong.
(The writer is a New Delhi-based editor-at-large, columnist and professional speaker. Views expressed are his own)
Image Source: https://images.thrillophilia.com
PS: I would appreciate if you use one or two pics of Ladakh, say the Leh market that has been rebuilt on the pattern of Gangtok’s main market. Or, any other pic like the Thiksay monastery, which looks like the Potala Palace in Tibet. You can get them easily from Google. Thanks