Once neglected for decades, Ladakh will now greatly benefit from the Central government's decision to make it into a Union Territory, a former top bureaucrat at the Centre has said.
In an article in The Economic Times, Raghav Chandra, who retired as Secretary in the Government of India, said that Ladakh has held great gro-strategic importance in the history and it's time to uplift the tribes in the region by advancing the development work.
"The Ladakh region has held great geostrategic importance down history. Yet, it has received step-motherly treatment from the now-suspended Jammu & Kashmir government, despite occupying some 60 per cent of the erstwhile state's geographical area," Chandra said in an article.
The passes of landlocked Ladakh connect Central Asia, South Asia and China, and the region is cut off from the rest of India for six months during winter.
"The tribes here have limited means of livelihood, poor roads, impossible telecom and internet connectivity, undeveloped markets for their produce and low employment opportunities. The proximity of the India-Pakistan-China border, and the ubiquitous presence of Indian Army and paramilitary forces, underlines not only Ladakh's strategic sensitivity, but also its people's vulnerability," Chandra said.
"Hopefully, with the Modi government revoking J&K's special status and making Ladakh a separate Union territory (UT), this historic and continuing wrong will now be corrected," he added.
Tribes constitute 90 per cent of the population of Ladakh -- made up of the districts of Leh and Kargil. Gujjars, Bakarwals, Bots, Changpas, Baltis and Purigpas have played an important role in various wars that have been fought, and have been displaced and disturbed by border tensions.
Within Jammu and Kashmir's budget, Ladakh usually got the short shrift. Fund transfer was usually delayed -- by which time, the construction season was over.
Devolution of Tribal Development Funds (TDPs) was based primarily on population and didn't take into consideration the area and geographical spread, relative inaccessibility, relative backwardness, and the presence and demography of nomadic tribes. As a result, the development of this region has been generally neglected.
"Ladakh's terrain is essentially inhospitable to agriculture and has been badly neglected by government agencies. In the apricot cluster of Kargil -- which accounts for about half of J&K's total apricot plantation --the crop has been annually afflicted by the codling moth for a decade. No solution for this blight has been sought yet," the former bureaucrat said.
In another case, Kargil's famous apples were quarantined by Kashmiri lobbies from going beyond Kargil, and the produce was forced to be locally consumed. If some of the nomadic tribes in Ladakh are trained and funded to grow their livestock on a commercial scale, it could prevent a net outflow of as much as Rs 800 crore from going out of the region to other states.
"Because of terrain and weather conditions, the school dropout rate is high. There is need for residential school complexes of the Eklavya Model Tribal Residential School (EMRS) kind in Leh. But such schools need to be redesigned to provide for residential facilities for teachers. Again, the cost of construction in the hilly, inhospitable terrain is drastically different from that in the plains," said Raghav.
He feels that very few of tribal Ladakh's youth have travelled beyond Kargil and Leh and visits to different parts of India to familiarise them with developments elsewhere could be orgsed to help expand their knowledge horizons and facilitate their integration into the national mainstream.
Chandra, who is the former head of National Highways Authority of India, said, "As a Union territory, much improvement in infrastructure can take place. The road from Nubhra to Pangong, and again from Pangong to Leh, for instance, is in a very bad condition".
"Special attention needs to be given to power supply, and solar energy needs to be tapped fully to electrify villages. The Zojila Pass project being undertaken by the beleaguered Infrastructure Leasing & Financial Services (IL&FS) needs to be expedited," he said.
Raghav also laid emphasis on improving mobile and internet connectivity in the region. "Telecom operators will have to be incentivised to tackle this on a priority. Without high bandwidth, it won't be possible to undertake e-governance. Also, many cases of social benefits (such as pension) are pending for a long time here".
( With inputs from ANI )